Japan Constitution May Hinder Ties to Indonesia

Japan’s commitment to help Indonesia train its police and upgrade its sea defenses may be compromised by Japan’s constitutional ban on participating in military actions overseas, according to a senior Indonesian diplomat.

Specifically, Indonesia wants Japan to strengthen collective security in the Malacca Straits by providing financial assistance to the Indonesian Coast Guard, said Soemadi D.M. Brotodiningrat, Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States.

Japan and Indonesia signed a broad agreement on fighting international terrorism during a 2003 summit in Tokyo between Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"Japan can’t do anything" for the Indonesian Coast Guard because it "is part of our armed forces," Brotodiningrat said. "We need hardware assistance from Japan, but it’s restricted by their constitution," which limits its scope to defensive activities to prevent aggression of the sort Tokyo had in the thirties and forties.

He added that the "rigidity of Japan" on its military role overseas is "an obstacle" in the fight against piracy, and has hampered bilateral information-sharing about attacks on shipping.

Eighty percent of Japan’s oil flows through the Malacca Straits, the narrow waterway connecting the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, making their security essential to Japan’s survival.

Otherwise, the ambassador, who previously served as Indonesia’s envoy to Japan, was extremely positive about the state of political and economic ties between the two countries. "Indonesia has always enjoyed good relations with Japan," he said.

Brotodiningrat made his comments at a Washington seminar this week sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and the United States-Indonesia Society.

His remarks come two weeks after a deadly bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta that killed nine Indonesians. In October 2002, scores of people, including 88 Australians, were killed in a nightclub combing in the island of Bali.

Article Nine of Japan’s ‘Peace Constitution’, which was drafted shortly after World War II by the United States that occupied the country, renounces the use of force and restricts Japan’s military to the strict defense of Japan.

Any discussion of its abolition is controversial in Japan – and overseas, many Asian neighbors look at this with worries of a return of a more militaristic Japan. Over the past 15 years, however, the Japanese government has stretched the language of Article Nine to allow Japanese "peacekeepers" to participate in UN and internationally sanctioned relief projects abroad.

U.S. officials frequently argue that Japan cannot fulfill its international duties until the constitution is changed.

In August, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Japan’s Kyodo news service that Japanese membership in the UN Security Council might hinge on expanding its role in overseas military operations.

"If Japan is going to play a full role on the world stage and become a full active participating member of the Security Council, and have the kind of obligations that it would pick up as a member of the Security Council, Article Nine would have to be examined in that light," he said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who personally favors changing the peace amendment, dispatched naval tankers to the Persian Gulf to assist U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Last year, Japan’s parliament passed a law allowing Japanese troops to take part in non-combat roles in Iraq.

One of Japan’s largest overseas operations took place in 2002, when Tokyo sent 680 members of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to East Timor after its independence from Indonesia.

In their 2003 announcement, Megawati and Koizumi affirmed that Japan will provide counter-terrorism assistance in areas from immigration control to police and law enforcement and "measures against terrorist financing" and will improve maritime and transport security, as well as the security of movement of people.

Since the 1960s, Japan has been Indonesia’s largest foreign investor and a key trading partner. Unlike the United States, which sometimes distances itself from Jakarta, Japan has consistently refused to criticize successive Indonesian governments for their military actions, particularly in East Timor.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and imposed on the former Portuguese colony one of the most brutal occupations of a foreign land since World War II. In 1999, militia groups supported by the Indonesian military killed hundreds more in a weeks-long rampage that was widely condemned around the world.

In 2001, four prominent Japanese clerics decried Japan’s support for Indonesia when they announced their opposition to Japan’s dispatch of SDF troops in a letter to their counterparts in East Timor.

In 1999, the clerics said, Tokyo failed to acknowledge that the Indonesian military "was directly or indirectly involved in the violence in East Timor or the fact that it is not only the militia which poses a threat to security in East Timor, but the Indonesian military and police."

They also noted that the Japanese government continues to claim "that it was a ‘volunteer force,’ not Indonesian army troops, that invaded East Timor in December 1975."

Ambassador Brotodiningrat acknowledged that Japan and Indonesia had close ties during the "old order" of Sukarno, the Indonesian nationalist overthrown in a violent military coup in 1965.

This was also so, he said, throughout the "new order" of Suharto, the general who led that coup and ruled Indonesia with an iron hand until his ouster in 1998.

"I don’t see any reason this won’t continue with reformasi," he added, referring to the political reforms being undertaken by the Megawati government.

He praised Japan to helping Indonesia reach a "dignified solution to the East Timor problem." Japan has "respected and always been mindful of our sensitivities" in this area, he added.

Indonesia, he noted, maintains good relations with North Korea and recently helped Japan bring Charles Jenkins, a U.S. Army deserter married to a Japanese citizen, out of North Korea. Jenkins traveled first to Jakarta and then flew to Japan to be reunited with his family.