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     Jan 30, '14


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Abe leads the 'contain' China two-step
By Peter Lee

Abe has also been insistent in his quiet outreach to Republican, hawkish, and anti-Obama elements in Washington, most recently in an effort to obtain US acquiescence for his Yasukuni shrine visit, and, as a result, is reportedly no particular friend of the White House, let alone the amiable and often-maligned as "soft on everything" Joe Biden.

Maybe the Obama team did not appreciate the implication that they had to stand beside Japan right now! 1914! (I guess World War II analogies are a bit awkward) - in an anti-PRC alliance, or risk getting tarred with the brush of appeasement, and made its displeasure known.

In any case, Abe quickly backpedaled on the 1914 analogy, lamely blaming the misunderstanding on an interpreter's



interpolation and going into full-court spin mode. He didn't mean war was possible if the world didn't stand up to China. He meant war was impossible! Per Japan Times:
The government has repeatedly said that what Abe wanted to convey is that a war between Japan and China is not possible because it would cause devastation not only to the two countries but to the world as a whole.

"We will convey what the prime minister meant through diplomatic channels," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

When meeting with journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abe was asked whether a war between Japan and China is conceivable, and in response he compared the current tensions between the countries to the rivalry between Britain and Germany in the years before World War I.

Abe called it a "similar situation", according to the Financial Times and some other media.

By Friday morning, the government had briefed the BBC about Abe's intention, a Foreign Ministry source said. The British public broadcaster was among the media outlets that were reporting intensely on the prime minister's comments. Tokyo will also brief Reuters soon, the source said.

Many media reports "left the impression that Abe had not denied (the possibility of) a military clash (between Japan and China) and this caused misapprehension," a different government source said. [3]
Then Abe jetted off to the welcoming environs of India, where he served as guest of honor at the Day of the Republic celebrations and concluded a passel of agreements - and there were no dissenting voices when it came to advancing an anti-PRC Japanese-Indian security alliance.

The trip was apparently arranged at the last minute and at the cost of Abe missing the preparations for the opening of the Diet. One is free to speculate that his disappointment at the hands of the Obama administration provoked him to make a statement that Japan was not by any means solely reliant on its US patron to make its way in 21st century Asia.

Abe described the Japan-India relationship as "the greatest potential of any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world". Insert crying bald eagle graphic here, since it's another indication that the Abe administration's rejection of the "victor's justice" of World War II is not just a matter of cheesing off China; it's a rejection of US diplomatic and security tutelage and an announcement that Japan will give priority to pursuing its own interests, instead of sacrificing them as America's loyal ally.

The visit was marked by an Indian pundit writing in the Nikkei Asia Review and explicitly making the case for an Indian-Japanese alliance to contain China and, in fact, touted security ties as the most stable foundation for economic ties.

As in:
Japan and India, natural allies strategically located on opposite flanks of the continent, have a pivotal role to play in ensuring a regional power equilibrium and safeguarding vital sea lanes in the wider Indo-Pacific region - an essential hub for global trade and energy supply. ... The logic for strategic collaboration is no less compelling. If China, India and Japan constitute Asia's scalene triangle - with China representing the longest Side A, India Side B, and Japan Side C - the sum of B and C will always be greater than A. It is thus little surprise that Japan and India are seeking to add strategic bulk to their quickly deepening relationship.

Indeed, the world's most stable economic partnerships, such as the Atlantic community and the Japan-US partnership, have been built on the bedrock of security collaboration. Economic ties lacking that strategic underpinning tend to be less stable and even volatile, as is apparent from China's economic relations with Japan, India, and the US.

The transformative India-Japan entente promises to positively shape Asia's power dynamics. [4]
Upon Abe's return to Tokyo, it was promptly leaked to the Kyodo news service that Vice President Biden had fruitlessly attempted to persuade Abe not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in December.

This is an interesting state of affairs, since the previous version of the story was that Prime Minister Abe had received mixed messages from a mixed bag of formal and informal Japanese envoys in Washington on the official US government attitude toward his visit.

A one-hour phone call from VP Biden saying "Please don't go"; on the other is a pretty unambiguous message.

