Skip to content Skip to footer

Obama Bribes Abe to Support the TPP by Unleashing Japanese Military

Obama is giving George Bush the Second a run for his money as a candidate for Worst President in History. But the Japanese Diet may spare him by refusing to pass the TPP.

Great minds seem to be working alike. Our resident Japan expert, Clive, had pointed out that the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, had nothing to offer Japan to change its indifference to the proposed TransPacific Partnership. Only the State Department could serve up the needed inducements, and they were missing in action.

But that changed as Obama became more eager about pushing his toxic, traitorous deal over the line. We pinged Clive Wednesday evening:

I heard from a Congressional staffer today that Japan has changed its position on the TPP from being cool to being keen about it

You pointed out early on that Froman couldn’t deliver a deal, that State needed to get involved.

Apparently that happened.

I noticed the defense pact and wondered if it had anything to do with the TPP. Apparently it did.

The understanding with the “defense” agreement is that the US will let Japan go offensive.

Of course, I have no idea how that squares with the Japanese constitution.

Any corroborating evidence in the Japanese media? And can Abe get the Diet to follow or is there some horsetrading still to be done?

We got corroborating evidence in the form of a must-read story by Patrick Smith in Salon, which describes in some detail the roots of Abe’s militarism. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kiishi, was charged as a war criminal but never tried because (unlike in Germany), the US reversed itself on rousting out war leaders, deciding it needed to rely on them to rein in communists. Kiishi became prime minister in 1957 and in 1960 achieved passage of a security treaty with the US by having some members of the Diet removed physically so that the otherwise minority in favor of it would pass it

Fast forward to the present:

As to Abe, let’s take the occasion to deconstruct these various deals he is cutting with the Obama administration.

On the defense side, Abe’s new accord with Washington marks the most significant change in the security relationship since Kiishi’s connivances. There is nothing new in Secretary of State Kerry’s reiteration of America’s “ironclad” commitment to protecting Japan. This is the postwar idea in a single phrase: Japan is a protectorate and will remain one.

Where Kerry broke very new ground is in extending this concept to the disputed islands Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyus. This is astonishingly indelicate, to put the point mildly—an open affront to Beijing. Until this week Washington recognized the dispute, not either side’s sovereignty. That was correct. My interpretation: Abe, a vigorous hawk on the islands question, horse-traded something Washington dearly wants in exchange for its endorsement of Tokyo’s territorial claim.

What Washington dearly wanted and now has is a commitment from Tokyo to deploy its military anywhere America or any American ally comes under threat. This, of course, means more or less anywhere we can think of.

This is big for two reasons.

One, it opens Asia to the projection of Japanese power for the first time since 1945. Will Japanese forces deploy next time things get hot with North Korea? What if something unexpected and untoward happens in the Taiwan Strait? Have we just been told that Washington will go to war with China if the islands dispute breaks into open conflict, as it easily could?

These are new, unwelcome questions. China will object loudly to the new accord and, in my judgment, American allies such as South Korea may prove unready for it.

Two, the agreement is unconstitutional. Here things get a little complicated.

American lawyers wrote Japan’s “peace constitution” and handed it to them in 1947. But note the date. Truman started the Cold War the same year, and the Occupation promptly began reversing course. Washington has since spent a lot of time and effort supporting LDP efforts to bend, violate or rewrite the law it gave them. This is the core contradiction in a relationship beset with many, and it is now on full display in Washington.

It may seem odd that nationalists such as Abe favor closer relations with the U.S. given the sacrifice of sovereignty these ties entail, but this is why: Washington supports the remilitarization the LDP has also long favored. The majority of the Japanese, meantime, are as restless with the security relationship now, if not as animated, as they were when Kiishi forced it upon their grandparents.

This was Clive’s take on our questions:

The Japanese MSM is concentrating its coverage on the Article 9 (constitutional change) to reporting what exactly the changes means in practical terms and suggesting it is still in going through committee Hell and that Komeito (the LDP’s coalition partner who’s approval isn’t actually needed given the LDP’s dominance of the Diet but as a member of a formal coalition can’t just be ignored) is trying to water down what is permissible for the Self Defence Force, what the precise meaning of the revised constitutional wording is, what approvals must be in place prior to Self Defence Force deployment and so on. Komeito is supposedly a pacifist party so isn’t very happy about Prime Minister Abe’s attempt to make Japan more interventionist, but it is by-and-large going along with it in public (and in classic Japanese methodology chipping away as much as possible behind the scenes).

Oh, and if your Congressional staffer source is perplexed about the wording of the new Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation, I think this is a feature not a bug. I’m reading the entire Japanese langue version and comparing it to the English one and, let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t have translated it using the same wording. For the paragraph they identified, this is how I would translate it (emphasis mine):

As for the US military, in order to support and complement the SDF, it is possible (for the US military) to implement a strategy involving the use of a strike force. In a situation where US military is implementing such a strategy, it is possible for the SDF to, if necessary, provide assistance. These strategies, when appropriate, will be carried out based on a close bilateral coordination.

… which is clearer than the English version provided. So the U.S. takes military action on some pretext or other, and if it is deemed to be in Japan’s interests (and Japan could easily enough have orchestrated the initial U.S. military action), hey-presto the SDF then can work directly with U.S. forces in a coalition. As your source rightly said, all very gameable.

