Thursday, February 20, 2014

Financial Times: Washington Regrets the Shinzo Abe It Wished For

Since 1950s, the US has been demanding the kind of Japan that Prime Minister Abe is now advocating, says Financial Times.

Why is the US complaining, then? Buyer's remorse?

The subtitle "The US fears that Japan’s departure from postwar pacifism will provoke Beijing" almost reads like what Special Advisor to Prime Minister Seiichi Eto said in his Youtube video which was then taken down by the request from Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga the other day.

From Financial Times (2/19/2014; emphasis is mine):

Washington regrets the Shinzo Abe it wished for

The US fears that Japan’s departure from postwar pacifism will provoke Beijing

By David Pilling

It is fairly easy to assess the relationship between Shinzo Abe’s Japan and Xi Jinping’s China. Neither likes the other very much. Both are using nationalism as a prop to further policy aims. Both conceivably find it useful to have a “tough man” on the other side, the better to push against.

Less easy to calibrate is the state of relations between Japan and the US. This ought to be far easier to decipher. Japan is, after all, the US’s most important ally in Asia, the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” that has hosted US fighter aircraft and troops since the end of the second world war. Now, in Mr Abe, it has a leader who, after decades of American prodding, is finally willing to adopt a more robust defence posture and revisit the “freeloader” defence doctrine that pacifist Japan has long embraced. Yet having attained what it has long been after, Washington is showing signs it is getting cold feet.

One sign of that was its expression of “disappointment” after the December visit of Mr Abe to Yasukuni shrine, which is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s unrepentant militarism by China and South Korea. In the past, Washington has privately voiced its displeasure at Yasukuni visits, but has not publicly reprimanded Japan. Tokyo was taken aback by the use of the word “disappointed” – translated as shitsubo – which sounds harsh in Japanese.

There have been other signs of strain. US politicians have voiced concern at Mr Abe’s view of history. Virginia lawmakers ruled that school textbooks should also use the Korean name – East Sea – for the Sea of Japan. Washington is concerned that, under Mr Abe, Tokyo’s relations have also soured with Seoul, another important US ally.

From Japan’s perspective, Washington did not back it up with sufficient vigour when Tokyo’s control of disputed islands was cleverly challenged by Beijing’s announcement of an air defence identification zone. Washington did show its displeasure by flying B52 bombers over the zone, but Joe Biden, US vice-president, did not make a big deal of the issue when he visited Beijing.

Many officials in Tokyo regard Washington as having virtually capitulated to China’s unilateral move. They also regularly bemoan the absence of “Japan hands” around President Barack Obama, who has tended to surround himself with people far more steeped in China. More than one official in Tokyo speaks of a growing sense that Washington can no longer be relied upon to support Japan.

There is an irony to all of this that will not be lost on Mr Abe. Ever since 1950, Washington has been urging Japan to rearm and to adopt the sort of defence posture Japan’s prime minister is now advocating. No sooner was the ink dry on the 1947 pacifist constitution, written under the orders of General Douglas MacArthur, than the Americans regretted forcing Japan to forever renounce “the right of belligerency”. John Foster Dulles, appointed to negotiate the end of the US occupation, urged Japan to build an army of 300,000 to 350,000 men. China had gone communist and the US was fighting a war in Korea. It no longer suited the US to have a neutered “client state” in east Asia.

For years Japan resisted that pressure. Tokyo relied on the US nuclear umbrella and got on with the business of business. Its only concession was to form a Self Defence Force that was forbidden from fighting. Now, six decades later, Japan has a leader willing to take the US at its word. Mr Abe has the personal conviction, as well as the geopolitical pretext, to revamp Japan’s interpretation of its constitution or even to overturn pacifist article nine itself.

Now the moment has come, though, some in Washington are having second thoughts. John Kerry, secretary of state, according to one former White House official, regards Japan as “unpredictable and dangerous”. There is nervousness that Japanese nationalism will provoke a counter-reaction in Beijing. Hugh White, an Australian academic and former defence official, says the meaning is clear: “America would rather see Japan’s interests sacrificed than risk a confrontation with China.”

When Mr Abe went to Yasukuni, he may have partly been sending a message to Washington. It is a curiosity of the Japanese right that it has been the most ardent supporter of the US-Japan alliance while simultaneously being resentful of the postwar settlement imposed by Washington on a defeated Japan. Going to Yasukuni in defiance of US wishes is one way of signalling that Japan cannot always be relied upon to do Washington’s bidding.

Distaste in Washington for Mr Abe is by no means universal. In some ways, the Japanese prime minister is exactly what the US doctor ordered. He has a plan to reflate Japan’s economy. He is the first leader in years with any hope of solving the festering issue of US marine bases in Okinawa. He is willing to spend more on defence after years of a self-imposed limit of 1 per cent of output. Those policies, however, come with a price tag: a revisionist nationalism that many in Washington find distasteful.

“As China grows, Japan has more and more reason to be anxious about China’s power, and less and less confidence in America’s willingness to protect it,” Mr White says. The US, he argues, must either commit itself unambiguously to defend Japan’s core interests or help Japan regain the “strategic independence it surrendered after 1945”. Japan’s answer to that dilemma is to hold on ever tighter to America – and to pull away.


Anonymous said...

"a price tag: a revisionist nationalism"

A more immature response could not be provided, almost [?] a rival to North Korea's Kim. Bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

To add to the above,

Valiant Abe, musing to himself on the "war heroes" of the 2nd world war, pledges to commit an even greater error than his "heroes" did in flinging themselves against a much larger economy.

This time he wants 2, both with "Big Ears".


Anonymous said...

Big Eared Tu Does Regional Conflicts
A Fantasy of AntiCommunism

netudiant said...

It just seems absurd that Japan, the world leader in aging, would seek confrontation with China, home of the self induced demographic collapse.
I get the image of two communities fighting from their wheelchairs.

Anonymous said...

A relevant image, netudiant.

There is some sort of affliction where the geriatric emotionally regress as they grow older?

It may be their commentary on having to relate to 'outside' powers if anyone thinks the Japanese don't view the rise of China's economy as engineered ..

.. Which of course is all well good and expected, but hopefully the expectation that 'leaders' would be required to rise above such adolescent affect will not be trounced. Signs are not promising for that not to happen, so 'leaders' become caricatures.

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