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Spoiling for a showdown

Within a 10-day period, two bishops’ conferences in Asia have issued warnings that current tensions among Asian countries could well boil over into violence.

Highly aware of the friction between their own country and China over sovereignty of the Sentaku or Daioyu Islands, the bishops of Japan interpret the national security laws passed by the administration of the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, as spoiling for a showdown.

This, combined with Abe’s push in the Diet to introduce legislation against the will of the people allowing its Self-Defence Forces to participate in off-shore campaigns in defence of the country’s allies, has prompted the bishops to say, “Viewing the world today, the tragedies of military conflict and terrorism occur over and over again… as if throughout the world, dialogue has become an impossibility.”

On the other side of southeast Asia, the Philippine bishops have issued a prayer for peace and are asking people to offer it at all Masses throughout the nation.

Although it does not mention the word war, the prayer is pointed in its meaning, specifically singling out the West Philippine Sea, or the South China Sea, as it is known in Beijing, as the hot spot.

In the years prior to the two world wars, the major players systematically built up both their on-the-ground military might and their military budgets. As Pat Gaffney, from the Catholic peace organisation, Pax Christi, observes, if you do enough preparation for war, eventually you will have one.

Japan already has a strong and sophisticated self-defence force. The will of the people and the nation’s constitution are the stumbling blocks for Abe, but he did not take the matter to the people in a referendum (the normal procedure), because he knew it would not pass.

His political action is somehow furtive, using a backdoor political mechanism to disempower the people—a demonstration that his government wishes to act against their will. He is building his political forces to free up his military for action.

The Philippines announced that it will add 25 billion pesos ($4.6 billion) to its military budget in the coming year, with part of it allocated to opening the old United States of America naval base in Subic Bay as a home for a new fleet of jet fighters.

Pointedly, Subic Bay is just 200 kilometres from the disputed Spratley Islands.

Preparations that would make possible a violent showdown are being made and only time will tell if Gaffney’s prediction will see if history repeats itself. Fifty-six per cent of Japan’s population think it will.

Two significant Church bodies in Asia have spoken, the bishops’ conferences of Japan and The Philippines. But peace is a bread and butter issue for the Church and it could well be asked if the time has come for the Church across Asia to speak with one voice.

Could the next Asian Youth Day, scheduled to be held in Indonesia in 2017, carry the theme, Young Asians for Peace? It is a unique event, as it is attended by young people from almost every country in Asia.

It would be a powerful statement and a significant moment for young people to learn more of the value of peace and the significance of non-violence in solving disagreements. JiM