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Shinzo Abe’s Nationalist Strategy
With his overt nationalism and his historical revisionism, Shinzo Abe has a plan for Japan.
The world is now beginning to realize Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s true intentions. With his controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine, which memorializes war dead, including Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo, he is no longer hesitant to reveal his true nature: without question, the most conservative leader in Japan’s postwar history. And he is a historical revisionist, notably with respect to wartime Japan. By encouraging a spirit of nationalism, Abe is hoping to engender self-confidence and patriotism among the Japanese public.
But what exactly is his future agenda? To understand Abe’s political ambitions, you need to understand their take on modern Japan.
For mainstream Japanese conservatives such as the Abe family, Tokyo has been shackled since it accepted the judgments of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, known as the Tokyo Trials. For one thing, as a defeated nation Japan has always been forced to take a servile position— militarily and diplomatically—toward the U.S., the World War II victor. And Japan has had to repeatedly bow its head to its neighbors, such as China and South Korea, to apologize for its conduct during the war.
Willingly or not, Japan embraced these two international restraints when it signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, hoping to return to the fold of the international community as an independent nation.
More than 60 years later, though, the Abe administration wants to free Japan from these perceived shackles. In his own words, he is seeking a “departure from the postwar regime” by “bringing back Japan.” Although Abe has never said from “what” he will bring back the nation, many Japanese believe what he meant is to bring back a militarily, diplomatically and economically strong Japan from the political and economic abyss of the past decades, and perhaps in the long term from the U.S. itself.
Although Abe’s popularity has recently tapered somewhat from the heady days early in this, his second stint as prime minister, many Japanese still support his nationalistic program, because they feel that Japan lacks strength and needs to stand on its own feet, amid mounting nationalism in East Asia and a rising China.
So, to return to the question: What is Abe’s grand strategy? In fact, Abe has a three-year plan to accomplish his ultimate goal of having Japan “depart from the postwar regime.”
Abe’s Three-Year Plan
During the first year of his second term in office 2013, Abe proposed a move from “passive pacifism” to a “proactive pacifism” that encourages Japan to contribute more proactively to world peace and international cooperation. He then established a Japanese National Security Council (NSC). He also announced the first National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Programme Guidelines (NDPG) that introduced the concept of “a Dynamic Joint Defense Force.” This new concept emphasizes the Self-Defense Forces’ (SDF) joint operations and interoperability capability at sea, in the air and on land, and bolster the nation’s defensive posture in the southwest—in particular the Nansei island chain that includes Okinawa and the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.
Over the last year, Abe’s government has also enacted a controversial secrecy law to prevent leaks of state secrets, after it was pressured by the U.S. to tighten the confidentiality of their shared intelligence on security.
Now, in his second year, Abe is trying to reinterpret the constitution to allow for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. Abe will also formally abolish Japan’s decades-old ban on weapons exports this year. In January, his administration revised textbook screening guidelines to give Japanese children a more patriotic take on modern Japanese history and to better reflect the government’s view on territorial issues such as on Senkaku Islands. Abe has also succeeded in placing four conservative intellectuals with whom he has very close ties on Japan’s public television NHK’s management board. Some of their comments have already stirred considerable controversy.
In this third year, 2015, Abe plans to change Article 9 of the U.S.-imposed pacifist constitution, accomplishing his final goal of escaping from the postwar regime.
This three-year plan seeks to boost national security and could lead to Japanese involvement in conflicts abroad in the future.
Shinichi Kitaoka, a former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations and a key Abe adviser, remarked recently that all of these steps are simply trying to bring Japan closer to a “normal country.” Kitaoka is now deputy chairman of Abe’s Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, which is expected to recommend reinterpreting Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution to lift the self-imposed ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense in April.
It is certainly not inevitable, but what form would a Sinic Monroe Doctrine take?
East Asia is becoming, in the language of international relations theory, “bipolar.” That metaphor, from magnetism, suggests two large states with overlapping spheres of influence competing for regional leadership. The Cold War was a famous global example of bipolarity. Most states in the world tilted toward the United States or the Soviet Union in a worldwide, zero-sum competition. Although analysts have hesitated for many years in applying such strong language to East Asia, this is now increasingly accepted. A lengthy twilight struggle between China and Japan, with U.S. backing, seems in the offing.
Until recently, Asia was arguably “multipolar”—there was no one state large enough to dominate and many roughly equal states competed for influence. China’s dramatic rise has unbalanced that rough equity. China is now the world’s second largest GDP. Although its growth is slowing, it is still expanding at triple the rate of the U.S. economy and six times the rate of Japan’s. By 2020 China is predicted to be the world’s largest economy. Its population, 1.35 billion, is enormous. One in seven persons on the planet is Chinese. Were China’s GDP per capita to ever reach Japanese or American levels, its total GDP would match that of entire planet today. These heady numbers almost certainly inspire images of national glory or a return to the “middle kingdom,” in Beijing. They help account for China’s increasingly tough claims in the East and South China Seas.
