Ex-foes Ja­pan, U.S. to fo­cus on new threat

In Wash­ing­ton visit, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe seeks a stronger mil­i­tary as China rises.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Don Lee and Julie Maki­nen

WASH­ING­TON — When Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe rises to ad­dress a joint ses­sion of Congress on Wed­nes­day, it will rep­re­sent a diplo­matic sea change so great that it may seem in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to the lin­ger­ing mem­bers of the “Great­est Gen­er­a­tion.”

To those who lived through World War II, Ja­pan was once seen as such a men­ac­ing en­emy that upon the em­peror’s sur­ren­der in 1945, Amer­ica im­posed a se­verely paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion to en­sure that the Asian na­tion would never again be­come a world power.

To­day, that world has turned up­side down. And the U.S. and Ja­pan are find­ing it nec­es­sary to draw even closer to con­front a shared threat.

China, a bat­tered and en­fee­bled Amer­i­can ally dur­ing the war, has be­come a jug­ger­naut that in­creas­ingly as­serts its eco­nomic and mil­i­tary power across Asia and be­yond.

Con­se­quently, Abe’s un­prece­dented speech to Congress is ex­pected to fo­cus on the once-unimag­in­able idea of in­creas­ing Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary strength with an eye to­ward putting mus­cle be­hind the two coun­tries’ vi­sion of an Amer­i­can-led or­der in Asia.

The 60-year-old prime min­is­ter will also urge sup­port for a Pa­cific Rim free­trade deal led by the U.S. and Ja­pan, the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 economies, re­spec­tively. The 12-na­tion pact, which would bring to­gether a num­ber of China’s large trad­ing part­ners but not China, is seen as a form of eco­nomic con­tain­ment aimed at the world’s No. 2 econ­omy.

Though the trade deal faces stiff re­sis­tance from Amer­ica’s trade unions and many Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, the Repub­li­can-led Congress is mov­ing to give Pres­i­dent Obama greater power to re­solve fi­nal stick­ing points with Ja­pan. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said Fri­day that “sub­stan­tial progress” has been made in ne­go­ti­a­tions, but that there won’t be an agree­ment an­nounced on the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship dur­ing Abe’s visit.

At the cen­ter of the trip will be the first speech by a Ja­panese prime min­is­ter to a joint ses­sion of Congress. Abe’s week­long visit also in­cludes a meet­ing with Obama and stops in San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les, where Abe stud­ied public pol­icy at USC.

Timed to co­in­cide with the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, Abe’s trip will no doubt rekin­dle painful mem­o­ries for some Amer­i­cans and key al­lies.

Abe is ex­pected to ad­dress Ja­pan’s his­tory of mil­i­tary ag­gres­sions, a par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive sub­ject for Bei­jing and Seoul.

Chi­nese and South Kore­ans have re­peat­edly crit­i­cized Ja­pan for what they see as a gloss­ing-over of wartime atroc­i­ties in Ja­panese text­books, the hon­or­ing of war crim­i­nals at Ja­panese mil­i­tary shrines and the fail­ure to ad­e­quately com­pen­sate so-called com­fort women from Korea, China and other Asian coun­tries forced

into sex­ual servitude for Ja­panese troops.

Fore­shad­ow­ing what he might say on his visit, Abe ex­pressed “feel­ings of deep re­morse over the past war” at a con­fer­ence in Ban­dung, In­done­sia, last week.

Korean Amer­i­can civic groups and oth­ers that op­pose the con­gres­sional in­vi­ta­tion to Abe will want to hear much more than that, and are plan­ning protests on both coasts. But ea­ger to foWhat on the fu­ture al­liance, U.S. of­fi­cials are not ex­pected to dwell on the is­sue.

“As long as he says some­thing re­gard­ing the past that seems sin­cere and con­trite, peo­ple will take that and say it’s enough,” said Jef­frey Kingston, a pro­fes­sor of Asian stud­ies and his­tory at Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity’s Ja­pan Cam­pus. “Chi­nese and Kore­ans will be scru­ti­niz­ing ev­ery comma, dot and word. He knows no mat­ter what he says, he can’t sat­isfy them. he wants to do is say enough to sat­isfy Wash­ing­ton. And the mood com­ing out of Wash­ing­ton is quite pos­i­tive.”

