Ja­pan’s am­bi­tion is again­stUS in­ter­est

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Since Ja­pan’s Prime Min­is­ter Abe’s Dec 26, 2013 visit to the Yukusuni Shrine, where he paid homage to de­ceased Ja­panese Im­pe­rial soldiers, in­clud­ing more than 1, 000 Ja­panese WWII war crim­i­nals, he has re­ceived world­wide crit­i­cism.

In a rare in­stance of pub­lic op­po­si­tion, even the United States pub­licly crit­i­cized Abe’s in­flam­ma­tory ac­tions. And un­der­stand­ably, the fiercest re­bukes have come from China and South Korea, the two coun­tries that suf­fered most se­verely from Ja­panese ag­gres­sion and war atroc­i­ties. To in­ter­na­tional on­look­ers, Abe’s wor­ship of war crim­i­nals sym­bol­izes his un­re­pen­tant view of Ja­pan’s WWII crimes, and his am­bi­tion to re­vive Ja­pan’s na­tion­al­ism and mil­i­tary strength.

What are Abe’s am­bi­tions? What are his strate­gic ob­jec­tives, and their im­pli­ca­tions on the sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity of East Asian re­gion, par­tic­u­larly on the strate­gic in­ter­est of the United States?

First, Ja­pan wants to free it­self from the con­straints on its mil­i­tary im­posed pri­mar­ily by the US af­ter WWII. The “paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion,” writ­ten by the US for Ja­pan, con­trols the re­vival of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism, and lim­its its use of troops over­seas, and its right to de­clare war, among other con­straints. Abe, in his first year of ad­min­is­tra­tion, has openly stated his goal of chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to be­come a “nor­mal coun­try”.

Sec­ond, Ja­pan has sought to “na­tion­al­ize” Chi­nese Diaoyu Is­lands, thus in­creas­ing ten­sions with China. These dis­putes have been set aside and idled for years, but have been re­vived due to the ag­gres­sive ac­tions and strate­gic ef­forts to en­cir­cle China diplo­mat­i­cally.

From a mil­i­tary per­spec­tive, Ja­pan has sta­tioned land-to-sea mis­siles on two small is­lands, chock­ing the Chi­nese navy’s most con­ve­nient, if not only, gate­way to the Pa­cific Ocean. In­deed, Abe, in a UN speech in 2013, said that Ja­pan’s ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion in the fu­ture to the peace of world would be to check China’s ex­pan­sion, an un­usu­ally di­rect and undiplo­matic re­mark. On an­other oc­ca­sion, he said that Ja­pan’s re­vival of its strong past has just be­gun.

Why has Abe been so blunt in his provo­ca­tions to­ward China, and so openly will­ing to incite anti-Ja­panese re­ac­tions among the Chi­nese? He wants to in­sti­gate a se­ri­ous con­flict — even a war with China — with the con­fi­dence that he could draw the US to Ja­pan’s as­sis­tance through its US-Ja­pan al­liance. Such a con­flict would also jus­tify Ja­pan’s own mil­i­tary re­vival. And win­ning such a con­flict with US sup­port would al­low Ja­pan to re­gain East Asian re­gional power.

The ra­tio­nale for these ac­tions must be a log­i­cal be­lief that con­fronting China in a con­flict would be in the in­ter­ests of the US. How­ever, the weak­ness of this strat­egy lies in Ja­pan’s mis­un­der­stand­ing of the US’ East Asian pol­icy.

Two fun­da­men­tal con­di­tions of the East Asia are in the in­ter­ests of the US: 1) Peace and sta­bil­ity of the re­gion; 2) The US main­tain­ing its strong mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion to guar­an­tee its pre­dom­i­nant po­si­tion there, to be able to face down any new power chal­leng­ing this po­si­tion.

Main­tain­ing these two con­di­tions is the ba­sis for the US’ strate­gic and diplo­matic pol­icy. They are rooted in Amer­i­can ide­al­ism and for eco­nomic in­ter­est from its found­ing fa­thers and from its su­per­power po­si­tion in the world, in which in­ter­na­tional power pol­i­tics is still a cold re­al­ity.

Since end of the Viet­nam War, East Asia has been in peace and al­most all the coun­tries and ar­eas of the re­gion, such as China, South Korea, Sin­ga­pore, Ja­pan and Viet­nam, have en­joyed eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and the US also has ben­e­fited enor­mously in fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments and busi­ness out-sourc­ing.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in early 2013 held a spe­cial sum­mit at the Sun­ny­lands es­tate in Cal­i­for­nia to reach an agree­ment for their new type of ma­jor coun­try re­la­tion­ship. This re­la­tion­ship, pri­mar­ily, is to main­tain peace and sta­bil­ity of East Asia. For the US, this agree­ment main­tains the sta­tus quo in East Asia, and fur­thers Amer­i­can in­ter­ests. The US ben­e­fits from re­gional sta­bil­ity and con­tin­ued eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

For China, the agree­ment helps it progress grad­u­ally to­ward its goal of fur­ther eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, be­com­ing a more mod­ern coun­try, and solv­ing its se­ri­ous prob­lems of cor­rup­tion, so­cial in­equal­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion.

These two coun­tries are par­al­lel in their ba­sic in­ter­ests in the West Pa­cific. Obama’s “re­bal­anc­ing” pol­icy, in which more mil­i­tary forces are to be shifted to the re­gion, is sim­ply to strengthen the sta­tus quo, not to dis­turb it. Abe’s strat­egy for Ja­pan’s am­bi­tion, how­ever, seems to be de­signed to take ad­van­tage of over­throw­ing the sta­tus quo of the re­gion. The au­thor is a scholar with the In­sti­tute of Sino Strate­gic Stud­ies (ISSS)

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