In the last days of 2018 and in the New Year, we witnessed in media Japan’s well-loved Emperor Akihito, a friend of the Filipino people, deliver his final New Year’s address to the Japanese people before his scheduled abdication in a few months, on April 30.
It has been said that he is the first Japanese monarch, now 85 to abdicate in some 200 years when he steps down from the throne to end his reign of 30 years. He said, “I pray for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world.”
Our region will miss the humble, soft-spoken 85-year-old emperor and his lady, the commoner Empress Michiko. He succeeded his father, Emperor Hirohito, who presided over Japan’s 20th Century, a period of war, and who passed away in 1989. After Japan’s disastrous defeat in 1945, the popular US General Douglas MacArthur was named by President Harry Truman Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). based in Tokyo, he led Japan’s transformation to a full democracy and its emergence as the third largest economy and success story in the post-war world.
Akihito somewhat shocked Japan in 2016 when he disclosed his desire to take a back seat, citing his age and health problems. His eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito is set to assume the Chrysanthemum throne a day after his father’s abdication.
Akihito’s father Emperor Hirohito presided over World War II at the height of the Japanese reign of war and conquest of many countries in Asia. Following Japan’s defeat by the US and the Allied powers, American rule beginning 1945 under the victorious General Douglas MacArthur, saw Japan’s tutelage in democracy and much-heralded economic recovery. After Hirohito’s passing, the young Prince Akihito assumed the throne, continuing the rule of the world’s oldest imperial family.
Akihito has embraced the more modern role as a symbol of the Japanese state, imposed on Japan after World War II ended, and he visited Manila as a crown Prince.
Indeed before World War II, previous emperors of Japan including Akihito’s father had been regarded as semi-god.
My wife Gina and I had the priviledge to be received twice by the emperor in his Tokyo palace, surrounded by stone walls and a moat, when we were speaker of the House on our first term in the 1990’s and in our fourth or part of the fifth term leading to 2010, I don’t exactly remember. Protocol in Japan prevents us from reporting on our last almost-50-minute conversation about many things under the sun while a few seats away, my wife Gina and the Empress Michiko had a longer tete-a-tete which was still going on when the emperor and I stood up to say good-bye.
We said to the emperor that among Asia’s and the world’s great royal families, he and the King of Thailand, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom we also visited a couple of times in Bangkok and who passed away a few years ago after a long reign, were perhaps among the world’s most appreciated royal leaders and heads of state. As we all know, prime ministers are the heads of government in these countries.
As of last week, before the end of 2018, and in our recent speeches in Moscow with Premier Dmitry Medvedev and in Seoul with former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in November-December, we tried to review the security situation and noted the following dangerous complicated, contested areas in Asia:
- We pointed out that joint exploration and development and conversion of the disputed South China Sea areas into Zones of Peace, Friendship, and Development as we proposed in 1987 and 1992 and promoted throughout are the only viable solution instead of constant tension, conflict, and possible explosive war.
- On the controversial Japanese-held tiny isles in the Senkaku Strait or Daiyou to the Chinese in the East China Sea, we said the “only common-sensical solution is a joint-administration and sharing of the potential hydro-carbons in the vicinity.”
- The conflict over Kashmir where forces of India and Pakistan still face each other and over which they have already fought three bloody wars over 60 years, with potential for nuclear exchange.
- The conflict, involving dangerous skirmishes in the long mountain borders between India and China, with large swathes of contested high ground. Sino-Indian wars were fought there in 1962, 1965, and 1971.
- The long-drawn-out conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.
- The protracted war in Afghanistan and the continuing violent convulsions in Yemen.
- The unfinished Arab-Israeli conflict, which is still awaiting final settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian homeland under a two-state solution.
- The continuing bloody wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and areas of West Africa, bedevilled by ISIS, Al Qaeda, and tribal wars.
We said then that the most violent threats are still those mounted by the ISIS-ISIL following the extremists’ early territorial victories and launching of a caliphate in large areas of Iraq and Syria. Thank God, in the last six months or more, they have been largely driven out of Syria.
Although routed in battle in recent months in the conquered territories, sporadic elements of ISIS-ISIL have since deployed deadly terrorist groups in various capitals of Europe and the US, and smaller units have shifted their activities to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, and an attack on Marawi City in Muslim Mindanao where it planned to establish a province of the caliphate.
Their Marawi thrust, initially secretive, strong and successful caused much consternation, and was finally vanquished after large-scale hostilities but still led to the continued declaration of martial law in Mindanao in the light of continuing residual smaller threats in the region.