The February 1 ISIS execution of Japanese citizen Kenji Goto catalyzed an already heated conversation about Japan’s rising militarism. The dust is far from settled, but it looks as though the killing will push Japan farther down the defense-minded, nationalist road it has been on under PM Shinzo Abe. Any signs that Tokyo is heading in that direction will not be well received by China. McClatchy DC reports:
Japan’s grisly encounter with the Islamic State puts China in a precarious position. China fears the rise of jihadists on its borders, particularly in the western region of Xinjiang, where police have clashed with Muslim Uighurs for decades. On Monday, in response to a question about Goto’s killing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said, “China is against all forms of terrorism and all extremist activities targeting innocent civilians.”Yet China’s fears about Muslim extremists may be overshadowed by its worries about a remilitarized Japan. China was invaded and partly occupied by Japan during World War II. More recently, the two countries have sparred over disputed islands in the East China Sea and visits by Abe to a war shrine in Tokyo that honors fallen soldiers, including some World War II war criminals.Japan’s close relationship with the United States is another source of friction. China’s leaders think President Barack Obama is bent on “containing” Beijing’s influence in Asia and has been pushing Japan to exert itself as part of that strategy.A right-wing nationalist, Abe served as prime minister for a year in 2006-07 and then was returned to office late in 2012. As his position has strengthened, he’s pushed the idea of revising Japan’s Constitution so its military can participate in “collective self-defense.”
Japan’s Diet (parliament) will vote on the issue of collective self-defense later this year. From its responses to Japan’s grisly run-in with ISIS, it’s more than clear which way China wants that to go. As things stand, though, Abe seems poised to get his way.