With the return of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, many are commenting on the strain Abe has placed on the United States. It is clear that recent Japanese policies are bringing US—Japanese policies to a crossroad.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama wanted to build an “equal” relationship with the United States when the Democratic Party assumed power. As a response, the United States took a hard stand on the proposed relocation of the Futenma U.S. military base, and it forced Hatoyama to step down prematurely.
However, Abe has adopted opposite policies of that of Hatoyama. Riding on the tide of the US strategy of rebalance, Abe has seemingly strengthened the US-Japan Alliance, while in fact he has tried his utmost to advance Japanese interests. The Japanese foreign policy has become more independent and assertive. Therefore, it appears Japan paying lip service to US objectives, but in all reality Abe’s government is exploiting its US backing in order to serve the Japan’s strategic interests.
First, Abe and his government have gone so far as advocating the fallacies of “non-definition of aggression”, “no war criminals in Japan”, “visiting Yasukuni Shrine for soothing souls” and “the necessity of comfort women system” for the purpose of denying the modern Japanese militarist overseas aggression. This has driven the Korea-Japan relationship down to the freezing point and spoiled the United States plan to shape a trilateral US-Japan-Korea alliance. Abe has upset the strategic deployment of the United States in the Asia Pacific region.
Second, Japan has danced to its own tune in diplomacy. Not long ago, without prior notification to the United States and Korea, Abe sent his adviser in charge of Cabinet Crisis Management, Lijima Hoon, for a “secret visit” to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, purportedly to seek the solution of the abduction issue and a package settlement of the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula. This act, in disregard of the United States dominance in the regional affairs, has made the United States and the Republic of Korea unhappy, as it damaged the consensus of concerted action among the US, Japan and South Korea. Glyn Davies, the US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, indicated that the unilateral act of Japan sabotaged the partnership of the United States, Japan and South Korea on the Korean issue.
Third, the United States has been leveraged by Japan to promote the latter’s strategic interests. The dispute of Diaoyu Islands has been used by Abe as a trump card to check the relationship between China and the United States. Abe has been overly assertive on the Diaoyu Island issue from time to time by denying the consensus of “shelving disputes for common exploration” between China and Japan and forced the United States to support openly its territorial claims, only to damage the China-US relations.
Fourth, Japan has tried to reshape its relations with the US. After assuming office, Abe unilaterally announced that a Japan-US summit meeting was scheduled, without prior bilateral consultation, showing an apparent intent to do things according to its own “agenda”.
On the other hand, the United States can hardly deny its responsibility for the vicious Japanese right wing nationalism. The United States has been constantly encouraging and supporting Japan in its efforts to break the restrictions of “Peace Constitution” in order to have Japan work for US global strategy. As such, Japan has firstly amended the “three principles of arms exports”, followed by the amendment of “the three non-nuclear principles” to the effect of including the provision of “using atomic energy to contribute to the national security” in its Atomic Energy Basic Law. Now Japan is trying to amend its constitution to lift the ban on collective self-defense and upgrade the Japanese Self-Defense Forces into the “National Defense Force”.
If Japan manages to amend its constitution and abolish the ban imposed on it by the international community after WWII and becomes a so-called “normal state”, then Japan’s relationship with other countries, especially US-Japan alliance, China-Japan and Korea-Japan relations will be damaged.
The United States naively believes that Japan will offer to help the US with its re-balance strategy in containing China, once Japan is awarded “collective self-defense” and relieved of the restrictions by its Peace Constitution. Nonetheless, as Japan has been deeply rooted in its erroneous view of the history and wars, it will be difficult to predict that Japan will behave properly and exert caution in handling its relations with neighbors. On the contrary, Japan will make even bigger troubles and lead the United States by the nose as Japan will never submit to the fate of being a “second-tier country”.
In the post-WWII period, the Japanese right wing nationalists have always harbored resentment to the United States. Since the founding of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, its fundamental objective has been to get rid of the exiting system, i.e. the “renunciation of war system” imposed by the United States. As early as 1970s, Shintaro Ishihara and his like claimed that Japan could say “no” to the United States. It is high time for the United States to take these facts into account and wake up from its fantasy. The United States should be wise enough not to lift a rock for a temporary strategic need and drop it on its own feet.
At this historical juncture of the US-Japan relations, the United States needs to rethink its Japan policy.
Wu Zhenglong is a research fellow at the China Foundation for International Studies.