The day after Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, successfully rammed through a controversial law, the Conspiracy bill, on June 15, the author arrived in Kyoto to represent the ANSWER Coalition on a weeklong speaking tour against U.S.-Japanese imperialism hosted by the Asia-Wide Campaign (AWC-Japan).
The speaking tour included a rally and a march in Kyoto, and public forums in Kyoto, Fukuyama, Nagoya, and Kobe. In every forum activists were deeply concerned and outraged by the Conspiracy bill. Despite the bill becoming law, people were determined to continue to resist it.
The Conspiracy bill became law by using the rare tactic of bypassing committee-level approval. That is, skipping a vote in an upper house committee and moving directly to a vote in the full upper house. Critics fear the bill’s vague definition of terrorism poses a threat to citizens’ rights. The Abe government argues the Conspiracy bill is a necessary safeguard against terrorist attacks at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo.
Many activists in Japan believe that the bill is a new offensive specifically aimed at peoples’ movements, such as the anti-U.S. base movement. For example, the bill criminalizes plans and preparations to commit 277 “serious crimes.” Such “crimes” include acts commonly used in the anti-base movement, like sit-ins to stop base-related construction projects. The bill therefore seems less about combating terrorism and more about legalizing the state’s use of terrorism against its own citizens.
In discussions with the author, activists in Japan were struck by the similarity between Abe’s Conspiracy bill and the way Republican-controlled states began taking steps to widen the legal definition of criminality after the election of Trump. In North Dakota, for example, under emergency provisions, laws were immediately enacted without debate to further criminalize peaceful, indigenous-led water protectors blocking the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
U.S.-Japanese Military Alliance
Abe’s Conspiracy bill comes at a time when the United States and Japan are ramping up their military alliance based largely on the lie that the DPRK and China pose an aggressive, offensive threat to the U.S. military bases in Japan, 75 percent of which are located about 400 miles south of Japan proper on Okinawa island.
The United States controlled Okinawa from 1945 until it was returned in 1972, not to the indigenous Okinawans, but to the Japanese government, as part of a non-nuclear proliferation treaty. Even though the United States no longer occupies the whole of Okinawa, the Security Treaty, signed in 1951 and revised in 1960, continues to give the United States access to Japan’s air and land space for military purposes in exchange for “protection.”
The U.S. government’s stated intention of maintaining a large and growing military presence in Japan beginning in 1952 was to serve as a “bulwark against communism.” Even after the Cold War, the U.S. military presence in Japan and the Asian Pacific has grown. Once the Soviet Union and much of the socialist bloc were eliminated, the last holdouts of anti-colonial, pan-Arab, independent, nationalism were targeted for regime change.
Through racism, sanctions and lies about weapons of mass destruction, the United States has brought massive destabilization to the region, including genocide, widespread terrorism, and open-air slave markets. The U.S. bases and military alliance with Japan made these war crimes possible.
Japan, after enacting a new series of war laws, sent war ships to the Gulf region in 2001 and 2003 to provide refueling support for U.S. aircraft during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution states, “the Japanese people forever renounce war” and that all means of “war potential, will never be maintained.”
In 2005-2006, the U.S.-Japanese military alliance was reinforced through a “realignment” plan that would more centrally integrate U.S. and Japanese military alliances. The goal is to transform the Japanese Self-Defense Forces into a ready-for-war army to be deployed, along with U.S. forces, anywhere in the world. The people’s movements in Japan have been resisting this plan for many years.
In 2012, Obama’s “rebalancing” strategy made dangerous strides toward realignment, leading to more cooperation between the United States and Japan in conducting joint military exercises or “war games” right outside of North Korea’s waters.
Most recently, the United States, Japan and the U.S.-controlled South Korean military coordinated a nuclear bomb-dropping drill right off of North Korea’s shores. When the author joined a rally in Kyoto on June 16, demonstrators expressed outrage that the UN Security Council would not consider this an act of provocation, but rather imposed further sanctions on the DPRK for their testing of an intermediate-range missile as a response to being threatened with nuclear annihilation.
The Abe government is currently moving aggressively to completely deregulate and unleash the Japanese Self-Defense Forces by amending the constitution. This process is likely to begin in the fall. Abe has boldly stated that Japan’s military forces need a legitimate position within Article 9.
Based on the energy and perseverance of the people’s movements in Japan steps taken to amend Article 9 will likely result in Abe’s approval rating to continue to fall. An indication of this was the Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, July 2, where Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party suffered a humiliating defeat. While this election does not necessarily mean the undoing of the Abe government, it does call into question Abe’s proposed timeline for reforming Japan’s pacifist Constitution by 2020.
As state policy moves further away from the peoples’ will, protests and demonstrations can be expected to rise. A seasoned politician, Abe surely knows this opposition is coming, and the Conspiracy bill must be understood within this context.
The anti-base movement
The United States has over 40,000 military personnel deployed at 83 permanent bases in Japan. In addition, the U.S.’s 7th Navy Fleet, with its homeport at the Yokosuka base, houses more than 13,000 troops afloat. With perhaps around 60,000 U.S. troops, Japan has been the number one host country for U.S. forces abroad since 2010.
While the anti-base movement in Japan is informed by the peoples’ demand for self-determination and the desire to regain control of their national territory, a number of related issues have also been central.
First, many people, especially in Okinawa where the bases are most heavily concentrated, consuming more than 20 percent of the land base, the bases themselves have disrupted and even devastated their social life. For example, many are outraged and disgusted by the sexual crimes U.S. soldiers commit against women and young girls near U.S. bases with near impunity.
The military activity and widespread use of dangerous chemicals on the bases have resulted in major environmental devastation. The construction of bases through expanding out into the ocean or in forested areas is another source of ecosystem devastation. One of the consequences of these and other activities has been high rates of cancer among communities in close proximity to bases and the military’s dumping grounds. The environmental destruction has also made life difficult for farmers and fisherman in places like Okinawa. Finally, the unimaginably debilitating noise pollution the bases mercilessly subject the people living around them to has led to decades of fierce resistance.
Okinawans have resisted U.S. military presence since the end of WWII and more recently, have blocked the construction of the Henoko base for 20 years. So organized and widespread is the Okinawan resistance that they successfully elected an anti-base governor in 2014, Takeshi Onaga.
In 2015, Onaga revoked the land reclamation permit needed to build the base on top of a fragile coral reef ecosystem. However, the Onaga-led Okinawans lost the case in the Supreme Court, and the central government quickly began building the seawalls for the Henoko base in late April amid massive protests and civil disobedience. The local activists have not given up on stopping the base from being built, noting that the sea walls have not destroyed the reef. The Conspiracy bill will surely be used against Okinawans in the coming realignment of the U.S.-Japanese military alliance.
Indigenous Okinawans, whose language and culture has been devastated by Japanese colonialism and current curricular genocide, and who have been terrorized by U.S. soldiers for nearly seven decades, will surely respond with indignation as the Abe government moves to further militarize the Self-Defense Forces.
Again, the Conspiracy bill will allow the Japanese government to more easily eliminate the anti-base movement by jailing its leadership and peaceful activists as terrorists.
People’s Resistance and Solidarity
As wealth is increasingly redistributed upward in both Japan and the United States through the slashing of social spending, cutting corporate taxes, and increasing military spending, only with international solidarity and the understanding of the power people already have can a new society of the people be realized.