The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation must though operate within the constitution hence the need to revise (or re-interpret) Article 9.

Abe is having to proceed very cautiously because polling shows that the majority of Japanese oppose the Article 9 changes. The pacifist left wing obviously doesn’t like any of it. But ironically, the right wing (and this *has* been brought out in JP language press coverage but isn’t widely reported even in the English language versions of the JP press for reasons I’ll explain below) also has reservations.

This is because while the “you can’t be a strong country if you can’t protect your homeland” notion means there is some support for Article 9 changes on the right, the far right (which gets a lot of Yakuza support because the Yakuza are – or like to see themselves as being – big on protecting the cohesiveness of the community and thus share what they believe are a lot of the same core values as the far right) ironically is more concerned about how they perceive Japan to be a vassal state of the U.S. and therefore anything that increases interdependency between Japan and the U.S. such as the New Guidelines for U.S-Japan Defense Cooperation is viewed as weakening Japan’s independence and ability to exercise military strength in the region even if constitutionally the Self Defence Force is allowed greater latitude for military action.

The far right, the Yakuza, Japanese militarism and so on are all in the “too awkward to mention in front of the foreigners” category so this angle isn’t widely reported outside of Japan. But the groups pushing for renouncing Japan’s pacifist constitution aren’t doing so for the U.S.’s benefit. They are doing so because they believe in Japan reasserting itself as a regional power in its own right. So Abe is, as usual, about to find out that when you mess about with nationalist and jingoist forces, you’re playing with fire.

However, Abe probably thinks that he’s treading a middle ground between the pacifism and the militarism. And he most certainly wants a bit less of the pacifism and a bit more of the militarism. So he’s doing an “economic and military security” play, pitching the TPP as an aid to economic security alongside the Article 9 and the Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation changes as a boost military security.

If the U.S. threw Japan the latter as a sweeter, then yes, that would definitely boost the chances of Abe justifying and explaining the selling out of various internal Japanese constituencies such as agriculture and delivering the concessions needed to pass the TPP in a form which pleases the U.S. The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation aren’t a formal treaty so if Japan annoys the U.S. then the U.S. can unilaterally vary them. This would be at the expense of pee’ing off Japan, but if Japan doesn’t deliver the TPP for Obama, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. has responded to a diplomatic setback by throwing its toys out of the pram in a short term-ist fit of pique at the expense of its own long term strategic interests.

Prime Minister Abe will though have to navigate very murky and choppy domestic political waters in getting this through — for the reasons I’ve explained above. There are a lot of moving parts in play and few of them under Abe’s direct control. Many are hostile to Abe for being either too militaristic or not militaristic enough. Some are distinctly unsavoury.

For the U.S. (I’m referring to the Obama administration here, the TPP isn’t in any way in the interests of ordinary Americans), this however is a very, very clever move. They are playing Abe like a fiddle.

Patrick Smith, without going into the same level of detail, agrees that getting the TPP passed in Japan is still an uphill battle, and is gobsmacked that the US is going into such open opposition with China. Before, the idea of the TPP as a part of the “pivot to Asia” to bolster the US’s position with an “everyone but China” deal seemed like an odd aspiration, particularly since trade is substantially liberalized already. And if anyone thinks Japanese would really eat American beef even if a trade deal passed, they are smoking something strong. The Japanese are fabulously loyal to domestic producers believing their products to be superior. And given how terrible US meat inspection is, they are right in the case of beef.

And how can the US even think of increasing animosity with China? The US depends on China for many key products like chip manufacture and ascorbic acid. We are so economically intertwined that some analysts call the relationship “Chimerica”.

Here is Smith’s assessment:

My conclusions on the TPP’s prospects in Japan—and by extension elsewhere—are several.

One, Abe will have a tough time—however sincere or halfhearted his effort, and this is a question—getting the TPP past domestic constituencies. The pact hits too many vested political interests, and the Japanese value too highly the intense localism embedded in their system and way of life…

Two, if the TPP passes in Japan it will require—per usual when Tokyo deals with Washington—corrupting the political process to one extent or another. Assuming it passes, I suspect many of its terms will sit there, as inert as potatoes, unobserved other than in form. The Japanese are very good at this kind of thing. “Let the foreigner in so as to keep him out,” is the old expression.

Three, the talks with Abe have drawn Obama further out of the closet as to the anti-Chinese aspect of the accord. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” the president said in a Wall Street Journal interview just before Abe’s arrival.

This is another of Obama’s appalling mistakes in his dealings across the Pacific. The TPP’s exclusion of the mainland is pointed, as is its purpose as an instrument in Washington’s undeclared war for primacy in the Pacific. This is wrong already.

What is the point, then, of pushing these realities in Beijing’s face? You would think Washington would have learned something from its pouting and fruitless opposition after China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a rival of the IMF and the World Bank, last autumn. Not a chance.

Obama is giving George Bush the Second a run for his money as a candidate for Worst President in History. But the Japanese Diet may spare him by refusing to pass the TPP. Keep your fingers crossed.

​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we only have hours left to raise over $9,000 in critical funds.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?