by Kathy Kelly
On Nov. 7, at the conclusion of a trip to Asia which included cruising on a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in the South China Sea, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter blamed Beijing for rising tensions in the region and said that the United States will continue to conduct “Freedom of Navigation” operations in the South China Sea. Carter accuses China of reclaiming more land than any other country in the region. He says that the United States will uphold the rule of law in the area, a set of laws unilaterally proposed by the United States.
Mr. Carter clearly doesn’t wish to uphold the Japanese Constitution which stipulates, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” Article 9 goes on to say, “land, sea and air forces…will never be maintained” and “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”
Professor Herbert Bix, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, suggests that Article 9 may be abandoned by interpretation rather than through processes of constitutional revision. “Diet members, their expert advisers, and media pundits have ceased to pay even lip service to the Constitution’s mandated ideal of pacifism,” he writes. “For these conservatives, the disavowal of force to settle international disputes represents a fetter on Japan’s future expansion as a great power.”
But on the Japanese island of Okinawa, a majority of residents aim to uphold the Japanese constitution as they vigorously protest construction of a new U.S. military base. The United States already operates 32 U.S. bases in Okinawa. Together, they comprise 17 percent of Okinawa’s land. Noting that while Okinawa comprises only 0.6 percent of Japan’s territory, the United States keeps 74 percent of its Japanese bases there, Professor Bix observes that it’s “no wonder that Okinawan residents passionately oppose the construction of any new facility for the U.S. Marines.” Takashi Onaga, the governor of Okinawa, has legally blocked the new base construction, but the Japanese government overruled his prohibition.
In October of 2015, Voices for Creative Nonviolence activists joined in a walk from the north to the south of Okinawa, culminating in a nonviolent direct action blocking the construction site, in Henoko, for the new U.S. base. Buddhist monks from the Nipponzan Myohoji order organized the peace march. Among the wide variety of protesters whom they met were organizers of the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) who are reinvigorating Japan’s antiwar protest movement. On August 30, an estimated 120,000 people in Tokyo alone came out to protest against President Abe’s security agreements with the United States, in a demonstration sponsored by SEALD and a range of anti-war and pacifist groupings and opposition parties.
Buddy Bell, writing from Okinawa, mentioned that the United States now has Beijing surrounded by 200 bases lining the East China Sea. Imagine if China encircled the United States with 200 bases. The United States is provoking an arms race with China. “For the first time in many years,” Bell writes, “China is increasing its military budget at the same time the United States continues to spend more than China and the next 11 highest-spending countries. Not only is the United States depriving its own people of money that could be used to fund scientific research, health care, education or to return to the people’s pockets; it is backing China into a corner where it concludes it must do the same. Furthermore, the bases are situated in such a way that the United States would have the ability to block sea lanes, which is a hidden message to China that their highly export-driven economy could face the prospect of a serious pinch at a moment’s notice.”
The right wing leaders of today’s Japanese government could decide against subservience to U.S. offensive military goals. They could submit instead to the will of the Okinawan people who are determined to close down the military bases on Okinawa. By pursuing policies that would build friendly relations with their neighbors, addressing mutual concerns, the Japanese government would have a better chance to deal with realities of climate change. Given the catastrophic effects that rising sea waters could have for people living in islands and along continental coasts, Ashton Carter would show far more concern for Japan’s security if he stopped pressing Japan to antagonize China and instead encouraged mutual cooperation, diplomacy, negotiation and an end to preparations for killing and destruction.