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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.
China and Japan, Asia’s two most powerful nations, are increasingly jousting in the skies and in the seas near a set of disputed islands. Although their economies remain deeply intertwined, relations between the two governments seem locked in an irreversible, dangerous downward spiral.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe further embittered feelings last week by visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors the souls of Japan’s war dead, including 14 World War II leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals.
Needless to say, neither side seems terribly interested in a rapprochement. That’s a shame, because the deterioration in ties is fairly recent, stemming from a single incident involving the islands administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, and claimed by China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu. A single, symbolic-but-generous gesture could well halt the slide.
Abe, though unquestionably a hawk on China, had nothing to do with the triggering event. In September 2012, then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered his government to buy several of the disputed islands from a private owner — an action which, in China’s view, effectively nationalized them.
Noda hadn’t intended to provoke the Chinese. On the contrary, he aimed to preempt a more aggressive gesture by hyper-nationalist politician Shintaro Ishihara — then Tokyo’s governor — who wanted to have the Tokyo metropolitan government purchase the islands and build on them to assert Japan’s sovereignty.
Still, barely two days before Noda’s decision, China’s then-President Hu Jintao had specifically warned him not to proceed. Hu’s concerns were legitimate. For years, China had quietly acceptedJapan’s “de facto” occupation of the islands even as it disputed sovereignty. By buying them, Japan appeared to be moving to “de jure” ownership. Given the nationalist mood in China, the Beijing government couldn’t risk appearing weak in its response.
If Abe really wanted to break the chain of escalation that has since played out between China and Japan, he could singlehandedly return to the status quo ante. He would only need to “sell” the islands to a private Japanese foundation or environmental group, ostensibly to preserve their undeveloped natural beauty.
Japanese hard-liners would no doubt regard such a move as a capitulation to China. It wouldn’t be. Even after a sale, Japan would continue its de facto occupation of the islands, as it has for decades. Since the islands’ purchase was made by a previous government, Abe’s Liberal Democrats need not feel bound by the decision. In fact, after pacifying his nationalist supporters by visiting Yasukuni, Abe may be in a stronger position to compromise on the islands.
In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Abe called for a summit with President Xi Jinping of China and said, “Now is the time to go back to that starting point.” Abe was referring to a bilateral agreement he reached with Hu in 2006, during a previous term as Japan’s prime minister. Selling the islands would be a critical first step toward returning to that calmer time.
If Abe wanted to be bolder, he could make the same offer to China that Japan has made to South Korea over a different set of disputed islands: to have the issue resolved by the International Court of Justice. The chances of China agreeing to this are minuscule. But by taking the moral high ground, Japan would both reaffirm its reasonableness, and satisfy the major precondition China has imposed on any Xi-Abe summit — acknowledging that sovereignty of the Senkakus/Diaoyu is in dispute.
Of course, if it’s hard to imagine an Abe administration reaching out to Beijing now, it’s equally hard to see Chinese leaders responding constructively. Yet on a simple cost-benefit analysis, Xi has incentive enough to scale back aggressive naval and air patrols of the waters surrounding the islands. He has just embarked on a set of difficult, potentially far-reaching economic reforms. Although he can’t afford to look weak domestically, he also can’t afford a geopolitical crisis that would disrupt China’s economy and possibly global trade.
A major rebalancing is gradually taking place in Asia as China’s economy becomes larger than Japan’s. But it isn’t in China’s interest to push for this rebalancing too aggressively. When I was in Tokyo in early December, I was struck by the intensity of concern over China’s aggressive posturing. The harder the Beijing government pushes now, the more rapidly Japan will move to upgrade its military capabilities and strengthen its alliances with the U.S. and countries ringing China.
Both sides need to find a way to ratchet down their words and deeds. Japan can and should take a first, small step forward by “going back” and selling the islands. Any Japanese leaders who doubt the wisdom of doing so should ask themselves a question: Are they really better off today than they were two years ago?
(Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is author of “The Great Convergence: Asia, the West and the Logic of One World.”)
To contact the writer of this article: Kishore Mahbubani at email@example.com.
