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Asian bishops should take a firm stand with their Japanese counterparts to get rid of nuclear arms forever
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a private audience at the Vatican on May 4. (Photo: Vatican Media/AFP)
The Vatican and Pope Francis have always pinned great hopes on war-renouncing Japan to spearhead a nuclear-free world. But the country with a pacifist constitution is all set to reverse its long-term fall in military spending under its new prime minister, who met the supreme pontiff on May 4.
Pope Francis reiterated the Vatican’s position of total opposition to the use and possession of nuclear weapons during the meeting with Fumio Kishida on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Japan.
The Japanese PM met the pope in the Vatican on the same day that Russia declared sanctions against 63 Japanese officials, including Kishida, citing “unacceptable rhetoric” against Moscow.
Though Christianity arrived in Japan with St. Francis Xavier in 1549, diplomatic ties with the Holy See started on April 25, 1942, at the height of the Second World War.
Japan had enough reasons to look to the Vatican then, mainly because the Holy See’s power to act as a mediator for peace with the allies made Japan the first Asian nation to kick-start diplomatic ties with the Holy See.
Japan’s association with the Vatican brought the East Asian nation enough laurels soon after the devastating war and helped it to stave off pariah status.
Japan and the Holy See managed to share much common ground on many global issues, while Japan’s pacifist constitution was used as a platform to spearhead a nuclear-free world by both parties
By 1958, bilateral ties were upgraded and Pope Paul VI appointed Japan’s first nuncio. Pope St. John Paul II was the first pope to visit Japan in 1981.
Though Catholics make up only 1 percent of Japan’s 127 million people, almost all Japanese prime ministers, including Taro Aso, the country’s first Catholic PM, have come to meet the pope since 1942 and so have members of the imperial family.
During these years, Japan and the Holy See managed to share much common ground on many global issues, while Japan’s pacifist constitution was used as a platform to spearhead a nuclear-free world by both parties.
Pope Francis wanted to go to Japan as a missionary when he was a young Jesuit. However, his request was turned down by superiors due to health reasons. However, he made his first visit to Japan in 1976 as a Jesuit provincial in Argentina.
While visiting Japan in 2019 as supreme pontiff, Francis described the possession and use of nuclear arms as immoral. His pastoral journey also included a visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities hit by nuclear bombs in 1945, where he appealed to the world community to resist the temptation to possess and use nuclear weapons.
However, due to domestic pressures, Japan is embarking on a military spending spree. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last month presented its national security strategy proposals to Kishida, seeking to hike Japan’s defense budget by 2 percent or more of the GDP of the third-largest economy in the world.
The 1 percent cap had long been an unspoken rule in Japan since the 1970s. The 2 percent target would put Japan in line with NATO countries in defense expenditure.
The ruling party also suggested developing counterattack capabilities to target both enemy bases and command posts, also yielding Japan more options for retaliating against mobile and submarine-launched missiles
According to a survey by the Nikkei business daily on April 22, some 55 percent of respondents favored hiking defense spending up to 2 percent of GDP or more, while 33 percent stood against it.
The proposed hike is entirely in line with the anti-China alliance championed by the US. Japan is part of the four-nation security dialogue QUAD besides collaborating with the West and NATO in their global campaign to isolate Russia after invading Ukraine.
Japan is planning to modernize its military capabilities with US weaponry like stealth fighters and surveillance drones. Domestic production of amphibious landing craft, compact warships, helicopter carriers, submarines and satellites to fight a long war is also in the pipeline.
In fact, many defense experts believe it would take the Land of the Rising Sun only a few months to develop nuclear weapons.
The ruling party also suggested developing counterattack capabilities to target both enemy bases and command posts, also yielding Japan more options for retaliating against mobile and submarine-launched missiles.
To meet the target, Japan needs to shell out almost ¥11 trillion (US$86 billion) annually — more than twice as much as the record ¥5.4 trillion set aside for the current financial year.
In December 2021, the cabinet approved a defense budget of $47 billion for the 2022 financial year.
The bishops’ conference has also raised serious concerns about the persistence of the deterrence theory advocated by nuclear-armed nations and countries like Japan that are under so-called nuclear umbrella protection
Japan is looking for a transition from an economic powerhouse to a country capable of discharging strategic responsibilities in the region.
The Catholic Bishops’ Council of Japan, though, is sticking to its agenda of a nuclear-free world. The bishops have issued several documents and statements reiterating the need for it.
The Nuclear-Free World Foundation, launched on July 7, 2020, on the initiative of the archbishop of Hiroshima, has been spearheading a movement in and outside the country for the world to get rid of ground zero arms.
In 2021, the bishops’ council launched an initiative to help all nations ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted by the UN in 2017. So far, only 60 states have ratified or acceded to the treaty.
The bishops’ conference has also raised serious concerns about the persistence of the deterrence theory advocated by nuclear-armed nations and countries like Japan that are under so-called nuclear umbrella protection.
It is time for the bishops in Asia to take a firm stand together with Japanese bishops and make their voice heard to get rid of nuclear arms forever. It is natural to think the minority voice will be neglected by the powerful, but it is an evangelical need and a mission to speak out on behalf of the poor for a nuke-free world. History would record the silence of Asian bishops as unforgivable inaction.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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