Media Mix, June 28, 2015

Richard Armitage

Richard Armitage

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the mainstream press reaction to Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga’s trip to the United States to explain his opposition to the U.S. Marine base at Henoko. In the piece, I mention that former State Department official Richard Armitage gets a lot of traction in the Japanese press and is often the go-to person on the American side for a quote about the base issue, even if those quotes tend to be selective. Apparently, his quotes are used selectively for other security related issues. During the same discussion on DemocraTV where lawyer Sayo Saruta explained how Washington works, other journalists talked about the security bills that the Liberal Democratic Party are now trying to ram through the Diet. The LDP’s reasoning for passing the bills, which would allow Japan’s Self-defense Forces to participate in collective defense even though the Constitution limits such actions, is that interpretation of the Constitution should adapt to changing times. The only scenario that the LDP side has put forth as an illustration of how the SDF could participate in collective defense is a possible blockade of the Hormuz Straits by Iran. Such a blockade would “threaten Japan” because much of the country’s oil comes through the straits, so Japan should help its allies, presumably the U.S., in preventing such a blockade, probably through mine-sweeping activities. The journalists found this reasoning laughable, since Iran is desperate to sell oil right now and would never blockade the Hormuz Straits, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can’t come up with another example of how Japan could lend a hand because almost every other scenario would sound like war. And the LDP got this scenario from Armitage, who suggested some years ago that Japan could help by carrying out mindsweeping activities in the Hormuz Straits, but he made that statement at the height of the Iranian oil embargo. In other words, Abe’s illustration confounds the reasoning behind the constitutionality of the bills: Times have changed, and there’s little chance of a blockade of the Hormuz Straits. But he can’t find another illustration to justify the bills, which is why the opposition is accusing him of being vague as to what collective defense really means.

But more significantly, the journalists blasted the LDP for conflating the protection of Japan’s economic interests—securing oil—with safeguarding “Japanese lives,” which is the only reason put forth by the new bills for engaging in collective self-defense. As one reporter pointed out, if you accept that reasoning then the government should be condemned for cutting social security and funding for education—two economic decisions that affect citizens negatively—in order to pay for weapon systems demanded by the new security arrangement, at least according to the U.S., which still seems to be calling the tune because they’re the ones who want to sell Japan those weapon systems.

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