Until recently, China pursued a “peaceful rise” strategy, one of accommodation and mutual adjustment. This approach sought to forestall an anti-Chinese encircling coalition. China’s rapid growth unnerves many states on its perimeter, from India, east to Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, north to Taiwan, Japan, and Russia. Were these states to align, they might contain China in the same way the Japan, China, and NATO all worked to contain the U.S.SR. The peaceful rise seemed to work, especially in southeast Asia, where Chinese generosity has successfully blocked a united ASEAN position on South China Sea issues.
Since 2009 however, China has increasingly resorted to bullying and threats. The 2008 Olympics appears to have been read in Beijing as a sign of China’s newfound might and sway. In the South China Sea it has pushed a very expansive definition of its maritime zone of control, and it recently faced down the Philippines in a dispute over the Scarborough Shoal in that sea. Indeed, one possible explanation for China’s expansion of itsair defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is that a hard line seems to be working in the South China Sea. But China’s northeast Asian neighbors are far stronger and more capable than its southeast Asian ones. Most observers expect Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to push back, as indeed they have. The U.S. flew bombers through the new ADIZ without warning, and both Japanese and South Korean civilian airlines have been instructed by their respective governments not to comply.
All this then sets up a bipolar contest between China and Japan, in the context of China’s rapid rise toward regional dominance.
A common theme in the literature on China’s rise is its apparent inevitability. Westerners particularly tend to get carried away with book-titles such as Eclipse (of the U.S. by China), When China Rules the World, orChina’s New Empire. History is indeed filled with the rise to dominance of powerful states. China and Japan both sought in the past to dominate Asia. Various European states including the U.S.SR, Germany, and France did the same. But frequently these would-be hegemons collided with a counter-hegemonic coalition of states unwilling to be manipulated or conquered. Occasionally the hegemonic aspirant may win; Europe under Rome was “unipolar,” as was feudal Asia now-and-again under the strongest Chinese dynasties. But there is nothing inevitable about this. Hegemonic contenders as various as Napoleon or Imperial Japan have been defeated.
To be fair, it is not clear yet if indeed China seeks regional hegemony. But there is a growing consensus among American and Japanese analysts that this is indeed the case. By Chinese hegemony in Asia we broadly mean something akin to the United States’ position in Latin America. We do not mean actual conquest. Almost no one believes China intends to annex even its weakest neighbors like Cambodia or North Korea. Rather, analysts expect a zone of super-ordinate influence over neighbors.
For example, in 1823, U.S. president James Monroe proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine, which warned all non-American powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere on pain of U.S. retaliation. This has worked reasonably well for almost 200 years. The U.S. has variously used force, aid, covert CIA assistance, trade, and so on to eject foreign powers from what Washington (condescendingly) came to call “America’s backyard.” Today, of course, such language seems disturbingly neocolonial, but many assume that the fundamental illiberalism of such spheres of influence do not worry non-democracies like China. A Sinic Monroe Doctrine would likely include some mix of the following:
– the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Japan and Korea,
– U.S. naval retrenchment from east Asia, perhaps as far back as Hawaii,
– a division of the Pacific into east/U.S. and west/China zones with a Chinese blue-water navy operating beyond the so-called second island chain running from Japan southeast to New Guinea,
– an RMB currency bloc in southeast Asia and possibly Korea,
– a regional trading zone,
– foreign policies from China’s neighbors broadly in sync with its own.
This is not going to happen soon of course. This is a project for the next several decades, just as U.S. power over Latin America came slowly through the nineteenth century. But such goals would broadly fit with what we have seen in the behavior of previous hegemons, including Imperial Japan and China, Rome, the British Empire, the U.S. in Latin America, and various German plans for Eastern Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. The era of U.S. preponderance in Asia is coming to an end.
Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) is an associate professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at Pusan National University. More of his work may be found at his website,AsianSecurityBlog.wordpress.com.
Hayashi’s letter was an apparent response to an earlier op-ed by Chinese ambassador to London [AP]
|The diplomatic bickering between Japan and China has descended into name-calling in the British press, with claim and counter-claim by the countries’ ambassadors invoking the fictional evil wizard of the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort.
In an opinion piece published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday, Tokyo’s envoy to London, Keiichi Hayashi, compared Beijing to the villain of JK Rowling’s multi-million selling books.
“East Asia is now at a crossroads. There are two paths open to China,” Hayashi wrote.
“One is to seek dialogue, and abide by the rule of law. The other is to play the role of Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions, although Japan will not escalate the situation from its side.”
Hayashi’s letter was an apparent response to an earlier op-ed – also invoking Voldemort – published by the paper on January 1 by Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to London.
In the letter, Liu harshly criticised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine, which honours Japanese war dead, including men convicted of serious war crimes in the wake of Japan’s 1945 World War II defeat.
On Monday, Abe said he wanted to explain to leaders in China and South Korea why he visited a controversial shrine.
He expressed his hope that the leaders could meet to diffuse tension over longstanding territorial disputes and historical issues.
The shinto shrine is seen by China and other Asian nations as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past.
“If militarism is like the haunting Voldemort of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is a kind of horcrux, representing the darkest parts of that nation’s soul,” the Chinese envoy wrote.
In the Harry Potter series, a horcrux is a receptacle in which evil characters store fragments of their souls to enable them to achieve immortality.
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