Japanese imperialism: preparing for battle

Speaking before press on 13 May, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto made the extraordinary claim that the ‘comfort women’ system – under which some 200,000 women, mainly from China and Korea, were forced into prostitution for Japanese soldiers before and during the Second World War - was necessary to ‘maintain discipline in the military’. The statement, which provoked international outrage, is the latest in an increasingly brazen series of provocative statements by the Japanese ruling class, who are edging further and further towards explicit national chauvinism in response to long-term economic crisis.

On 5 September 2012 former Japanese president Yoshihiko Noda caused uproar in China by provocatively ‘nationalising’ the disputed Diaoyu islands, purchasing the remaining privately-owned islands for $26m. Angry protests in China served as the backdrop for the December 2012 elections, as the Japanese ruling class attempted to whip up anti-Chinese fervour; the victor, Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), stood on a viciously chauvinistic platform, demanding a permanent military presence on the islands, constitutional amendments emphasising ‘Japanese pride’, and rejecting criticism of historic Japanese war crimes.

As dispute over the islands persists, so too does the vicious nationalism of the ruling class. China, the DPRK (north Korea) and south Korea condemned the April pilgrimage of around 170 Japanese lawmakers and Cabinet Ministers to the Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo; the shrine is notorious for celebrating Japanese imperialism’s militaristic legacy, commemorating 14 convicted class A war criminals amongst millions of Japanese war dead. Their protests were ignored as the Japanese government gave the first official celebration of ‘Restoration of sovereignty day’ on 28 April, commemorating the day that US occupation ended following Japan’s defeat in WWII. While the event has long been celebrated privately in Japanese right-wing circles, this is the first time that it has ever been officially sanctioned; around 400 MPs and officials attended the ceremony in Tokyo, including the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

Marching hand-in-hand with resurgent chauvinism is renewed militarism. The LDP’s electoral platform promised reforms to the ‘pacifist’ Japanese constitution. Its proposed amendments include upgrading the status of the Emperor to actual ‘head of state’, the empowerment of the military to maintain public order, and the abolition of Article 9 prohibiting the use of force in international disputes. The 2013 budget included a 2.2% increase in military spending, the first in more than a decade. These are clear statements of intent by the Japanese ruling class, which is no longer willing to be relegated to second-class military status.

Gearing up for a trade war

In the beginning of April the Bank of Japan announced a new round of ‘quantitative easing’, aimed at doubling the country’s money supply by 2015 through the purchase of ¥60 trillion to Y70 trillion ($585bn to $682bn) worth of government bonds a year. The Bank of Japan claims that the move is designed solely to stimulate demand in the long-stagnant domestic economy, yet it has much wider regional consequences, boosting exports and improving the competitive position of Japanese companies in the fight for global markets. The move, described by ANZ Bank chief economist Liu Ligang as an act of ‘economic blackmail’, has been condemned by China, which has already suffered the impact of a 30% drop in the yen against the Chinese yuan since August 2012. Among others likely to be heavily affected are south Korea, Brazil and Australia, whose involvement in yen speculation will see their currency values pushed upwards with devastating impact on domestic industry. According to Li Daokui, a former advisor to the People’s Bank of China, Japan’s actions ‘could spell doom’ for other regional economies.

Working class bears the brunt

Escalating imperialist aggression abroad is matched by reactionary attacks on the working class at home, where calls to alleviate public debt – currently some 240% of GDP, with interest payment making up 25% of government expenditure – providing excuses for attacks on state welfare. Welfare spending is to be slashed by ¥74bn over the next three years, a heavy toll on the 2.14 million recipients of state benefits; employment is increasingly casualised, with part-time employees making up 35% of the workforce, often on extremely low wages and lacking health insurance, pensions and unemployment benefit. These cuts are being pursued under an increasingly dubious electoral mandate – voter turnout in the December 2012 elections was 59.3%, the lowest since the Second World War. Working class resistance will be necessary to prevent the slide into increasing chauvinism, austerity and war.

Jack Edwards


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