Japanese self-defense force launches charm offensive

Updated: 2013-10-30 00:08

By Cai Hong (China Daily)

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Japan's self-defense force is launching a charm offensive to make itself appealing to young Japanese. It is inviting Japan's Web surfers to pick the Ms and Mr of Japan's naval service.

Japanese self-defense force launches charm offensive

Members of Japan;s Self-Defense Forces march during the annual troop review ceremony at a base in Asaka, near Tokyo, on Sunday. Japan is seeking to attract more young people to the SDF. MA PING / XINHUA

Among the candidates in naval uniforms are a P-3C pilot, a submarine rescue diver, an airborne electronics specialist, an air traffic controller and a shipboard navigator.

Upholding the pacifist creed based on Article 9 of Japan's constitution, which "renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes", the Japanese public has shown little interest in joining the armed forces. As a result, Japan's SDF has found it difficult to attract its targeted recruits.

In summer, the SDF coordination office for Japan's Kagawa Prefecture improved its recruitment efforts by running a contest to design a new poster. An entry featuring cute anime girls in the uniforms of the three branches of the SDF won. The poster carried the slogan: "Learn, decide and act. You'll be a hero".

These attempts are necessary given that the Abe administration is burning with ambition to beef up Japan's armed forces. With outlying islands in mind, Japan will build a Japanese version of the US Marines — its new amphibious force — by 2015 at the earliest. Its purpose is to bolster Japan's defensive capabilities for the Nansei Islands chain, in which Japan includes China's Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

According to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, the new unit will be set up from a 700-member infantry regiment that is currently part of Japan's ground SDF western army. Eventually it will have 3,000 active military personnel and will be tasked exclusively with defending outlying islands, acting as a deterrent against potential hostile forces. A trial unit will be launched in fiscal 2014 with some 30 members and six amphibious vehicles.

Still, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not plan to keep Japan's modern, well-funded army within its own borders. Thus, his master plan needs more manpower.

During his recent overseas trips, Abe spared no effort to sell his "proactive pacifism". On Sept 26, he told the United Nations General Assembly that Japan will be "even more actively engaged in UN collective security measures, including peacekeeping operations".

He also clarified the Japanese SDF integrated support to US forces, which operate globally.

Japan has joined UN peacekeeping missions in many parts of the world since the 1990s.

Before completing his four-nation trip in the Middle East in August, Abe made a quick visit to Djibouti, which has the only permanent Japanese SDF base outside Japan. He reminded Japanese soldiers in the small African country of Japan's duty in the international community.

Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are well known for their eagerness to amend Japan's constitution to allow the SDF to expand its responsibilities.

Abe's "active pacifism" initiatives will drastically change the nature of the SDF away from dealing exclusively with self-defense. Furthermore, moves to expand Japanese SDF missions are pushing reality further ahead of the country's proposed constitutional revision.

Japan's growing momentum to change its government's conventional interpretation of exercising the right of self-defense and revise the constitution has been welcomed by the US.

A camouflaged military, the SDF keeps a low profile in Japan's pacifist society and in its efforts to introduce conscription.

Its swift response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan — where more than 100,000 troops deployed to search for victims and assist survivors — has won the SDF increasing public acceptance.

Also, the threat from China and potential conflicts in the East China Sea that the Abe government has been sentimentalizing help bolster support for the SDF among the Japanese.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera also weighed in to help polish the SDF's image. He played matchmaker for his men in July when a party was thrown at the Yokosuka Naval Base to find dates for them from 131 Japanese women. Onodera praised his soldiers for being "well-trained at cleaning, washing and cooking".

The SDF is gaining a more assertive role at home, and Abe is keen to also raise their profile abroad.

But he has failed to give a sincere explanation to his country's immediate neighbors to dispel their anticipated concerns over Japan's military expansion.

Contact the writer at caihong@chinadaily.com.cn