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
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
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,"
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
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
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
"I don't see any reason this won't continue with reformasi,"
he added, referring to the political reforms being undertaken by the Megawati
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.
(Inter Press Service)