On May 27th, Barack Obama will pay a historic visit to Hiroshima as the first serving U.S. president to visit the Japanese city. Officially, the White House announced the trip will highlight Obama’s continued commitment to pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, and a strengthened U.S.-Japan relationship during his presidency. However, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe actively shaking off the limit of the pacifist constitution and advocating containing China, Obama’s visit could send very wrong messages.
Forgiving the Japanese historical crimes?
President Obama’s visit to the atomic bombing site in Hiroshima could provide the conservatives in Japan an opportunity to highlight their victim image and to obliterate the war crimes the Japanese fascist regime committed during the World War II. In recent years, the Japanese politicians’ frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the tendency to deny the war crimes to the Asian countries have sparked strong opposition, and alerted many conscientious people all around the world of the risk of a remilitarized Japan.
As the first and only country that used the A-bomb against Japan causing huge loss of life and property in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. has been very cautious when handling the issue. That’s why in the past 71 years, no sitting U.S. president visited the Hiroshima or Nagasaki city. It is reported that Obama will tour the Peace Memorial Park constructed atop the busy commercial district obliterated by the bomb. Fairly speaking, it is all right for Obama to honor the civilian victims of the bombing. But when the U.S. is eager to show the two countries have worked through the World War II-era grievances, it should never forget the suffering Japan caused to the world during the war.
For President Obama to keep his promise and continue to promote a nuclear-free world is justifiable, but such a visit to Hiroshima will inevitably highlight the victim image of Japan and be perceived as an apology for using nuclear weapons against Japan. It could even encourage those Japanese conservatives who never admitted the war crimes its government committed last century to act more provocatively. The reconciliation among the countries who were at war with one another is necessary for the regional peace and development, but it must be based on the sincere reflection of the past wrong doings, but not cover-ups, rewriting or even denial of the history.
Therefore, it is not enough for the U.S. to merely point out the open recognition of history is essential as said by the deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, Obama should also urge the Abe government to face the history directly and take concrete measures to earn trust from the neighboring countries. If Obama wants to turn the page over, at least he should ask the Japanese government officials to behave responsibly regarding the history issue. For example, the Japanese government should once and for all remove the shrines of A-class war criminals from Yasukuni, which all neighboring countries even Americans found offensive and unacceptable.
Unleashing Japan to contain China?
Recently, no one country is more enthusiastic than Japan to advocate containing China in Asia, while Obama has made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to contain China. Does a historic visit to Hiroshima mean a reward to Abe’s aggressiveness?
Ever since the beginning of this year, the strategic competition and cooperation mutually strengthened between the U.S. and China. On the one hand, China and the U.S. maintained very good cooperation regarding several traditional and non-traditional global security issues, such as the Iran nuclear issue, the training of Afghanistan security forces, non-proliferation and the climate change, which are beneficial for the world peace and prosperity. On the other hand, the strategic competition between the two is becoming more apparent. In economic and trade area, the EU and U.S. denied to grant market economy status to China. In the South China Sea, where China is trying to secure its maritime sovereignty and rights, the U.S. believes China is challenging its regional hegemony and military dominance in the area. As deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said, the U.S. is intensely focused on China’s “assertive and provocative behavior”. Therefore, the U.S. Navy is pushing for a more aggressive policy of patrolling close to Chinese-fortified islands and caused more dangerous encounters between the U.S. reconnaissance aircraft and Chinese jet planes.
What makes the situation more complicated is that Japan as an outsider of the South China Sea issue, is trying to insert itself into the issue. At the end of last year, the Japanese Foreign Minister talked about the possibility of joint patrol with the U.S. Navy in the area. This year, Japan is becoming increasingly aggressive in advocating so called “China threat” in the Asia Pacific region. It is understandable for the Prime Minister Abe to do so to the domestic audience, as to sell his proposal of revising the Pacifist Constitution, but when he was selling his viewpoint to the EU countries, that’s too much. It is very interesting to see that Japan is a close alliance of the U.S., but the latter never restrained Japan’s rhetorics of containing China. Furthermore, Japan actively sold advanced weapons to countries around the South China Sea, participated more multilateral military exercises, and conducted more port calls in the area, just made the regional situation more tense.
Many commentators criticized Obama’s assertion that the U.S. does not intend to contain China as being hypocritical. Believe it or not, the South China Sea is much more militarized ever since the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized China in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 2009. This time, at the end of Obama’s second term, he would like to highlight the strengthened U.S.-Japan relationship during his presidency. For sure, the world will witness again a strong US-Japan alliance during the G7 summit this week in Ise-Shima. But as the U.S. Indulgence towards Japan grows, it will embolden Japan to act more aggressively, and even drag the U.S. into a war it never intended.
For quite a long period of time, a successful U.S. Asia strategy must have a balanced policy toward both China and Japan. This time, the scale is well tilted towards Japan. If Obama wants to make a stable U.S.-China relations one of his foreign policy legacies, he should think over before leap.