The eleventh day of March was one of the worst disasters in the recent history of Japan and one of the worst man-made catastrophes of modern times. Four years ago, because of the earthquake and tsunami, three of the six power plants of Fukushima-1 exploded. As a result, not only the station but the whole nuclear power in Japan stopped operating. Thereafter, Japan became a country that suspended the operation of nuclear reactors and, at first glance, began to position itself as a country without nuclear power. However, in recent times, Japan has demonstrated a lack of anti-nuclear energy movement as a consequence of different political and economic events. In this case, there are several approaches that explain precisely this tendency.
- Firstly, the influence of politicians on the energy sector should be mentioned. The reasons for this approach are clear. In my opinion, relation to the nuclear issue for many Japanese politicians is a tool for gaining influence and electoral votes. However, this approach is only beneficial for politicians since its advantages for them are obvious. This approach explains the activity of politicians as nuclear plant disaster events provide an opportunity to be visible to the voters and manipulate the mood of the people. However, Tokyo resorted to the opposite perspective, deciding not to disable its reactors. Government experts have written a new concept of development of the industry – the basic energy plan under which nuclear power will coexist with fossil fuel power plants and renewable energy. Such efficiency of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not expected. At the same time, anti-nuclear sentiments have subsided, which was clearly demonstrated in the recent election of the mayor of Tokyo. The winner has become a pronuclear politician Yoichi Masuzoe. Elsewhere, the authorities have also changed their severe views to the reactors because of the mood of people, and this trend confirms the strength of the approach.
- However, in my opinion, this approach has a number of weaknesses, without explaining the obvious things – the economic relation between the change of course and events in the country. There were no conditions, under which policy would be isolated from the economy.
Therefore, there is a second approach: a relative lack of anti-nuclear energy movement is explained by economic profit for the regions of nuclear energy. This should be justified. After the accident and the wave of anti-nuclear protests, Japan stopped 48 functioning reactors that provided one third of electricity until 2011. Now, many of them are operating to the full. Oi nuclear power plant with the most modern reactors will be a testing ground. Considering these strengths, we should say that Tokyo could write a thousand of plans, but the development of the Japanese nuclear power remains the prerogative of the economic regions: the construction of reactors cannot take place without the consent of the regional authorities. This is precisely the economic implications. Change of mood in the prefectures was not surprising: the government and operating companies pay regions where there are nuclear power plants a lot of money. In the nuclear municipalities such subsidies comprise 35% of the budget. Some regions are dependent on donations and do not want to change anything, while others have no choice. There are enough towns and villages in Japan, where the nuclear power plants are the only major employers and taxpayers.
More strengths of this approach should be noted further. The availability of nuclear energy will allow Abe to improve the economy. Japanese exporters need cheap electricity, and the government requires a healthy balance of foreign trade operations, which had a severe damage from the import of fossil fuels. For these purposes, Tokyo spends $100 billion a year. To start the reactors, only $5 billion are needed.
However, this approach has a weakness: given the economic component, it does not take into account the obvious consequences of the nuclear renaissance in Japan for the world economy. However, in such conditions as the country’s isolation and lack of disasters, it would be the best.
- Therefore, the third approach is as follows: a change of policy in Japan was due to foreign political and economic reasons. The strengths include a number of points. The uranium market has begun the long-awaited revival: in February, the shares of companies that produce fuel for nuclear power plants and raw materials rose by tens of percents. Uranium, which experienced a fall by twice after Fukushima, is expected to grow by 14%. It will be beneficial for all the major manufacturers.
Uranium will rise in price due to natural gas growth. Disaster in Fukushima made Japan a major importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia. Due to this, such fuel is 50-60% more expensive in the region than in Western Europe. Now, the price is expected to fall, and the entire Asian gas trade will undergo a long-term restructuring. This shows the benefit for Japan and disadvantage for the rest. Moreover, it illustrates another strength of this approach. However, it is more of an economic reason.
At the same time, weaknesses of this approach include the absence of connection with the policy, because, in such circumstances, return to the nuclear power will not be easy: Abe waits for a strong political pressure from the opposition and environmentalists. For example, Tokyo will soon face the problem of obsolete reactors, which will have to look for a replacement (Fukushima-1, by the way, was the second oldest of the Japanese nuclear power plants). It means that it will need to push the construction of new reactors, which is more difficult than restarting of old ones. It seems that the Japanese were the only nation who acquired a certain kind of immunity to nuclear allergy due to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukushima.
Thus, a change of course in Japan in terms of evidence and logic can be explained by a synthesis of approaches that includes economic benefits for the region, advantages for the ruling politicians, and gain from the foreign trade for the whole country. This approach would be deprived of the weaknesses of each of the previous explanations, and it has a maximum breadth.