To un­der­stand why, it helps to con­sider an­other Asian leader’s speech last week to a dif­fer­ent for­eign leg­is­la­ture.

On a high-pro­file visit to Islamabad, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was wel­comed by the Pak­istani par­lia­ment, tout­ing grow­ing joint anti-ter­ror­ism ef­forts and pledg­ing $46 bil­lion worth of en­ergy and in­fra­struc­ture projects, a sum that would eclipse Wash­ing­ton’s spend­ing on its strate­gic ally over the last 10 years.

The devel­op­ment pack­age is part of a fun­da­men­tal shift in Bei­jing’s for­eign pol­icy, with Xi us­ing mas­sive eco­nomic car­rots backed by in­creas­ingly mus­cu­lar mil­i­tary as­sets to as­sert Chi­nese lead­er­ship in Asia.

Bei­jing has un­veiled an am­bi­tious “Silk Road” ef­fort to forge land and sea links to Mid­dle Eastern and Euro­pean mar­kets, es­ti­mat­ing it will in­vest $1.25 tril­lion abroad by 2025. It has re­cruited more than 50 coun­tries to es­tab­lish an Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank. The bank would com­pete with the U.S.-led World Bank. This win­ter, China even inked a free-trade agree­ment with key U.S. ally South Korea.

At the same time, China is en­gag­ing in ex­ten­sive land recla­ma­tion projects on con­tested islets and reefs in the South China Sea, de­ploy­ing sub­marines to the In­dian Ocean, and ex­pand­ing air and ship pa­trols near Ja­panese-ad­min­is­tered islets and into the West­ern Pa­cific.

“China is se­ri­ous about oust­ing the U.S. as the pre­em­i­nent re­gional power in Asia,” said Tom Miller, se­nior Asia an­a­lyst at the fi­nan­cial re­search firm Gavekal Drago­nomics.

“It’s go­ing to use its eco­nomic mus­cle to do that, but it’s go­ing to be backed up by a stronger navy, a stronger mil­i­tary, and it is determined to use its eco­nomic lever­age to po­lit­i­cal ends if it needs to.”

That’s a source of grow­ing alarm to Ja­pan and the U.S., which are ex­pected to use Abe’s visit to an­nounce re­vised joint de­fense guide­lines.

Although the U.S. still has the pri­mary com­bat role, the new guide­lines in­te­grate Ja­panese per­son­nel closer to the front and give Ja­pan a more cen­tral mission in mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, mis­sile de­fense, lo­gis­tics sup­port and cy­ber war­fare, said James Schoff, an ana­cus lyst at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace in Wash­ing­ton.

Ja­pan’s goal is to tighten the de­fense al­liance “and to strengthen de­ter­rence re­gard­ing China,” Schoff said.

Key for Abe dur­ing his visit, his sec­ond to Wash­ing­ton since 2012, is demon­strat­ing closer de­fense ties with the United States.

“What Abe wants is some state­ment of the United States’ com­mit­ment to de­fend Ja­pan,” said June Teufel Dreyer, an Asia-Pa­cific se­cu­rity ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Miami. “We have said we would de­fend Ja­pan against out­side attack. But what is hap­pen­ing now in the South China Sea and East China Sea is not an attack, is it? It’s en­croach­ment.”

China’s in­creas­ing pa­trols near a set of un­in­hab­ited is­lands, called Senkaku by Ja­pan and Diaoyu by China, have put Tokyo in a tight spot.

“Is Wash­ing­ton will­ing to take an ex­tra step?” Dreyer asked. “They are talk­ing now about a United States com­mit­ment to de­fend ‘re­mote is­lands,’ [but] what’s a re­mote is­land? … If you are Ja­pan, you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on that, and if you’re the U.S., you’re not sure you want to give clar­i­fi­ca­tion on that. And each side is quite afraid of mak­ing China an­gry.”

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