An H-2A rocket equipped with the Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, on December 3, 2014. Photo: AFP / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has selected Nobuo Kishi as his minister of defense. Kishi is former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, adopted by the Kishi family to maintain the line.

Newly appointed Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi delivers a speech during a press conference at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on September 16. Photo: AFP / Charly Triballeau

Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, had a long career as an infamous official in Imperial Japan’s colony of Manchukuo (Manchuria). An accused but never tried war criminal, released from prison to cooperate with the US Occupation at the beginning of the Cold War, he went on to become the prime minister who sacrificed his career to ram through the revised Japan-US Security Treaty in 1960.

The historical significance of Nobuo Kishi becoming Japan’s minister of defense has not been lost on the Chinese and Koreans. 

Abe’s Saturday visit to Yasukuni Shrine, his first since 2013, has also generated criticism and alarm. Abe tweeted, “Today, I paid a visit to the Yasukuni shrine and reported to the souls of the war dead that I resigned as prime minister on Sept. 16.”

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Yasukuni Shrine on Saturday. Photo: Twitter

Abe and other Japanese conservatives have never accepted the idea that Japanese shouldn’t pray for the war dead at a national shrine because “war criminals” are enshrined there, but the prohibition doesn’t apply to other nationalities.

Andrew Jackson, who drove the Native Americans out of the Southeast, and William Tecumsah Sherman, who employed scorched earth tactics during his march through Georgia, are buried at Arlington.

Radhabinod Pal, an Indian judge appointed to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, wrote that the Tokyo Trials were a case of victor’s justice, a “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge.”

His judgement was that “every one of the accused must be found not guilty of every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges.” There is a monument to Judge Pal at Yasukuni Shrine.

No gratitude

You do know what has happened, don’t you? 

Japan has been pacifist and democratic for 75 years and received nothing but abuse from Koreans and Chinese the entire time.

There has been no appreciation for not attacking anyone (China attacked Vietnam in 1979), not establishing a dictatorship, not sending troops to help the Americans butcher Vietnamese (South Korean troops were renowned for their ferocity during the Vietnam War).

There have been endless complaints that Japan’s apologies are insincere, that Japan remains a warmonger at heart and, from the Americans, that Japan is not pulling its weight militarily.

The lesson is clear: Pacifism and renunciation of war earn not respect and admiration, but contempt. 

Another lesson, taught by South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s abandonment of a settlement of the “comfort women” issue negotiated with his predecessor, is that agreements signed by the Korean government are not worth the paper they are printed on. 

Yet another is that negotiating from a position of weakness does not lead to the return of all Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea.

So Japan is turning itself into a “normal” country with ever larger and more sophisticated armed forces, and a wider range of situations in which they can be used.

Under Prime Minister Abe, Japan launched a sustained military buildup (including aircraft carriers) and stepped up defense cooperation with the United States, Southeast Asia, India, Australia and Europe. 

The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” was originally Abe’s idea.

Abe failed to revise Japan’s “Peace Constitution,” but did manage to win acceptance of collective defense from Japan’s increasingly realistic public. Abe’s defense minister, Taro Kono, ditched plans to install America’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system in favor of a first-strike capability.

Global Firepower’s 2020 Military Strength Ranking puts Japan in 5th place after the United States, China, Russia and India. South Korea ranks 6th, France 7th and the UK 8th.

So what is Japan capable of?

This handout photograph made available by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and taken by Minerva-II rover-1A on September 21, 2018, shows the surface of asteroid Ryugu (bottom) after two rovers were separated from the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2. Photo: AFP / JIJI Press / JAXA handout

The Hayabusa2 space probe is scheduled to drop its container of samples from the asteroid Ryugu on Australia in December, swing past earth and head for another asteroid halfway to Mars that is only 30 meters in diameter.

The asteroid Ryugu after Hayabusa2 departed from its orbit around the distant asteroid last November and headed for Earth, carrying carrying samples that could shed light on the origins of the Solar System. Photo: AFP /JIJI Press / JAXA handout

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) pitches this as big science and an opportunity to develop technology that can be used to prevent disasters caused by celestial objects colliding with Earth (“planetary Defense”). But it has applications closer to home.

Paul Kallender, Senior Researcher with Keio Research Institute at Shonan Fujisawa Campus, notes that “Hayabusa is a technology tester for two areas, autonomous and directed maneuvers” – co-orbital anti-satellite weapons technology – “and ballistic re-entry tech.”

Korea is hopelessly outclassed, China has plenty to worry about, and Nobuo Kishi is the blast from the past that they have called down upon themselves.

Scott Foster is an analyst with Lightstream Research, Tokyo.