The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Shinzo Abe Preps for U.S. Trip by Bashing China

Japan’s hotheaded new Prime Minister has turned up the heat in Asia another couple notches. Just before leaving Japan to meet Obama in Washington, Abe gave China a serious tongue-lashing.

In an interview with the Washington Post, he accused China of having a “deeply ingrained” need to confront Japan over disputed territory. Abe believes that ongoing territorial disputes will eventually hurt China economically, and this will damage the Communist Party. Without economic growth, he said, China “will not be able to control the 1.3 billion people…under the one-party rule.”

“What is important first and foremost,” Abe said, “is to make [China] realize that they would not be able to change the rules or take away somebody’s territorial water or territory by coercion or intimidation.”

His comments on Chinese education were particularly stinging. “What is unfortunate,” he said, “is that in the case of China, teaching patriotism [is equivalent to] teaching anti-Japanese sentiment.” This struck a particularly hypocritical note, as the Post reports: “Abe’s criticism of Chinese education is also notable because, during his first stint as prime minister six years ago, he revised a law to encourage a more patriotic curriculum in Japan’s classrooms.”

Abe accused China’s leaders of building domestic support by bashing and threatening Japan. The same can be said of Abe himself: China-bashing has helped make him the most popular Prime Minister in years. The latest polls put him at a 71 percent approval rate, which is astonishing compared to six of his immediate predecessors (including himself), all of whom lasted just one year in office.

Needless to say, comments by foreign leaders—especially Abe—that the Communist Party needs and encourages conflict with neighboring countries to preserve its hold on power will not be warmly received in Beijing.

UPDATE: Japan has backtracked from Abe’s incendiary comments after China lashed out.

Published on February 22, 2013 10:46 am