Japan’s ambition is againstUS interest
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)