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Foreign Policy

Abe’s Strategy to Contain China Is Doomed

Mar 14 , 2017
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

A recent report, which was published by the National Institute for Defense Studies of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, defined Taiwan as a state entity in parallel with China by brazenly preaching “one China and one Taiwan”, which revealed “a tip of the iceberg” in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategy to contain China.

Abe has been considering China as Japan’s major strategic rival, making China containment one of the priorities in his foreign policy and security strategy, and has taken actions in an attempt to contain China. This year, with a new administration in the United States and the easing of tensions in South China Sea, Abe became more reckless in preaching and intensifying his strategy of containing China.

In the military and security fields, Abe targeted China in seeking revisions to the constitution and in security bills, expanding the military strength, strengthening the Japan-US alliance, and organizing military deployments and activities. Japan also got itself involved in the South China Sea issue; openly meddled in Taiwan affairs by staging, from Jan 23 to 27, a table-top exercise simulating joint Japan-US reactions in case of military conflicts in Taiwan Straits (the US military took part as an observer). It seems that Japan is poised to get militarily involved in any Taiwan Straits conflicts, and together with the US, has established a fighter identification sharing system with the Taiwan military forces, a practice that exists only among allies. On the political front, Japan tried to smear China’s reputation by playing up the “China threat” theory, and even colluded with some Western countries in issuing a hostile statement against China at a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting.

The Sunday Times reported that Japan paid British think tank Henry Jackson Society to run an image-tarnishing propaganda campaign against China and label China as a threat. At the beginning of the new year, Abe visited three ASEAN nations and Australia, where he lobbied those countries to get tough against China on the South China Sea issue, and even offered them huge amounts of aid and arms. In mid-February shortly after Donald Trump became the president, Abe visited the US in an attempt to seek US cooperation to check China, and by pledging huge investments in the US, tried to press Trump to stick to and implement his tough campaign rhetoric against China. In the economic field, Japan refused to recognize China as a market economy, And after the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Abe administration continued to block China from joining.

Abe is known as a prime minister harboring the most hostile attitude toward China ever since the two countries established diplomatic relations. There are profound backgrounds and reasons lying behind his hostility and his motives to contain China.

First, he is driven by a narrow nationalism mentality and cannot face up to the reality of a rising China. Japanese politicians are known for their nationalism, believing that the Japanese are superior and are bound to lead and dominate people of other nationalities, and Abe, as a key figure of the rightest conservative forces, is such a politician. Abe regards the revival of the “great Japanese empire” as his “honor” and responsibility, claiming that Japan should “lead Asia” again, and considers China to be the biggest obstacle to his ambitions. He was extremely upset by China’s rise, and sought to resort to every possible means to contain China and to obstruct China’s rejuvenation process. What he did was meant for one purpose only: Clearing all obstacles on the road of reviving Japan and making Japan “the Asian leader” again.

Second, it’s the natural result of his persistence in militarism and Cold War mentality. Known as a die-hard militarist, Abe worshiped the Class-A war criminals enshrined in the Yasukuni Shrine as the “martyrs who had sacrificed themselves to the country”. He incited rightist forces to deny the history of Japanese aggression, to deny the Nanjing Massacre, and to deny the fact that Japan forced many women to work as “comfort women” during the war. He also stubbornly sticks to the Cold War mentality and vigorously preaches “values diplomacy”, in an attempt to sow discord between China and other countries. The wrong views about history and the Cold War mentality are the ideological roots of Abe’s hawkish and hard-line China policy.

Third, it’s the consequence from the help and protection by the US. The US has been considering China as its potential strategic rival, and therefore uses Japan as a tool to counter China. That explains why the US supported Japan in revising its constitution and expanding its military forces, expanding the US-Japan military alliance, and openly bringing the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan under the protection of the US-Japan security agreements. The US military dispatched its new and the most advanced F-35 fighter to the airspace close to the Diaoyu Islands, and conducted joint exercises with the Japanese military, which posed brazen challenges to China. The US also regards Japan as “Oriental Israel, and promised to assume the responsibility of defending Japan through all means, including nuclear and conventional military capabilities. With the support from the US, Japan seems to be more ready to challenge and play tough against China.

The causes and responsibility for the worsening relations between China and Japan are clear-cut. It is the Abe administration that has distorted history, nationalized the Chinese territory Diaoyu Islands, meddled into the Taiwan affairs, and challenged China’s core interest. All this showed that Abe has embarked on a road of hostility towards China. However, the pattern of power in East Asia has undergone changes. When Abe tries to contain China to relive the dream of the “great Japanese empire”, he is running against the times and is therefore doomed. Peace, development and win-win cooperation are now the themes in East Asia and the world as a whole. Abe’s motives to isolate China and collude with others to contain China are also against the trends and have no chance to materialize at all, so Abe is advised to abandon his futile tactics.

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