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Japan's Aggressive Diplomacy Alienates Rivals & Friends Alike


Japan’s foreign policy, Gideon Rachmann writes in the Financial Times, “hovers between the ludicrous and the sinister.” A handful of mistakes and gaffes in recent weeks by Abe administration officials has irked South Korea and China and encouraged them to grow friendlier with one another at Japan’s expense. The same ludicrous diplomacy has embarrassed Washington, Japan’s protector in chief, and forced the Obama administration to consider the possibility of “Japan’s most nationalistic government since 1945” dragging the US into a war with China.

Consider the recent launching of Japan’s huge new warship, an aircraft carrier in everything but name, the IzumoIzumo was also the name of a flagship cruiser that led the brutal invasion of China in the 1930s and that, a few years later, fired on the USS Wake and sunk the HMS Peterel in one of the first actions in the Pacific theater of World War II. “What genius” made that decision, Rachmann wonders.

There have been other gaffes. The Japanese Deputy Prime Minister asserted that the Nazis should serve as a model for Japan’s attempt to modify its pacifist constitution (which was quickly recanted); Abe was photographed in the cockpit of a jet decorated with the number of an infamous imperial army unit that carried out chemical and biological experiments on Chinese civilians. Incidents like these have further alienated China and South Korea. Traditionally, new South Korean heads of state travel to Tokyo on their first trip abroad; South Korean President Park Geun-hye went to Beijing on hers. Later she proposed building a monument in China to the South Korean soldier who assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister and then-Resident General of Korea Ito Hirobumi in 1909.

Tomorrow, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, we’ll see just how many and which Japanese politicians choose to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where several convicted war criminals are interred; these visits will certainly be interpreted as another jab at Beijing and Seoul. Rachmann writes that it’s high time for the US to disengage from Tokyo, to revise the security arrangement that makes Tokyo “so utterly dependent on the US for security” and allow, even encourage, Japan “to build up its own military forces.” Considering Japan’s (and the region’s) ongoing militarization, and the Abe administration’s slightly unhinged nationalism, that might lessen the chances that the US gets dragged into a conflict, which is good, but it also might increase the enmity between the world’s second and third largest economies.

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  • tarentius

    Just because the China Daily found a Chinese PLA propagandist to call the Izumo an aircraft carrier, doesn’t mean it’s one in “everything but name”. It has no ability to launch fixed wing aircraft since it has no steam catapult or EMALS capability. The idea that the ship could be retrofitted with either capability without tearing the ship apart and rebuilding it at enormous expense reflects an ignorance of ship construction that is astounding. The Izumo could perhaps carry STOVL aircraft but the only aircraft available are the Harrier and the F-35b, both controlled by the US. Even should the US decide to sell these aircraft to Japan, you still have the problem of building the requisite support and maintenance facilities on the ship.
    VM needs to be more careful when discussing military matters and not take Chinese propaganda at face value.

    • skhpcola

      Helicopters are “aircraft,” even if priggish and peevish pedants prefer to believe otherwise.

  • cubanbob

    If the Chinese weren’t antagonizing everyone in the neighborhood……

  • Federale

    Unhinged nationalism? Japan showing national pride and standing up to intimidation and the apology culture? No, it is normal national self-interest and love of one’s own country. Continuous self-absement, which has been the policy of both Germany and Japan since the war is not working out in the real world, especially a world where there is an expansionist China. And talk about unhinged nationalism, Korea and China are both examples of that. This is another example of projection by China and Korea, as well as by RINO columnists.

  • Federale

    I do hope though that the Japanese start building cruise missles, real aircraft carriers and alot more hunter-killer submarines.

  • Jim__L

    This is what the initial stages of the collapse of the Pax Americana look like. Thanks to defense cuts in America, the world is a more dangerous place, and becoming moreso all the time.

    Future politicians (and historians) will echo Winston Churchill’s point of view, that a powerful and active US would have been capable of preventing tremendously destructive wars.

    The tragic irony of this situation is that many present-day policy wanks are still hanging on to variations on the “imperial overstretch” theme by Kennedy et al. Government domestic spending far outstrips defense spending worldwide, making defense spending practically irrelevant to the overall financial health of governments.

    So, because they spend more on “helping people” (become dependent on government) than they do on wars, they increase the chance of the mass death, pain, and suffering of war than if they’d held their exquisitely-sensitive noses and invested in the armaments necessary to maintain the peace.

  • Eaton111

    Gideon Rachmann is wrong. It is amazing how all these writers who work for financial papers seem to side with China. They ignore that China is undemocratic. They ignore that China is using force and bullying tactics to gain territory. They ignore the rise of militaristic and extreme nationalistic views in China. The ignore that China looks and acts an awful lot like Germany did at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries and we all know how that turned out.

    They ignore all this and why? Because they have put their bets financially on China and they have pushed this idea that globalization will prevent wars. There is some truth that globalization makes wars harder to start, but they are dead wrong that they prevent them completely. They idea that Japan, a modern democratic nation, should give in to China’s demand to give up their territory so that some investors and businessmen can keep the profits rolling in throughout America and Europe, and that America should abandoned its oaths to help Japan is not only servile but is downright dangerous.

    China will not stop there, and anyone who thinks they will is either stupid about history or willfully wants a undemocratic China to rule Asia like they rule North Korea (and they do) and Tibet.

    • Jim__L

      Our situation in 2013 is not so different than Edwardian England. We worry about rearranging and reducing our military to fight brushfire wars (like the Boer War) and count on international business connections to preserve the peace.

      Given human history, this is not a sensible point of view.

      • Eaton111

        Some truth to that. I do think the U.S. will come to aid of Japan even if certain people fight tooth and nail to prevent it. The big danger I see is the U.S. getting into more of those “brushfire wars” as you would say eating up man power, time, money, and general making the public even more reluctant to get involved when we really do need to get involved. Asia is where the real big game is, all the rest is a sideshow distraction.

  • tsotha

    Whether the Izumo is a carrier depends entirely on how Japan uses it. It’s almost exactly the same size and capability of the UK’s Invincible class, which the Brits used as a carrier in the Falklands war.

    In the US navy it would be an amphibious assault ship, and not a very big one at that. Certainly the Izumo is no threat to China or Korea. Without a catapult or a “ski jump” at best it would provide some air defense capability for the fleet.

    The Izumo isn’t Japan’s first ship of this type, either. The Hyuga class has similar capabilities, and Japan has two of those (Hyuga and Ise).

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