Japan this month marks the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed more than 200,000 people and ended World War II. But even as Japan’s prime minister pledged to work for world peace, the government announced plans for a ‘drastic’ increase in defense spending motivated by the Chinese threat, breaking a decades-old taboo. on the reinforcement of the Japanese armed forces following its defeat in 1945.
American forces dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Thousands more died in the following months and years from radiation sickness. Three days later, US forces dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 75,000 people. The United States claims that the bombings were necessary to end the war, as many more people would have died in any invasion of Japan by Allied forces.
Schoolchildren in Hiroshima, alongside survivors of the atomic bombing, celebrated the 77th anniversary of the explosion on Saturday with a ceremony in the city’s Peace Park, directly below the epicenter of the explosion. They were joined by members of the Japanese government and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“Nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are held in arsenals around the world,” António Guterres told delegates at the ceremony. “And crises with serious nuclear overtones are spreading rapidly – from the Middle East to the Korean Peninsula, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is totally unacceptable for States possessing nuclear weapons to admit the possibility of nuclear war.
Host of the G-7
Hiroshima is set to host the G-7 summit next year. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a promise to those gathered in Hiroshima: “With the leaders of the G-7, in front of the monument of peace, we will confirm our commitment to unite to protect peace”.
Japan’s constitution, written in the aftermath of its defeat in 1945, states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as the sovereign right of the nation”. However, the threat of war is approaching its shores.
China’s large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in recent days – in apparent retaliation for US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last week – have raised concerns that Beijing is planning an invasion. island, which Beijing claims is part of its territory. Japan says several Chinese missiles launched during the drills landed in seas within its exclusive economic zone.
At a press conference in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb ceremony, Prime Minister Kishida said the government must respond to the crises in Taiwan and Ukraine. “We will significantly strengthen our defense capability,” he told reporters.
Despite decades of government policy upheaval, Japan’s drive to increase defense spending and capabilities has growing public support, said analyst Tetsuo Kotani, professor of global studies at Meikai University in Tokyo. and senior researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
“Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Japanese general public’s perception of national security has changed dramatically. The Japanese people are very worried about China’s aggression,” Kotani told VOA.
“And looking at the public opinion polls, more and more people now support changing the constitution and also increasing defense spending and even introducing Japan’s offensive strike capabilities.”
Kotani added that Japan could be drawn into any conflict over Taiwan.
“Murdered (former Japanese) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Taiwan’s security and Japan’s security are inseparable because of geographical proximity and also because Japan welcomes the US military to its soil,” Kotani said. . “Thus, Japanese defense planners prepared for any scenario that could affect Japanese territory.”
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki transformed Japan’s attitude to war and military power. Seventy-seven years later, the country must face a new reality: a powerful and aggressive China willing and able to project its military force at Japan’s doorstep.