Ottawa Cheers Rather Than Mourns End of Japanese Pacifism

The Liberals are celebrating the demise of one of the more positive outcomes of WWII. And, in pushing conflict with China, they are ignoring Canada’s ignoble role in some horrible history.

Last week Global Affairs’ principal Twitter account praised Japan for massively increasing its military spending. "Canada welcomes Japan’s new National Security Strategy and increased defense investments that will significantly contribute to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific," it noted. In its biggest military buildup since World War II Tokyo announced a plan to spend US $320 billion on its military over the next five years. Japan plans to acquire missiles that can strike China and its National Security Strategy labels that country its "greatest strategic challenge ever". In acquiring offensive weapons and doubling military spending to 2% of GDP, Japan is breaking from the country’s nominal pacifism, which was one of the few positive outcomes of WWII.

Global Affairs says its support for Japan’s war preparation is an outgrowth of its recently announced Indo Pacific Strategy. In an accompanying tweet Global Affairs noted, "As part of our Indo Pacific Strategy, we will work closely with allies & partners like Japan to uphold the rules-based international order and maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region."

To counter China, the Indo-Pacific Strategy allocates half a billion dollars to bolstering Canada’s military and spy network in the region. It also says Canada will "augment its naval presence, including by increasing the number of frigates deployed on to the region where it will conduct forward naval presence operations." At the start of the month Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced that Canada will seek to augment its naval deployment in East Asia from 1 to 3 vessels.

Japan is central to Canada’s growing military presence in the region. Canadian naval vessels are often stationed at the US base in Okinawa, Japan, and they increasingly operate alongside Japanese vessels. Additionally, Canada’s long-range CP-140 Aurora spy planes have been flying regular reconnaissance missions out of Okinawa to observe China.

Last week the Ottawa Citizen reported that defense minister Anita Anand was planning to spend $5 billion to acquire new spy planes. The planes would almost certainly be used to target China.

Canada’s support for rearming Japan has a historic precedent. Canada supported Japan’s violent conquest of China in the 1930s, which was part of the buildup to WWII. Ottawa tacitly supported Japan’s brutal 1931 invasion of Manchuria that left 20,000 dead. "Whatever may be thought of the moral or ethical rights of the Japanese to be in and to exercise control over Manchuria their presence there must be recognized as a stabilizing and regulating force," noted the Canadian diplomat who opened the first Canadian mission in Japan, Hugh Llewellyn Keenleyside. Six years later the Canadian ambassador to China, Randolph Bruce, told the Toronto Star that Japan’s invasion of Nanking, to the west of Manchuria, was "simply an attempt to put her neighbor country into decent shape, as she has already done in Manchuria." Some 20,000 women were raped and tens of thousands of Chinese killed in the six weeks after Japan entered Nanking. Yet Canadian officials in the region, who received reports regarding the massacres, were more worried about Japan’s sinking of the USS Panay and HMS Ladybird then the human rights situation.

Canadian diplomats viewed China as a weak and divided country subject to communist influence. On the other hand, they were impressed by Japan’s ability to keep order in East Asia. Through Ottawa’s accession to Anglo-Japanese military and commercial treaties Canada and Japan were imperial allies and most favored trading partners. Japan’s wartime footing benefited Canadian exporters, becoming the third largest importer of Canadian nonferrous metals. Canada was Japan’s chief supplier of nickel, a militarily important commodity. Japan imported 9,000 tons of Canadian nickel in 1937, 10,000 tons in 1938 and 7,000 tons in the first half of 1939 alone. Throughout the mid-to late-1930s leftist organizations, peace groups, and self-styled "friends of China" called for an economic and military boycott of Japan to end Canada’s complicity with Japanese expansionism.

The geopolitical dynamic has, of course, changed significantly. With an economy equal to the US (though far smaller per capita) China is more powerful today. But the US remains far and away the global hegemon. With the US dollar dominating international trade, Washington has outsized leverage over global finance. In the cultural and ideological spheres US power is unrivaled as is its influence in international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and even the United Nations. But it’s militarily where the US is leaps and bounds ahead of China with the most sophisticated weapons and an incredible array of international alliances and foreign bases. The US has over 100,000 troops stationed around China, including 55,000 in Japan.

Hawks in Washington are ratcheting up tensions over Taiwan in the hopes of provoking a Chinese invasion. In the recently signed budget the US allocated $10 billion over five-years in arms to Taiwan, which most of the world considers a province of China. Japan’s military buildup stems from Washington’s push. And Ottawa is celebrating rather than mourning the return of Japanese militarism.

Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.