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Meanwhile in Japan: Nationalism on the Rise

“Many politicians are now thinking that taking hawkish positions toward China and South Korea will earn them votes,” Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a history professor at Chuo University, told the WSJ. “I am very concerned.”

His worries are justified. In a recent poll, 31 percent of respondents said they support the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. That’s a huge increase from the 21 percent who said the same thing the month before. Only 14 percent said they support the current governing party. The LDP is expected to vote on its nominee for prime minister next week. The candidates? CBS News:

The five candidates running for its [the LDP’s] top job, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, have been taking turns calling on Japan to get tough with Beijing in the escalating dispute over the rocky outcroppings in the East China Sea called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. . . .

Abe riled Asian neighbors when he was prime minister in 2006-07 by saying there was no proof Japan’s military had coerced Chinese, Korean and other women into prostitution in military brothels during World War II. He later apologized, but lately he has been suggesting that a landmark 1993 apology for sex slavery may need revising. . . .

Another front-runner in the LDP race is Nobuteru Ishihara, son of the Tokyo’s stridently nationalistic governor Shintaro Ishihara.

Ishihara is currently second and Abe third in the race for the LDP nomination. The most popular choice, ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, is slightly less outspoken than his colleagues but has suggested in the past that Japan should consider pursuing nuclear weapons. Last week he voiced support for Japanese leaders visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, the controversial war memorial that deeply upsets China and South Korea.

Nationalist, anti-China sentiment is growing among ordinary Japanese, despite pressing problems like the stagnant economy. And the rise of Japanese nationalism isn’t based only on territorial disputes. There is a feeling that Japan has been too weak and complacent toward its neighbors for too long. South Korea recently demanded that Japan expand on a 1993 statement by the Japanese government apologizing for forcing foreign women into sexual and servile roles during World War II; Seoul went so far as to ask for compensation and further apologies. Japan’s prime minister rebuffed the requests, but a number of his rivals went further, some even denying that such abuse ever happened.

So far, the Japanese have been quieter than the Chinese in the dispute over contested territory in the East China Sea. Images of Chinese protesters smashing Japanese cars and businesses in China featured prominently in the news last week, but no comparable riots took place in Japan. As Japanese nationalism continues to swell, that might change faster than the world expects.

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