Page 1 of 2 Abe leads the 'contain' China two-step
By Peter Lee
There has always been an implicit contradiction between Shinzo Abe's declared desire to "bring Japan back" and the US wish to lead "Free Asia". The divergence of aims has been obscured by the eagerness of the US defense establishment to encourage Japan's increasing heft as a "security" "defense" "active pacifist"; well, let's just say "military" power, in order to add to the credibility of US hegemony in the Western Pacific, and Japan's awareness that US military backing - if properly exploited by invoking the US-Japan Security Treaty - can give Japan a significant leg up in its confrontation with the People's Republic of China.
The Abe administration has performed exactly as desired by American military strategists, both in its willingness, nay
eagerness to build up its military and endorse the concept of "collective self defense", and on the highly contentious issue of shoving the Futenma airbase relocation down the throats of the resisting Okinawan people by a combination of financial blandishments and crude political pressure.
However, there are signs that the are tensions in the US-Japan romance, largely because the Obama administration is serious about exploiting the potential of its "honest broker" role to carve out a role for itself as the even-handed interlocutor between Japan and China - a role that the PRC is encouraging in order to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington - and is therefore not giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the full-throated support that he believes he needs and deserves.
Also, the Abe administration may consider the current moderate Asia policy of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry to be a fleeting, transitory dream of an administration entering its lame-duck phase, to be carefully defied in expectation of a more militant and pro-Japanese successor.
One of the less-noted ramifications of US Asia policy has been the marked divergence between US and Japanese responses to the Chinese declaration of its air defense identification zone or ADIZ in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Abe immediately jumped into Churchillian "this shall not stand" rhetoric and declared that no Japanese aircraft - including Japanese civilian carriers that had already declared their intention of complying with the Chinese declaration - would respect the ADIZ.
The United States, perhaps conscious that it maintains a ferociously defended ADIZ over North America, decided to defy the ADIZ only to affirm the right of United States military aircraft to fly anywhere they wanted outside of Chinese airspace, and sent two B-52s lumbering over from Guam into the ADIZ unannounced. The United States, however, did not recommend that US civilian carriers ignore the ADIZ.
South Korea took advantage of the ruckus to expand its own ADIZ, which it apparently has been trying to do for a long time, gained the acquiescence of the PRC, and it appears that ROK civilian carriers now respect the zone.
This left Japan pretty much out on a limb by itself, a state of affairs that the Western press tactfully decided to ignore but that seems to have awakened some resentment towards the United States, perhaps by the Abe administration and certainly by its confront-China sympathizers in the US.
Although Prime Minister Abe had failed to summon up a united front against the PRC over the ADIZ, he took another crack at it at the global elite confab in Davos, Switzerland.
International affairs boffin Ian Bremmer and a suspiciously large contingent of think-tank poobahs were primed to love the speech (the text of which was, by Davos practice, not made available to the common herd), and they did.
And Prime Minister Abe just came, he gave a great speech. Folks are optimistic about the economy. The one part of the speech that people were really concerned about was Japan-China. And understandably. He's criticizing the Chinese as being aggressive and militaristic. He compared Japan-China relations explicitly to relations between Germany and the UK in 1914, where the economic relations were good but the security tensions, let's say, were not so good. And we saw what happened there.
I wouldn't say that Abe was directly raising the specter of war, but he was saying that China is acting in a manner that's unacceptable and Japan won't tolerate it. 
Bremmer also implied that the PRC was taking advantage of a certain lack of American testicular fortitude on the China question:
So clearly the Chinese want to engage with Americans in a serious way. There are a lot of reasons for that. The US economy is picking up. But also they see a window here because all of the hawks on China are gone from the US administration. Hillary's gone, [former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs] Kurt Campbell's gone, [former Treasury secretary Timothy] Geithner, much more focused on this region, is gone, and [former National Security Advisor Thomas] Donilon's gone. And so they see an opportunity with Biden effectively leading US-China relations right now to build the US-China relationship while really changing the rules on the ground with Japan.
Contemporaneously, two worthies from the Center for a New American Security, a "left of center" security think tank, declared their concern that peace might break out between the US and the PRC, and advocated for heightened tensions instead, with an assist from Japan and other Asian allies:
US officials have been careful to avoid provoking a China that appears increasingly willing to flex its newfound military muscle. Perhaps that's why Biden invoked his father's advice in warning on the eve of his Beijing visit that "the only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended". But an overemphasis on stability can be dangerous.
The point is simply that a country with the power of the USSR or China, unsatisfied with features of the existing order, motivated to do something to change it, and skeptical of the resolve of the United States, could well pursue a policy of coercion and brinkmanship, even under the shadow of nuclear weapons.
[T]he United States needs to inject a healthy degree of risk into Beijing's calculus, even as it searches for ways to cooperate with China. This does not mean abandoning engagement or trying to contain China, let alone fomenting conflict. But it does mean communicating that Beijing has less ability to control escalation than it seems to think. China must understand that attempts to roil the waters could result in precisely the kinds of costs and conflicts it seeks to avoid.
To make this work, the United States should pursue policies that actually elevate the risks - political, economic, or otherwise - to Beijing of acting assertively. ... [T]he US military needs capabilities and plans that not only prepare it for major war, but that also offer plausible, concrete options for responding to Chinese attempts to exploit America's perceived aversion to instability. Leaders throughout Asia will be watching. Too much caution, especially if China is clearly the initiator, may be read as US weakness, thereby perpetuating rather than diminishing China's incentives toward adventurism.
The United States can further raise the stakes by deepening its military ties with Japan ... 
Senator John McCain, whose confidant Roy Pflauch handles the Abe administration's careful and extensive informal outreach to the American right wing, also invoked the 1914 analogy during the confirmation hearings for new ambassador to the PRC, Max Baucus, an indication perhaps that Abe's allies in Washington are all determinedly singing from the same hymnal.
Wow, looks like everybody's ready to join Japan and stand up to China except that Chamberlain in VPOTUS clothing, Joe Biden! Well, almost everybody.
President Obama's relations with Prime Minister Abe are considered cool at best.
Abe, it should be pointed out, is an unreconstructed Cheneyite when it comes to admiration and emulation of Dick Cheney's Manichean worldview, especially where it pertains to China. (In passing, it might be noted that Cheney's loyal aide Scooter Libby introduced Abe for his September 2013 speech to the Hudson Institute).