Akihisa Matsuno, Osaka University
of Foreign Studies
Osaka University of Foreign Studies
Given Foreign Minister Tanaka's recent statement in Hanoi of her intention to send the SDF to East Timor, it now appears that the Koizumi administration has made up its mind on this issue. The sending of Japanese troops abroad has long been a divisive issue in Japan in relation to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which explicitly bans Japan from maintaining an army of any kind and prohibits Japan from resorting to the use of military force in the settlement of international disputes. In fact, however, Japan maintains a military, called the Self-Defense Force (SDF), and although the issue has been taken to court a number of times, the Supreme Court has refused to rule on the SDF's unconstitutionality with the argument that the issue is "highly political".
Ironically, while the debate on the unconstitutionality of the SDF has been virtually deadlocked, the sending of SDF troops abroad was "legalized" with the passage of the PKO Cooperation Law in 1992. The PKO Cooperation Law sets conditions for SDF dispatch, such as the strict neutrality of the operation and the existence of a ceasefire between the conflicting parties, and limits SDF members' use of weapons to very special circumstances. Now, however, these conditions are felt to be hampering "Japan's ability to contribute to international peace" by those who want to expand the mandate of the SDF. The dispatch of SDF troops to East Timor is seen as a chance to effectively nullify those legal limitations.
While the government certainly welcomes
the "offer" made by the UN secretariat to be more "actively involved" in
PKO in East Timor, It is an illusion to think that Japan would do anything
to defend East Timor from external threats, especially when they come from
Indonesia. That is not what the SDF is being sent for.
Indonesia's stability, not East Timor's
The former head of the foreign ministry's 2nd Southeast Asia Division (covering Indonesia and the Philippines), ISHII Masafumi, is now in Foreign Minister Tanaka's secretariat. His thinking on East Timor in relation to Japan's strategic priorities is reflected in an article, "Hopes for a new-born Indonesia" that he wrote in the March issue of a foreign ministry-related monthly, "Gaiko Forum" (Diplomacy Forum) while he was still with the 2nd Division . After touching on relations with the US, China and Russia, Mr. Ishii identifies the importance to Japan of "a unified, strong and stable ASEAN", and writes that "Indonesia occupies the pivotal position in that."
The importance of "Indonesia's stability" totally dominates Japan's thinking on East Timor, and Mr. Ishii uses the recent events in East Timor to repeat again that "the maintanence of the stability of Indonesia" is a "strategic objective of Japan's diplomacy." He recalls how Japan stressed the importance of "Indonesia's stability" against the argument that prevailed among several major powers during the post-referendum havoc (Aki, I added this for clarity) -- that Japan should press Indonesia by hinting at a possible suspension of economic assistance.
"'A quick resolution of the problem of East Timor is important, but at the same time, we should not lose sight or our common priority, that is, Indonesia's stability.' This was the argument that Japan presented (to other major powers). But it was also the hard reality that Indonesia's stability was not possible without a quick resolution of the East Timor problem. And Japan was one of the countries that tried to persuade Indonesia about this point quietly and patiently."
Here we can see the logic that "Indonesia's stability has priority over the security of East Timor". This logic is also what the man who is now defense minister NAKATANI Gen, used in a debate in the Asahi Shimbun (newspaper) on October 2, 1999 with Senator Satsuki Eda about the dispatch of the SDF to East Timor. Asked by an editor what the East Timor problem meant for Japan, Mr. Nakatani answered:
"It's a test case whether we can secure Indonesia's stability in the future. Indonesia's stability is important for the Japanese economy. And it is significant if the problem of East Timor can be settled with (the assistance of) Japanese funding" evidently referring to funding for Interfet operations). When asked by the editor if Indonesia's treatment of East Timor was not such that it violated Japan's so-called four ODA principles (about democracy and human rights in the aid-recipient country) Mr. Nakatani answered:
"The territorial problem is the most important for any state. I understand the feelings of Indonesia."
Mr. Nakatani said nothing about how the
East Timor problem as a conflict should be approached or what kind of principles
should be applied to this case. What occupied his mind was nothing more
than a simple desire that Indonesia must be stable after the East Timor
problem was disposed of, in whatever way. Securing Japan's economic interests
is all that counts, and Japanese officials don't even pay lip service to
things like preserving "internatioanal peace" when Indonesia figures anywhere
in the strategic equation. This was the thinking of the man who now, as
defense minister, wants to send the SDF to East Timor .
Japan's involvement in UNAMET
In the lead-up to the August 1999 popular referendum, Japan sent three civilian police to UNAMET headquarters. Article 3 of Japan's PKO Cooperation Law (which applied in this case) sets as a condition for Japanese participation the existence of a cease-fire agreement and acceptance by both parties to the conflict of Japanese participation in the UN PKO. In sending personnel to UNAMET, according to Mr. Ryoichi Horie, then counselor to the secretariat of international cooperation of the prime minister's Office, Japan treated this condition as follows.
