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Japan's efforts at balancing act forget historic fears

Publication Date : 17-01-2013


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was initially set to go to Washington on his first overseas trip on January 21, when President Barack Obama is to be again inaugurated. The trip, however, has been delayed until February or later because of a tight schedule on the US side. He wants to talk with Obama about the stronger security ties between the two countries as part of coping with a rising China that is flexing its military muscle. The tensions have recently been pronounced around the Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands, where a possible showdown is ever imminent. Abe hopes to expand the Japan-US security partnership to Australia and India, too.

So Abe has rescheduled his first overseas trip. He will visit Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia from January 16 to 19 with the aim of “deepening strategic cooperative ties” with the Southeast Asian countries. His trip will take place as Japan marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), and at a time when tensions between China and its neighbors have grown over Beijing's South China Sea sallies.

Abe's Southeast Asian trip is ill-considered. As Beijing sees it, Abe is wooing the three Asean member states into the Tokyo-Washington security partnership, which is a post-Cold War containment of China. True it is that all Asean countries are wary of the People's Republic, but they are even warier of Japan. Perhaps Abe is a little too young to know Imperial Japan's Greater East-Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. It was Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe who proclaimed it to justify Japan's invasion of China and Southeast Asia, where the Japanese set up puppet regimes to serve their purposes of imperialistic military expansion. The people of Southeast Asia under Japanese occupation suffered. They have a lingering fear that Japan may intend to revive the sphere to force them to enjoy “peace and prosperity” without any Chinese threat in partnership with the United States this time around.

Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda's Senkaku nationalisation prompted violent rallies across China, with protesters trying to storm diplomatic missions and vandalising Japanese stores, factories and shops selling Japanese brand goods. The riots and an unofficial Chinese consumer boycott cost firms more than US$100 million, according to one Japanese government estimate. The Chinese are also sending maritime surveillance vessels regularly to patrol their Diaoyu archipelago. Japanese warplanes scrambled to counter China's state-owned, but not military, planes that breached Japan's airspace.

As Tokyo and Beijing are locked in the Senkaku row, Japan is raising the defense budget for the first time in more than a decade and Abe fired a fresh broadside at China last week. He accused China of deliberately allowing Japanese businesses to suffer. He told a press conference “it is wrong for a responsible nation state in the international community” to harm Japanese companies and individuals “for political ends”.

And as if it were not enough, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the end of last month said Japan is carefully considering stationing “officials” on the Senkakus. A spokesman Japan was considering creating a team dedicated to the Senkakus, which may consist of 400 officers on 12 patrol ships. Whether part of the team will be deployed on the islands is not known, but if officers are stationed, that means war between China and Japan. No country in the world can allow troops of another country on its territory.

When Kijuro Shidehara, Japan's first civilian prime minister after World War II, learned after he had been fired as foreign minister that Prince Konoe decided to send a Japanese army marching on to French Indochina in 1940, he warned of a war between Japan and the United States and tried to reverse the Konoe decision. The Japanese army invaded and occupied Indochina of Vichy France, which was headed by Marshal Philippe Petain. The Pacific War broke out a year later. Abe should know he will risk war with China if he sends troops marching to the Senkakus.


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