AUSTRALIAN HISTORY - JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA
Age, 7 March 2005
Armed forces from
Australia and Japan have taken turns at protecting each other for nearly
100 years. These dealings are but threads through the shifting pattern
of alignments among the empires of Britain, Japan and United States.
Their future influence on China is the angle from which the coming
collaboration of Australian soldiers with Japanese engineers in Iraq
should be viewed.
The story begins in
1902 with the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Over the next ten years, the
Admiralty relied more and more on the Japanese to take care British
interests in East Asia.
The new Commonwealth
did not much care for the Mother’s Country’s latest ally. In 1908,
Prime Minister Alfred Deakin invited the U. S. to send its “Great
White Fleet” to Australia, a signal of disapproval to London and a
warning to Tokyo. The Labor government inaugurated the Royal Australian
Navy in 1910-11.
In August 1914, Japan
seized German concessions in China and its Pacific possessions north of
Japan’s Ibuki escorted the
ANZAC convoy to the Middle East. Its commander wanted the honour of
sinking the German light cruiser, the Emden,
altering course of his more powerful battle-cruiser to run between it
and the light cruiser HMAS Sydney.
Tokyo was anxious to
contribute to the war effort in order to strengthen its hand in the
peace settlement. In April 1916,
the British government raised that prospect to spur Australian Prime
Minister Billy Hughes into his two failed attempts to introduce
conscription for overseas service.
At Versailles in 1919,
Hughes got all his way by keeping the Japanese north of the equator.
During the inter-war years, military connections were overtaken by
economic relations. Japan’s purchase of wool to clothe its army in
China pulled the Australian economy out of the 1930s depression. The
export of pig-iron to Japan in 1938 left Prime Minister Bob Menzies with
No sooner did
hostilities cease on 15 August 1945 than Lord Mountbatten integrated
35,000 Japanese troops into his Command to repress independence fighters
across Indonesia, a joint campaign which lasted until November 1946.
had taken the lead in the British Occupation of Japan. Those forces were
among the first into the Korean war in late June 1950. The U.S. waged
that war as much to keep Japan in the anti-Communist orbit as to hold
onto South Korea. Hence, Australian forces were indirectly defending
Japan while Washington was rehabilitating convicted Class “A” war
criminals to help out in its hot Cold War.
Mao’s declaration of
the Peoples Republic of China on 1 October 1949 intensified
Washington’s determination to finalise a Peace Treaty with Japan so
that it could play its part as the northern anchor in the containment of
At the same time,
Britain pressured Australia to send forces to the Middle East, for the
fourth time since 1884. Menzies accepted that the Empire’s hold on the
Suez Canal was an economic and strategic necessity for Australia.
However, he also knew that the Labor Party could play the “Japan
card” at elections due before the end of 1952. Canberra therefore
urged the chief U. S. negotiator, John Foster Dulles, to provide a
statement of support to console Australian voters. The upshot was the
ANZUS Treaty, signed on 1 September 1951, only days before Australia
agreed to the Peace Treaty in San Francisco.
Dulles saw ANZUS
Treaty as a temporary concession. His real objective, pursued as
Secretary of State from 1953, was for a NATO-type alliance along the
great crescent from Japan around towards Turkey. All he managed to
wangle was the charade of South-East Asia Treaty Organisation in 1954.
Nonetheless, the ANZUS
Treaty did involve Australia with the defence of Japan since Article V
reads: “an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an
armed attack on … its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the
Pacific”. For as long as U.S. forces remain in Japan, Australia will
be expected to do its duty towards the Japanese.
Of course, any treaty
is, as Dulles pointed out in 1952, only as relevant as the extent to
which its wording expresses what the signatories would do anyway, in
their own interests.
The significance of
Canberra’s most recent commitment is not for its effect on the latest
attempt to occupy Iraq.
important is what Australia’s mite could contribute to the
determination by the Japanese government to subvert the “no-war”
Clause 9 in the Constitution that General Macarthur imposed on Japan in
Japan has re-armed
long since, but only for self-defence. Its navy and air force have
next-to-no capacity to project power beyond its maritime boundaries.
A referendum to alter,
let alone remove, that prohibition would unleash political outrage in
Japan, and around its neighbours. Far worse, a rebuff at the polls would
put the revisionists’ plans back for another generation, or more.
Hence, Tokyo’s scheme is to extend overseas involvements by the Self
Defence Forces (SDF), and then to use those activities to claim that
each additional step is in accord with previously permitted actions.
Eventually, the government will be able to declare that the old
interpretation of Clause 9 has become inoperable.
Tokyo’s despatch of
SDF engineers to Iraq is another throw in this game. John Howard took
Australian sensibilities about the treatment of prisoners of war into
consideration. A bigger electoral headache would be a perception that he
has helped Japan to elude its no-war constitution.
Australians have no
reason to be alarmed by Japanese Militarism, which is as dead as General
Tojo. A potent force for pacifism is the Japanese budget, which is so
far in the red that Tokyo will be hard pressed to meet its current
commitments to home island defence.
should be paid to how Beijing will respond to any drift from Japan’s
self-defence posture. The coming re-engagement of Australian with
Japanese forces should be evaluated in terms of how unsettling the
balance of power in East Asia will affect regional security.