Besides, events indirectly related to energy occur on the political and economic arena of the country in parallel. The government has formed a coalition with the LDP in the New Komeito party. The LDP agreed on coalition, despite the fact that it won a comfortable majority, allowing them to create a one-party cabinet. Due to this maneuver, the LDP needed to face a series of important elections in Tokyo municipality, in the upper house of parliament, and for the governor of Tokyo. In my opinion, joint performances gave an advantage in the election campaign. In addition, I believe that coalition provided a reliable way to the parliament for the LDP in order to enable the passing of important bills. Most likely, the leadership of the LDP, entering into an alliance with the New Komeito, hoped to soften its pronuclear course for voters. However, at the moment, the dispute on a different topic emerged between the two parties and thus should be considered.
- This dispute is considered in several papers and thus should be briefly summarized. Head of the Government of Japan Shinzo Abe intends to amend the country’s constitution, adopted after World War II. The Basic Law claims that the state may have only the forces for self-defense rather than full-fledged armed forces. Ayako Mie described a discussion between the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito on changes in the main legislative document of the state – the Constitution. At the same time, the LDP basically expressed the position for the revision of the article, and New Komeito showed the view of the comprehensive examination of the issue and the preservation of the current situation unchanged. Kyodo embraced this question more broadly, showing views of the people on constitutional changes and disputes which were conducted in public about the scale of collective self-defense. At the same time, Economist Intelligence Unit considered the issue even wider, including foreign policy response of other countries to this question.
- In my opinion, the third theory explains better the current Japanese government’s move toward the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution on account of the connection of political events with other countries and the effects on the international scene. It can be justified because the abolition of the 9th article has a logical explanation. Sovereignty of the country is under threat due to the worsening of the territorial dispute between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea. Naturally, changing the ninth article will lead to significant shifts in the geopolitics of the Pacific, which, in turn, will affect the foreign policy of Japan. The Abe’s strategy assumes the formation of the so-called diamond security in the region. It should become the basis of the “Beijing-Tokyo-Washington” triangle. The purpose of this triangle is to create equal relations between the independent partners. However, this approach seems unlikely since China does not accept Japan as an independent player, considering that Tokyo is following the Washington’s foreign policy. Therefore, China perceives ideas of Abe as the US and Japan alliance directed against the interests of China. According to the logic of the Prime Minister of Japan, the establishment of independence from the US armed forces should lead to the strengthening of the role of Japan’s relations with the US. This, in turn, must demonstrate to Beijing the independence of Tokyo foreign policy and inspire confidence in the Chinese side to the idea of the diamond security. However, Beijing sees an attempt to change the 9th article as the beginning of the militarization of Japan.
According to the strategy of diamond security, equal, allied relations based on strategic partnership should be established with the United States. Personally, I doubt that Japan will be able to maintain such a relationship. It is impossible to be an ally, while the US troops are stationed near the Japanese capital. One of the US bases is around 70 km from Tokyo. Therefore, the change of the ninth article will help Abe reconsider agreements with the US Armed Forces in Japan, and that will solve the financial issue that causes a lot of disputes in Japanese society. Consequently, other theories fail to predict this move because the external communication between Japan and other players in the international arena is obvious. Besides, Japan takes over 70% of the maintenance costs of American troops. Since the presence of US forces is designed to guarantee the security of Japan, the establishment of the Japanese army would deprive the United States of the status and give a reason for the revision of the agreement of 1954. It is important to understand that we are not talking about the complete withdrawal of US forces, and Abe has repeatedly stressed this point, emphasizing their reduction from 40,000 to 8,000. In addition, the withdrawal of troops from Okinawa, where there is the greatest of the bases, will relieve tension on the island.
However, Abe is not going to worsen the relations with the US, which is why he was making his first visit to Washington after the victory in the December elections. For him, the alliance with the United States remains fundamental both in the issue of economic cooperation and security in the region and in countering the growing Chinese power.
A cooling of relations between Tokyo and Washington took place during the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan, so this visit was very important. In one of his speeches in Washington, Abe clearly stated that Japan was back. He once again stressed a hundred percent confidence in the union of Japan and the United States. Despite assurances from Abe, Washington does not express a unequivocal agreement as to the change of the ninth article. On the one hand, the creation of the army could lead to an increase of the role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region and, as a result, reduction of the role of the United States and greater independence of Tokyo’s foreign policy. On the other hand, foreign political independence will allow Japan to create independent associations with Asia-Pacific countries. Japan, due to its economic as well as military situation, will play a leading role there. The main goal of these alliances is, as I think, to oppose to the rise of China, which meets the interests of the United States.
