TOKYO — The illustrations in Chinese state-controlled newspapers of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as Adolf Hitler and Rambo settled any question of how Beijing would react to Tokyo’s decision Tuesday to defend its allies in combat.
Japan’s reinterpretation of its pacifist constitution through a cabinet resolution adopted Tuesday drew criticism from Beijing, plaudits from the United States and generally muted support from Asian countries trying to balance their interests with those of the region’s biggest power.
The end to the ban on collective self-defense will allow Japan to defend close allies, rescue Japanese hostages abroad and possibly undertake more United Nations missions. Under the resolution, collective self-defense could be invoked if Japan determines that a lack of action could clearly endanger its security and its people.
It’s unclear which countries fit the description of “close allies” besides the U.S. and Australia, two nations quite capable of defending themselves under normal circumstances. However, nations wary of China’s growing assertiveness will welcome Japan’s recent security moves, according to government statements and regional security analysts.
The Philippines, which is locked in a standoff with China over territorial claims to islands within 200 miles of Philippine’s main islands, would like to be one of those close allies.
Even before the resolution was adopted, Philippine President Benigno Aquino praised Japan’s “wherewithal to come to the aid of those in need” during a television appearance.
Other countries in the region are likely to share the Philippines’ praise of the move, said Rory Medcalf, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, an Australia-based think tank.
Except for China and the two Koreas, “most other governments in Asia will quietly welcome a more normal Japan, a nation that uses its advanced military to help others build their capabilities or offer support in a crisis,” Medcalf said. Besides the Philippines, nations facing territorial disputes with China include Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. China, on the basis of what it says is historical discovery, claims about 90 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea.
The U.S. takes no position on territorial sovereignty but has been deepening its military relationships with each of those countries in recent years
The view of Chinese officials on the Japanese measure was unambiguous.
Japan adopted the resolution by making up a “so-called ‘China threat,’ ” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a daily news briefing.
Hong also called attention to Japanese public opinion polls, some of which show that a majority oppose collective self-defense on the grounds that it could lead Japan into an unnecessary war.
“It is the general public of Japan that should have the final say on which way Japan should follow in terms of national development,” Hong said.
Coincidentally, Hong didn’t address whether the general public in Hong Kong – where hundreds of thousands marched in protest on Tuesday – should have a say on whether Beijing’s plans to vet all candidates for the territory’s 2017 elections should be stopped.
Chinese media outlets, including the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, the People’s Daily and the Xinhua wire service, all reported on Japanese protests but gave little or no attention to the cabinet resolution itself.
South Korea reacted critically but cautiously, even though it may benefit from Japan’s decision to aid allies if North Korea ever attacks.
The Japanese government is deeply unpopular in South Korea over the perception that it is not appropriately repentant for Japan’s actions before and during World War II – particularly for forcing Korean women to work as sex laborers called “comfort women.”
“Abe could and should have done more to reduce negative opinion in Korea by showing more sensitivity about the dark side of Japan’s history, for instance over imperialism and comfort women,” Medcalf said.
Seoul said it would “never tolerate” Japan’s use of collective self-defense without its consent “on matters that can affect the security of the Korean Peninsula or national interests of the ROK,” according to an official statement.