"With the April cease-fire agreement, a peace agreement existed between the conflicting parties, namely, the armed pro-independence and pro-integration groups. Both parties had the will to maintain the agreement. With regard to the UN activities to organize and implement a direct vote and Japan's participation in it, the countries involved and the conflicting parties had already agreed. Thus we judged that the five PKO principles (the conditions necessary for sending police/SDF to any UN PKO) were fulfilled, and the cabinet decided to do so in June." ("Gaiko Forum", March 2000)
In short, Japan's official perception is that the conflicting parties in the East Timor problem are, and have always been, just the East Timorese themselves. For instance, Japan always uses in its public statements terms like "Indonesian volunteers" in referring to the invasion forces. One of the civilian police sent to UNAMET, Mr. Yasunori Orita, was himself quoted as saying that the worsening situation around the referendum was "essentially caused by the slow progress of reconciliation among the population."
The April agreement which Japan claimed
constituted a cease-fire agreement was something mediated by General Wiranto
and signed by Xanana and Leandro Isaac on behalf of CNRT
and Domingos Soares and Joao Tavares on behalf of the pro-integration forces.
It was concluded on April 21, but Bishop Belo refused to sign it. Japan's
dispatch of police was made possible by this agreement staged by Indonesia.
SDF dispatch to an independent East Timor
As always, the two conditions required by Article 3 of the PKO Cooperation Law become problems.
Firstly, the existence of a cease-fire agreement. Article 3 stipulates that there must exist an agreement by the conflicting parties to stop armed conflict and to comply with the agreement. But the article also says, if there is no armed conflict, the acceptance by the authorities of the involved country is enough, meaning that Japan can send SDF if the new East Timorese government allows it. But then the dispatch is based on the assumption that there is no armed conflict there, and once that assumption has become invalid, SDF has no foundation to continue to stay there. This effectively prevents SDF from functioning at the very times when it is needed. It is the publicly stated perception of the Japanese government that the conflicting parties in the case of East Timor are pro-integration and pro-independence forces. At present, there is no cease-fire agreement between the two, as required by Article 3. Japan has two alternatives, either negotiate a peace pact with UNTAS or take the position that there is no armed conflict.
Secondly, Article 2 is also a problem. Article 2 concerns the definition of the type of UN PKO which Japan can participate in, and it stipulates that a UN PKO that Japan would be able to participate in is one that is implemented with strict neutrality and that does not side with any party to the conflict. If Japan considers that the conflicting parties are pro-independence and pro-integration forces, Japan's participation in security for an independent East Timor would be a case of siding with pro-independence forces. The question is whether this type of operation is allowed by the PKO Cooperation Law. If it were, it would be like the SDF defending Angolan government troops against UNITA in the Angolan "civil war".
What is clear at this stage is that, in either case, the SDF will have to withdraw or just remain inactive in order to maintain its neutrality once an armed conflict breaks out. Since from the very outset it is a highly unlikely scenario for the SDF to fight on the side of an independent East Timor, in terms of defending the security of East Timor, sending the SDF to East Timor is pure nonsense.
But an SDF dispatch to East Timor represents a big political victory in the context of Japanese domestic politics, given the agendas of the present ruling parties in Japan, namely LDP, Komei Party and Conservative Party, and some sections of the opposition, who want to send Japanese troops abroad under the "international cooperation" rubric. And the "nonsense result" described above is just that they want. Firstly, they don't want any SDF personnel to become a victim in an actual operation, and not only out of tender feeling for the soldiers. Even a single dead or wounded soldier would stiffen Japanese public opinion and have a negative impact on their plan to gradually work up to the routine sending of troops abroad. Secondly they don't want to be involved in any conflict with Indonesia. Because of the fundamental diplomatic strategy explained above, A Japanese soldier would never turn a gun on a TNI soldier or TNI-backed militiaman. Even a verbal confrontation with Indonesia that would raise the shackles of Jakarta politicians and generals is anathema.
Wherever in the world the trouble spot might be, the Government wants to send the SDF only to score political points, and certainly in the case of East Timor it has never given serious thought to securing peace. The minute fighting breaks out in East Timor, the SDF will quickly withdraw from the operation, just as the Japanese civpols did in September 1999, and they will claim that they do so precisely because they respect Article 3 of PKO Cooperation Law.
By this scenario, Japan can achieve its diplomatic targets. Firstly, contributing to this UN PKO will allow Japan to push more strongly its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Secondly, Japan can protect its interests in Indonesia by avoiding being dragged into an open conflict with Indonesian politicians and generals. Contributing to peace in East Timor is not a matter of consideration in Japanese diplomacy and therefore it will be the first thing to be compromised when it is found to be at odds with Japan's relations with Indonesia.