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Chinese Media Compares Japan PM To “Terrorists And Fascists”; Blasts Abe’s Homage To “Devils”, Urges Boycott | Zero Hedge
On Thursday, Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe stunned the world by defying everyone – including the EU and the US whose embassy sent a tersely worded letter in which is said that it is “disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors” – when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal after World War Two are honored along with those who died in battle, for the first time in 7 years. The response was fast and furious. Below, courtesy of Reuters, is a snapshot of the morning after in the Chinese media. The reviews of Abe’s action were not glowing.
In an editorial headlined “Abe’s paying homage to the devils makes people outraged”, the Chinese military’s People’s Liberation Army Daily said Abe’s action had “seriously undermined the stability of the region”.
“On one hand, Abe is paying homage to war criminals, and on the other hand, he talks about improving relations with China, South Korea and other countries,” the newspaper said. “It is simply a sham, a mouthful of lies.
“Today, the Chinese people have the ability to defend peace and they have a greater ability to stop all provocative militarism.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Abe’s visit to the shrine “has already attracted the Chinese people’s ire and denunciation”.
“How can a person who is not willing to face up to their own history, to facts, win the trust of the international community or cause people to believe he has a role to play in maintaining regional and global peace and stability?” Hua said at a daily news briefing.
In a separate commentary published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, or “Voice of China”, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily said: “History tells us that if people do not correctly understand the evils of the fascist war, cannot reflect on war crimes, a country can never (achieve) true rejuvenation.”
The Global Times, an influential nationalistic tabloid owned by the People’s Daily, urged China to shut its door to Abe and other Japanese officials who have visited the shrine this year.
“If condemnations are China’s only recourse, then the nation is giving up its international political rights easily,” the newspaper said. “Ineffective countermeasures will make China be seen as a ‘paper tiger’ in the eyes of the rest of the world.
“In the eyes of China, Abe, behaving like a political villain, is much like the terrorists and fascists on the commonly seen blacklists.”
A survey on China’s Sina Weibo microblogging site on Thursday showed that almost 70 percent of respondents would support a boycott of Japanese goods, with many users expressing outrage at the shrine visit. The survey was later removed.
And yet, all of this appears set to blow over since China, like America, is now more focused on daily noise: the topic was not one of the most talked about on Weibo, with people being more distracted by the latest celebrity gossip and the upcoming new year.
It has been 7 years and 4 months since the last Prime Ministerial visit to Yasukuni Shrine (a symbol of Japan’s past militarism – and its convicted war criminals – which appears to be resurrecting); but in what China describes as an act that is “absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people,” current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid tribute to the war dead today. The strong reaction was met with a rapid ‘apology’ of sorts as Abe stated officially, “I am aware that, because of misunderstandings, some people criticise a visit to Yasukuni shrine as an act of worshipping war criminals… [but] I have no intention at all to hurt the feelings of Chinese or South Korean people.”
In the past… (via Reuters)
China and South Korea have repeatedly expressed anger in the past over Japanese politicians’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal are honored along with war dead.
The shrine is seen in parts of Asia as a symbol of Japanese past militarism.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday his visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine was a pledge that Japan would not go to war again and was not intended to hurt Chinese or South Koreans.
“I chose this day to report (to enshrined spirits) what we have done in the year since the administration launched and to pledge and determine that never again will people suffer in war,” he told reporters at the shrine.
“I am aware that, because of misunderstandings, some people criticise a visit to Yasukuni shrine as an act of worshipping war criminals, but I made my visit to pledge to create an era where people will never suffer from catastrophe in war,” Abe said.
“I have no intention at all to hurt the feelings of Chinese or South Korean people.”
And The Chinese response…
Chinese foreign ministry Asian affairs dept head: Yasukuni visit “absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese people” pic.twitter.com/c3skU6FnTn
— Austin Ramzy (@austinramzy) December 26, 2013
And the consequences…
Chinese Foreign Ministry on Abe Yasukuni visit: “The Japanese side must bear all consequences.” #uhoh
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) December 26, 2013
The Chinese people are enraged…
Chinese netizens call for anti-Japan boycott and inquire about street protest on Strong Nation Forum http://t.co/FYp4SEjAmS
— Jessica Chen Weiss (@jessicacweiss) December 26, 2013
and The Koreans are now chiming in…
(LEAD) Abe’s Yasukuni visit to have diplomatic repercussions: Seoul http://t.co/n6iX6rz1pf
— Yonhap News Agency (@YonhapNews) December 26, 2013