And, I might add, that Prime Minister Abe disregarding Biden's call and going to Yasakuni anyway is also a pretty clear message that he does not want to buy whatever Biden is selling.

As AFP put it: "But the news that personal overtures from Joe Biden, who has enjoyed a good working relationship with senior Japanese figures, were rejected will be an embarrassment to the White House."

It is possible that Abe believed that he deserved to be lobbied on this vital issue personally by President Obama and declined to heed American intentions out of pique; however, it's more likely that he wanted to make it clear that the United States is not going to receive automatic fealty from Japan on matters that Abe believes to be against Japan's interests.

Also, he may wish to send the message that a US administration that does not back Japan's China gambits to the hilt is no real ally - and no real leader of the Asian coalition.

It will be interesting to see whether Abe and his allies regard President Obama as a lame duck, and will concertedly criticize his China strategy - by attacking the convenient cut-out Joe Biden - while waiting for more a more militant administration come 2016, either under pivot architect-helmswoman and China-basher Hillary Clinton or a suitably anti-PRC Republican administration.

Key indicators of the Abe administration's attitude might include a spate of op-eds in the US that the Obama administration is too circumspect in confronting the PRC, and more than the usual sniggering at Vice President Biden as an amiable foreign-policy lightweight (the latter theme has been greatly assisted, in the media at least, by the PRC's high-handedness in refusing to provide visas for two New York Times correspondents assigned to China, despite the earnest presentations of Biden to the Beijing leadership.)

A more significant assertion of an independent Japanese regional policy in the waning years of the Obama administration would be unilateral contacts with North Korea, thereby breaking the PRC-ROK-US united front that is the hallmark of the current negotiations. Abe's chief cabinet secretary has already been called on to deny reports that Japanese envoys met with DPRK representatives in Hanoi.

Also, the Indian embassy in Pyongyang - potentially a eager and supportive cut-out for Prime Minister Abe, since direct Japanese diplomacy is hindered by the demand that the abductee issue be resolved first - and the DPRK regime have been suspiciously fulsome in their expressions of mutual regard. According to North Korean media, the Indian ambassador hosted a reception at the embassy for DPRK worthies and stated:

A more significant assertion of an independent Japanese regional policy in the waning years of the Obama administration would be unilateral contacts with North Korea, thereby breaking the PRC-ROK-US united front that is the hallmark of the current negotiations.

Abe's chief cabinet secretary has already been called on to deny reports that Japanese envoys met with DPRK representatives in Hanoi. Also, the Indian embassy in Pyongyang - potentially a eager and supportive cut-out for Prime Minister Abe, since direct Japanese diplomacy is hindered by the demand that the abductee issue be resolved first - and the DPRK regime have been suspiciously fulsome in their expressions of mutual regard. According to North Korean media, the Indian ambassador hosted a reception at the embassy for DPRK worthies and stated:
[I]ndia would value and boost the traditional friendly ties with the DPRK, hoping that the country would prosper and make dynamic progress.

He referred to the fact that the two countries, member nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, have common views on many international issues.

He hoped that tensions would be defused and Korea be reunified peacefully through dialogue, adding that India would send every possible support for this.

He said that the Indian people revere President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il, eternal leaders of the Korean people.

Noting that Marshal Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Korean people, is paying deep attention to the development of the bilateral friendly relations, he expressed the belief that thanks to his wise leadership, the cause of building a thriving nation would be successfully accomplished. [5]
Anyway, expect surprises in the evolution of the Japanese security posture in its "near beyond". And, for the United States, don't assume that all the surprises will be pleasant ones.

Notes:
1. Ian Bremmer Explains What's REALLY Going On Between China And Japan And The One Issue No One Is Talking About, Business Insider, January 24, 2014.
2. Roiling the Waters, Foreign Policy, January 21, 2014.
3. Abe's remarks on WWI parallels to be clarified, Japan Times, January 24, 2014.
4. Japan and India: a transformative entente, Nikkei Asian Review, January 23, 2014.
5. Indian Ambassador Hosts Reception, KCNA, January 23, 2014.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

(Copyright 2014 Peter Lee)

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