16 Free East Timor Japan Coalition letter to the Defense Agency
Letter added Aug 4
"At this time we ask that you reexamine the proposal now being considered to send Self Defense Force troops to East Timor. ... In recent years the Japanese Government has eschewed forthright debate on the constitutionality of the Self Defense Forces and has instead sought to gain recognition-by-default of the SDF through having it participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations, in which context it is treated just like the armies of other countries. On the other hand, moves to set up a specialized organization, separate from the SDF, to deal with aspects of refugee relief, cease-fire and referendum observation in conflict areas have been pushed into the shadows where they have ground to a stop. For the government to act in this way is to jeopardize the rule of law that constitutes the very foundation of any democratic state; this is suicidal." Free East Timor Japan Coalition
16 KY: 2 Japan GSDF officials to visit E. Timor News added
"Two Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) officials will shortly visit East Timor to collect information on the state of security in the territory, Japan’s Defense Agency said Monday. ... The two are also expected to gather information about PKO in East Timor, given agency chief Gen Nakatani’s desire to study plans to dispatch personnel of the Self-Defense Forces in the event of new PKO there." Kyodo
30 JCCJP: Japanese church leaders oppose Japanese troops in East Timor
Position statement added July 10
"Most Japanese people want Japan to contribute to world peace first and foremost by strictly adhering to its war-renouncing “peace constitution.” ... The present government plan to send the SDF to join a peace keeping operation in East is directly opposed to theses, the fervently held wishes of our people. Furthermore, this newly planned dispatch of Japanese troops to East Timor is particularly callous in light of the Government’s refusal to this day to fully acknowledge, apologize for, or compensate the army’s sex slaves and other victims of Japan’s occupation of East Timor during the Pacific War." Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace
12 Xanana: Symposium on “Reconciliation, Tolerance, Human Rights and Elections”
Speech added Feb 15
"We believe that after the rebellion of the Manufahi, the Timorese People, obviously still divided by kingdoms, lived an era of a better relationship among themselves until the period before the Japanese invasion. The Japanese invasion, from 1942 to 1945, was another test to the courage of the Timorese people which concurrently managed to live with the invaders while maintaining a determination to fight its presence. I am from the generation post-Japanese invasion. From this period until the Indonesian invasion 30 years went by." President Xanana
10 2000 KY: ETimor: 2 ex-sex slaves break silence at NGO tribunal
Added Dec 11
"Two East Timorese women broke over half a century of silence Sunday and told of their ordeals as sex slaves of the Imperial Japanese Army at a mock tribunal to try the Japanese government over its responsibility for the recruitment of so-called ''comfort women'' before and during World War II." Kyodo
8 2000 DPA: Women demand apology & compensation for War-time Japanese
mistreatment Added Dec 9
"The Japanese government, which failed to respond to the tribunal's invitation to participate in the event, continues to deny any legal responsibility for the suffering of the former comfort women. Sexual violence committed by the Japanese Imperial Army was hardly touched by the 1946-1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, set up by the Allied Forces after the war." Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Gunn: Timor Loro Sae: 500 Years - Wartime Timor: 1942-45
Book extract added July 10
"Many Timorese including liurai paid with their lives [at the hands of Japanese military 1942-45] either for standing neutral or for alleged support of Australian guerrillas. ... The number of Timorese who died during the war is impossible to calculate with precision but is of the order of 40-70,000 out of a total prewar population of around 450,000. The disruption to native agriculture and the breakdown of prewar society stemming from the harsh system of food collection and corvees imposed by the Japanese inevitably led to famine and other hardships, including debilitating disease. ... The issues of Japanese wartime compensation including the claims of so-called "comfort women" or sexual slavery in Timor first became public in 1997 but only in the Macau media where it was taken up by Jose Ramos-Horta speaking on behalf of the Timorese people." Geoffrey C. Gunn, author, Timor Loro Sae: 500 Years
27 1999 Noam Chomsky: East Timor Retrospective - An overview and lessons
Analysis added Dec 28
"The story does not begin in 1975. East Timor had not been overlooked by the planners of the postwar world. The territory should be granted independence, Roosevelt's senior adviser Sumner Welles mused, but "it would certainly take a thousand years." With an awe-inspiring display of courage and fortitude, the people of East Timor have struggled to confound that cynical prediction, enduring monstrous disasters. Perhaps 50,000 lost their lives protecting a small contingent of Australian commandoes fighting the Japanese; their heroism may have saved Australia from Japanese invasion. A third of the population were victims of the first years of the 1975 Indonesian invasion, many more since." Noam Chomsky
BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news