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Japanese Nationalists Rattle the Cages

Last week it was China; this week it’s Japan where nationalists are raging against the country across the sea . And unlike in China, this time it isn’t just hotheaded micro-bloggers; it’s former prime minister and opposition leader Shinzo Abe, who is widely expected to become PM next year. Abe has decided to visit the controversial Yakusuni war shrine. The New York Times has more:

Mr. Abe’s visit drew attention because it is the first that he has made to the shrine since winning an internal party election last month. During that election, he took the hardest line in a field of five conservative candidates, calling for expanding the limits of Japan’s pacifist Constitution to allow a full military, and supporting patriotic education that teaches a more sympathetic view of Japan’s actions during World War II.

If Shinzo Abe continues to visit the shrine as prime minister as he has promised to do, Japanese companies in China would be well advised to hire more security guards, as angry Chinese are likely to make their disapproval clear to Japanese interests wherever they happen to find them.

Abe doesn’t plan on just stopping by the shrine. According to the Times, he will also revise an official apology regarding sex slavery in World War II, a move sure to upset the South Koreans as well as the Chinese. Further, Abe has said he would consider deploying Coast Guard to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Nationalism is on the rise in Japan, as it is elsewhere in Asia. But the Japanese seem only dimly aware of the fact that they live in a very precarious neighborhood, surrounded by strong nuclear powers with long memories of past conflicts with Japan. With the Russians deploying to the Far East, the South Koreans incensed by the Dokdo island dispute, the Chinese burning Japanese cars and flags, and always-volatile North Korea, the Japanese could probably use a lighter touch in their politics and diplomacy.

These disputes may be a headache for the U.S., but they also demonstrate the continuing need for a strong U.S. military presence in the Pacific. The American naval presence in the region has been one of the major reasons these conflicts haven’t erupted since the end of the Korean War. Don’t expect large budget cuts for the Navy anytime soon.

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