- The major participants of this debate and their policy positions should be discussed.
Economic growth and victory in the upper house allowed Abe to return to the question of amending the Constitution of Japan. Abe’s policy in this matter is quite consistent: a loyal majority in parliament, the legislative framework, and support of the majority in the community allowed him to show that the priority for the leader of the LDP is to change the ninth article of the Constitution, as Ayako Mie believes. It is the intention of the Prime Minister that raises certain problems within the country (Kyodo) and outside of it, as believes Economist Intelligence Unit.
Abe has all possibilities to start the constitutional reform, namely a loyal majority in parliament, the legal framework, and support of the majority in the community.
The LDP also does not have consensus on this issue. Abe himself is a representative of the conservative wing of his party, which has always supported the amendment of the Constitution, which, as it was considered, was written under the dictation of the US administration. However, the centrist wing of the LDP does not share the views of their colleagues as well as supporters of the Coalition Party New Komeito, believing that pacifism enshrined by the Constitution gives the advantage to Japan’s foreign policy. Therefore, Abe has a very difficult task to convince the Japanese, party members, and supporters of the coalition.
- My own research has also been conducted and showed something missing from these newspaper articles. They displayed tension between Japan and other countries on the basis of cancellation of Article 9. However, the emphasis on such an interesting aspect as territorial disputes has not been made. In general, Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors have really deteriorated recently. Consequently, at least in two of the cases, we can talk about a possible military clash. The Sino-Japanese dispute was triggered over the Diaoyu Islands/Senkaku, which started from the fact that the Japanese were ready to shoot down Chinese aircrafts that get to be seen over the islands. There is also the Japan-South Korea dispute over the Liancourt Islands, which Koreans call Dokdo and the Japanese refer to is as Takeshima. South Korean military held four-hour maneuvers, training for the protection of Dokdo islands, which sovereignty is disputed by Tokyo. The maneuvers employed military ships and aircrafts, although the Japanese government protested against it. In relation to the South Kuril Islands, no sudden maneuvers were seen. As for me, however, this does not mean that such steps are not possible in the future, especially when the Japanese armed forces officially cease to be purely defensive. Another issue is that Japan itself, in most cases, was the initiator of these exacerbations. I say this because the dispute over the Dokdo archipelago was not so hot, until the Japanese government decided not to rent but buy it from private individuals. Prior to this, the Chinese company CNOOC calmly led the production of natural gas from an offshore platform located on the Chinese side of the line that divided the two countries’ economic zones. Field development of Shirakaba/Chunxiao could be lead together, unless Japan decided that China did not have the right to pump gas from the total gas tank. The dispute over the Liancourt islands seems unserious. Japan seized the islands on February 22, 1905, just before the annexation of the rest of Korea. After the defeat in World War II, Japan had to lose possession of the islands as well as the whole Korea. This is recorded in the instructions of the Supreme Command of the occupying forces № 677 of January 29, 1946. However, the text of the San Francisco Peace Treaty did not mention Liancourt Islands. In this case, the island is now an administrative part of South Korea’s Ulleung County, North Gyeongsang Province. The island contains a Korean police station, Department of the Korean Ministry of Fisheries, and the lighthouse served by the Koreans. The island lost from the legal document actually returned to Korea, until 2008, when Japan started to insist on the possession of the island. Till that moment, no conflicts existed. Without doubt, it shows the duality of the positions of both parties. In my opinion, the LDP politicians believe that there is a need to revise the Constitution, and all politicians in some way create this need, desperately acting on foreign trade arena, provoking other countries with an ambiguous policy. In the end, changing the ninth article only de jure marks the appearance of the army in Japan because it already has modern forces of inner defense and spends on the military a budget of 5 trillion yen. In my opinion, the change in this article is largely symbolic. It is a symbol of Japanese pragmatism rather than the simple desire to return to great power status.
Summing up all the items, it should be said that the Prime Minister intends to take this opportunity to revise the Constitution, which is subjected to various discussions between the LDP and New Komeito, within the state, and in the international arena. Changing the ninth article, from the point of view of Abe, is a vital necessity rather than the implementation of Japanese nationalism. He makes it clear that the economy is a priority for him, but he also understands that the security of the country will depend on the ability to maneuver. Only the maintenance of independent and equal cooperation can ensure the safety of Japan, according to the ruling party. At the same time, it is an approach that includes foreign factors and makes them most accurately move toward the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution. However, the article also focuses on the territorial disputes, which, in some way, creates the need for it to be revised, as a controversial aspect of Japan’s policy. In the end, in my opinion, the change of this article is largely symbolic, since Japan has no army only de jure.