Alessandro Ponzetto | July 5th, 2022
The upcoming House of Councillors elections in Japan are one of the potentially most crucial yet, given the potential to drastically shift the landscape in the whole region. This is because, given the most recent poll from Nikkei Asia, the current government is likely to win enough votes to ensure a two-thirds majority.
This is crucial, as aside from the issue of inflation (one of the main topics of the election) there is the possible reform of the Constitution, and specifically of Article 9. This eventuality has been long in the making, but recent events have added more importance.
As covered in the recent issues, both China and Russia have sent ships around Japan, with the latest involving the contested Senkaku Islands. Both Chinese and Russian ships entered territorial waters surrounding the islands, but the reasons for this were different.
When it comes to the Russians, the ship in question apparently entered the waters to escape a typhoon and, ironically, this triggered a response from the Chinese. For all intents and purposes, Beijing acted as if the islands were theirs, as Spokesman Zhao Lijian stated on July 4:
AFP: Japan lodged a protest to China after a Chinese naval vessel sailed near the disputed Senkaku Islands. What’s China’s response?
Zhao Lijian: Diaoyu Dao and its affiliating islands have been part of China’s territory. The activities of Chinese vessels in the adjacent waters are legitimate and lawful. The Japanese side has no right to point fingers over these activities.
He also covered the presence of the Russian Navy in the area, although his response was rather elusive:
Kyodo News: This morning Russian navy vessel also sailed in the contiguous zone around Senkaku Islands. I wonder whether China and Russia acted in concert this time?
Zhao Lijian: I made China’s position very clear just now. I suppose what you said is your own interpretation. If you are interested in Russia’s action, maybe you or your colleagues could take this question to the Russian side.
At this point, it is difficult to say precisely what is coming next, as it depends on how the elections go. If indeed they go as the poll suggests, it is plausible to see a much more assertive Japan when it comes to defence policy, at a time when it was already gearing towards increasing the budget.
With this said, another key detail to monitor is whether Tokyo will, for all intents and purposes, lump China and Russia together or whether it will try to have a more nuanced approach, especially when it comes to the latter. In this regard, a lot will depend on the developments surrounding Sakhalin, a topic we have been covering in Macro.
While it will surely take a lot of time for Japan to enact all the changes, especially when it comes to the constitutional reforms, what has been happening in Japan will be the most dramatic shift in the region, although in fairness this has long been in the making. After all, Japan has been gearing towards this very moment since as early as 2014, and all because of China.
In a sense it is rather ironic: China was the primary reason that brought the collapse of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy (as the attempt to isolate China from the Allies triggered the oil embargo and the subsequent Pacific War) and China is now the primary reason for a plausible return, although the baggage those names carry may still haunt the JSDF, if they do scale up their activities as imdicated (something best exemplified by the Yasukuni Shrine, covered in ‘Japan’s past looms large over the present’).
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