MUMBAI – As Japan for the first time since the end of the Second World War adopts a security policy featuring a more aggressive response to perceived threats of missile attacks, the Catholic leader of the country’s capital is calling instead for greater dialogue to reduce tensions in the region, especially with China and North Korea.
“Those who seek permanent peace in Japan might need to change the strategy,” said Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo, shifting to “more active diplomatic efforts to create a harmonious co-existence atmosphere for countries in Asia, through sincere dialogue.”
“Only dialogue will create true peace,” he said.
On Dec. 16, the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida presented the first new security policy for Japan in the last decade, and only the second in the country’s post-war history. The cornerstone of the new approach is what the government is calling a “counter-strike capacity,” meaning the ability to hit missile-related sites in attacking countries.
Up to this point, Japan has relied on a combination of missile defense systems, designed to shoot down incoming missiles after they’re already in the air, as well as the offensive capacities of U.S. forces in the region.
However, in response to a growing volume of missile launches by North Korea, combined with a recent modernization and diversification of China’s missile arsenal, the Kishida government decided to shift Japan’s defense posture, while insisting that the counter-strike capacity remains defensive in nature and would not be used to launch “preemptive” attacks on installations considered possible threats.
Article Nine of Japan’s post-war constitution prevents the country’s armed forces from possessing any offensive capacity, and the commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict has long been a cornerstone of Japan’s identity. Polls, however, show that more than 60 percent of the Japanese favor the new defense policy.
Kikuchi said appeals to the constitution may no longer be enough in debates about the proper role of Japan’s military.
“Nothing has been changed in the constitution since its promulgation in 1946,” he said.
“However, the government has succeeded in changing the spirit of the Constitution through its new interpretation,” the prelate said. “If it could be done, then it is useless to call the government to preserve article 9 of the constitution, and we may have to think about another way to call them to keep peace.”
The 64-year-old Kikuchi, appointed to Tokyo by Pope Francis in 2017, invoked the pontiff’s message when he visited Japan two years later.
“I recall the words of Pope Francis in Hiroshima in November 2019, when the Holy Father said, ‘If we really want to build a more just and secure society, we must let the weapons fall from our hands’,” Kikuchi said.
“Then he continued, ‘When we yield to the logic of arms and distance ourselves from the practice of dialogue, we forget to our detriment that, even before causing victims and ruination, weapons can create nightmares’,” Kikuchi recalled.
“As the Justice and Peace Commission of the [Japanese] Bishops’ Conference pointed out in
their statement on December 20, it is really unfortunate that such a policy change has been decided only by the Cabinet and not through deliberation in the Parliament,” Kikuchi said.
“I have no idea whether Mr. Kishida took advantage of the present situation, such as the [Covid] pandemic which has been the main concern among people, or anxiety caused by war in Ukraine, or fear for North Korea’s repeated missile tests, [but] this is not the right time to make drastic changes in security policy,” Kikuchi said.
“Fear easily creates compromise, but that decision may haunt future generations,” he warned.
“I do agree surrounding countries are becoming aggressive and more efforts are needed to find the way to keep countries calm in this part of Asia,” Kikuchi conceded. “I do agree that China is not an easy country to deal with, and North Korea has been unpredictable.”
“I just wish the Japanese government would put more effort into diplomatic dialogue with neighboring countries to create peaceful atmosphere in this region,” he said.