Despite calls from social movements in the Asia-Pacific for peace and negotiations, allies of the United States and NATO in the region have jumped headfirst into militarism and war-mongering driven by an anti-Russia position. According to local reports, as of Tuesday, March 1, at least 70 Japanese nationals have requested to be armed volunteers for Ukraine in the war against Russia.
These requests are the latest in the series of pro-NATO warmongering actions that are sweeping countries in the region who are long-standing allies of the US. It also comes in response to the Ukrainian government calling for funding and mercenary support in the ongoing war, along with those with professional experience in medical care, IT, communication and fire-fighting.
The Ukrainian embassy in Tokyo has acknowledged these requests but is yet to respond to them. Nevertheless, while acknowledging these requests, it added that candidates “must have experience in Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) or have undergone specialized training.”
Of the 70 Japanese who are ready to volunteer as mercenaries, 50 have formerly served in the JSDF and two have served in the French Foreign Legions. The Japanese government has strongly warned its citizens against traveling to Ukraine “regardless of the purpose,” and also reminded the Ukrainian embassy publicly that Japanese citizens in Ukraine have been given an evacuation advisory.
Regardless of the public stand by the Japanese government on the participation of their citizens as mercenaries, the ruling conservative party seems set to take advantage of the growing anti-Russia sentiments.
Japan has already placed sanctions on Russian central banks, participated in the SWIFT ban against Russia, and even offered Ukraine USD 200 million in loans and “humanitarian assistance” on top of close to USD 17 million in donations from Japanese citizens responding to the Ukrainian embassy’s call for aid.
Senior members of the Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are also calling for a debate on the country’s long-running non-nuclear weapons stand. The three “non-nuclear principles” that prevent Japan from producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons in the country is at the center of this debate.
Former LDP prime minister Shinzo Abe was among the first to call for a debate on a nuclear-sharing agreement with the US, adding that discussing the supposed “reality about how the world’s safety is protected” is not taboo.
For long, public memories of Japan’s militaristic and imperialist legacy in the region and that of the Second World War have kept such calls to change the non-nuclear policy at bay. But successive LDP governments since Abe’s term have openly declared their intent to alter the pacifist and non-nuclear constitution.
Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, a legacy of the post-World War reorganization of the country, explicitly renounces the sovereign right to declare war or use threat of force to settle international disputes. It also prevents the Japanese state from maintaining full-fledged armed forces and other “war potential,” along with de-recognizing the right of belligerence of the state.
A controversial 2015 amendment under Abe now allows the country to send material military aid to allied nations in the event of a war. The step was widely criticized and was met with massive protests. But, with the growing anti-Russian sentiment and massive protests over the military action in Ukraine, nationalists and right-wing groups have found a new lease of life.
Japan is only the latest in the recent slew of governments in the Asia-Pacific region which have jumped into the crisis. Australia announced on Tuesday, March 1, that it would commit AUD 70 million (USD 51.25 million) to fund ammunition for Ukraine in addition to AUD 35 million (USD 25.6 million) for humanitarian assistance.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has also declared that a majority of the weapons bought will be in the lethal category, like missiles, in “partnership with NATO.” This comes despite multiple calls from movements within Australia, such as the Sydney Stop The War Coalition and the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, opposing any further warmongering and for Australia to stay out of the conflict.
“The Australian government has used its new military alliance, AUKUS, to echo the US and British governments who are playing a provocative role in Europe — talking up war, decrying diplomacy as appeasement and escalating arms supplies and military deployments to Eastern Europe,” said Sydney Stop The War Coalition in their statement responding to the Russian military action.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison will try and use Russia’s invasion to justify ramping up Australian militarism, including in the region, with China as enemy number one.”
NATO’s war-mongering has dragged along even nations like South Korea and Singapore, who, while maintaining close ties with US-NATO, have often kept themselves out of European conflicts owing largely to geopolitical considerations.
South Korea announced its participation in the SWIFT ban against Russia, along with an export ban on electronics, semiconductors, computers, information and communications, etc. It also announced humanitarian aid of USD 10 million. Singapore also imposed an export ban on strategic items along with sanctions on Russian banks.
In South Korea, the military action by Russia has assumed significance in domestic politics as the country is set to hold general elections on March 9. Presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol from the conservative and pro-US opposition People Power Party has already begun using the incident to attack president Moon Jae-in’s proposed “end of war” agreement with North Korea.
Yoon argued that “a peace document pursued by Moon which has little meaning unless it was backed by a strong military preparedness.” The stated military preparedness as per Yoon comes with pushing the country back strongly within the US camp, increasing the frequency of joint military drills with the US, and strengthening missile systems with US help, among other things.
Yoon has already called on US president Joe Biden to increase the deployment of THAAD anti-ballistic missile systems in the country. These proposed measures, along with an aggressive position against North Korea amid rising tension, has been among his key campaign promises for the upcoming elections.
Yoon’s contender Lee Jae-myung of the pro-peace ruling Democratic Party has criticized his position and called him a warmonger. “The policy of shooting down enemy missiles could lead to war,” said Lee. “We need a policy that gains peace without such perilous confrontation.”
Is China the target?
A good part of these policies also coincide with the increasing attempts by the US to stoke tensions in the region against China. A testament to this is that both the liberal and the right-wing sections in the US are making claims that an invasion of Taiwan by China is on the cards.
Former US president Donald Trump, whose government had heightened trade tensions with China, has already claimed that “Taiwan is next.” The Biden administration has sent a delegation led by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen to visit Taiwan.
Trump-era US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also visited president Tsai Ing-wen who leads the rump Republic of China in Taiwan. She has recently attracted condemnation from China for her expressed support to secessionist tendencies in the disputed island.
In an extremely provocative move last week on February 26, within days of the Russian action in Ukraine, US warship USS Ralph Johnson sailed through the Taiwan Strait. China protested strongly against these provocations by the US. “The will of the Chinese people to defend our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is immovable,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin in response to the recent visits. “Whoever the United States sends to show support for Taiwan is bound to fail.”