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Nationalism on the Rise in Japan? Blame China

China’s recent assertiveness in Asia continues to set off destabilizing consequences that are unfavorable for China’s own interests, as Michael Auslin writes in the WSJ:

Mr. [Yoshihiko] Noda [Japan’s Prime Minister] has pushed back forcefully against Beijing’s pressure. He dispatched 50 Coast Guard cutters to the islands, refused to surrender Japan’s claims of ownership, and bluntly warned China that its economy would suffer from a worsened tussle with Japan.

Pushing Japan into a more hawkish position is the last thing a sane Chinese leadership would want. Japan’s hawks have long wanted to increase defense spending and take a more assertive stance against China. China’s hostility is giving them some powerful arguments. Indeed, Noda’s biggest challenger for the post of prime minister in upcoming elections, Shinzo Abe, is known as a bigger China hawk than Noda himself, and Abe has been pushing security policies that will surely make Beijing rattle: “a strengthened military with an expanded global role,” the establishment of a formal Japanese National Security Council, and a revision of “the ban on collective self-defense, which would allow Japan to come to the aid of other countries and become a more reliable alliance partner for the U.S.”

Diplomats and others from China’s neighborhood have repeatedly told Via Meadia over the years that negotiating with China often involves standing up to very harsh rhetoric and threats. Once those fail, China bargains more realistically.

What China may not understand is that this approach teaches its neighbors that the only way to deal with Beijing is to hang tough. And the combination also makes people think that China is: (a) an aspiring bully that cannot be trusted with power, and (b) weak.

Americans are often so obsessed with our own (often considerable) diplomatic failures and mistakes that we fail to see how others sometimes play the game even worse. Nobody but China could have transformed Japanese politics into a competition to see which party can be more nationalistic. Nobody but China should have tried harder to prevent it.

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