(WMR)—Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Obama’s sushi dining partner, is stoking fears across Asia that he is not only contemplating but looking forward to a military confrontation with China. While many Asian countries fear China’s emerging clout they also have long memories of Japanese militarism and the revanchist signals from Tokyo are also fraying nerves in capitals from Seoul to Manila and Hanoi to Jakarta.
At the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abe raised eyebrows and worries with his comparison of current Sino-Japanese tensions to those between Great Britain and Germany prior to World War I. The domino effect of events in the Balkans and elsewhere eventually led to what became known as the “War to End All Wars,” the world’s first global war. Abe’s inflammatory comments came after he visited Japan’s Yasukuni shrine, where fourteen Class A war criminals from World War II, including Premier Hideki Tojo, executed in 1948, are buried. Recently, and just prior to Obama’s visit to Tokyo, Abe paid another visit to the Yasukuni shrine, triggering protests from China and South Korea.
Abe’s visits to Yasukuni set off a series of dueling comments between Tokyo and Beijing that could be the recipe for a confrontation between the Asian powers that could lead to a greater regional conflict. The souring of relations between China and Japan began over rival claims to the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The Diaoyus, which are claimed by China but called the Senkakus by Japan, are within overlapping Chinese and Japanese maritime exclusion zones in a region believed to be rich in natural gas and oil reserves. In addition, a recent extension of China’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea overlapped the ADIZ maintained by Japan.
Obama doused smoldering flames in Asia with gasoline when he stated in Tokyo that the U.S.-Japan security treaty covered the Diaoyus, the islands the Japanese call the Senkakus. In other words, Obama is prepared to sacrifice cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to Chinese nuclear missile attacks in stating that he is prepared to go to war with China if the world’s most populous nation decides to take the Diaoyus by force.
Obama’s chummy relations with Abe have sent shivers through Asian capitals where the children and grandchildren of those who witnessed Japanese aggression first hand recall their parents’ and grandparents’ painful memories. Unlike the United States, where Americans largely either make fun of or ignore the “war stories” of their parents and grandparents, Asians honor their seniors and their warnings.
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni prompted Liu Xiaoming to liken Abe and his nationalistic Cabinet to the evil Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter book series. China’s ambassador to the United Nations questioned Japan’s commitment to the UN Charter: “To pay homage to such a place, where the war criminals are enshrined, is a fundamental question bearing on the charter of the United Nations.”
Abe’s likening of Sino-Japanese relations to the period before the outbreak of World War I almost 100 years prior not only shocked China but sent shivers through all the countries in East Asia, including South Korea, which also has a maritime dispute with Japan over some disputed islands in the Sea of Japan.
Overall, Abe’s message in Davos to the world’s elite politicians and business tycoons was that Japan, which suffered catastrophic damage from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, resulting tsunami, and multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns at the Daiichi complex in Fukushima, was back in business and ready to confront all regional powers. Abe’s bellicose message was received loud and clear in both Beijing and Seoul, where memories of Japanese atrocities in World War II remain a sore subject. Chinese and South Korean leaders have refused to meet with Abe over his revanchist policies.
However, to Obama and his neoconservative war hawks, which are as engrained in the Obama administration as much as they were in the Bush-Cheney administration, Abe’s warlike policies are in keeping with Obama’s “Pivot to Asia.” The “pivot” means bringing U.S. troops, warships, and planes to China’s very door step. The neocons are up to the same game with Russia in eastern Europe.
North Korea, which has always been sensitive to any perceived rightist tilt by Japan, reacted to Abe’s revanchist rhetoric predictably. The Korean Central News Agency, which is the main propaganda arm of the Pyongyang government, stated: “There is no difference between the fascist maniac Hitler, who waged battle against communists to justify another war, and the reckless Abe who is using a confrontation with North Korea to justify Japan’s new militarist ambitions.” In Seoul, Obama was only able to warn North Korea of increased isolation.
Around the world, Japanese diplomats have taken on a more aggressive tone. At everything from trade conferences to defense meetings, Japan’s representatives are proclaiming that “Japan is back,” echoing Abe’s statement in Davos, and emphasizing that Japan is not to be trifled with by any other nation, including its longtime patron, the United States.
Abe and his supporters were miffed when some in the Obama administration, a small minority it should be emphasized, criticized Abe’s decision to visit the Yasukuni shrine. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, on a visit to Beijing, studiously avoided criticizing China over its ADIZ extension, a sign that Washington was not all that supportive of Japan’s saber rattling and its desire to transform its “Self Defense Force” into a full-blown offensive military capable force independent of Washington’s guidance and control.
Abe’s ultimate intentions have been made clearer by his decision to create a four-member National Security Council over which he will serve as chairman. The prime minister will be assisted by Japan’s first-ever national security adviser, a post similar to that which exists within the U.S. administration but which is not subject to congressional confirmation or practical oversight.
Japanese military and intelligence officials have also been visiting nations on China’s border in order to secure strategic and tactical agreements to maintain a presence in areas where China is also active. These nations include India, Myanmar, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, and Mongolia. Japan’s defense minister concluded an agreement with his Indian counterpart for joint Japanese-Indian naval exercises, the exchange of air force pilots, and other bilateral military operations. India has inked a deal with Tokyo to buy $1.6 billion in Japanese military aircraft, a further sign of Tokyo’s new-found military ambitions in Asia. The Japanese-Indian military agreements shortly followed a visit by Japanese Emperor Akihito to India, the first such visit by a Japanese emperor in over 50 years.
Japan’s right-wing government, in an effort to curry favor in Washington, has formed an alliance with neocon think tanks and policy mills in the United States. These think tanks, whose influence over American policy far outweighs their true relevance, have come up with a particularly Israeli methodology for supporting Japanese revanchist policies while pressuring China: they advocate a U.S.-enforced “red line” for Asia. These militarist advocates in Washington and Tokyo call for a “red line” to be established from the Taiwan Strait, through the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and across the 38th Parallel which separates South and North Korea. Any crossing of the red line by China would result in a combined military assault by the United States, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps India and Vietnam, on Chinese forces.
Such Cold War-era talk may seem foolish but it was the neocon think tanks and lobbies in Washington that drew up plans for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, plans that were eventually sold to the George W. Bush administration and carried out with disastrous consequences for the United States, Iraq, and the entire Middle Eastern region.
Japan also appeared ready to extend its military and strategic influence beyond east Asia. In an increasingly post-Pax Americana world, Japan sought closer ties with the so-called “MINT” nations of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey as an alternative to dealing with the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, where, with the exception of India, China maintained considerable clout. Japan also appeared to be restive over complicated and delayed Transpacific Trade Partnership negotiations with the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, and other countries and seemed willing to roll its own way in multinational trade agreements. Some observers privately wondered if Abe saw some sort of resurrection of the World War II-era Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, which Japan controlled.
At the dawn of the 21st century few in Asia would have predicted such saber rattling fourteen years later. Yet, unbelievably, by 2014, the winds of war were blowing strong in what was once known as the center of Asia’s economic miracle. The rhetoric of Abe and his advisers ensured that the winds of war sometimes reached gale force intensity. And Obama’s public embrace of Abe in Tokyo has shown the world that the U.S. president’s “hope and change” is a hope for armed conflict in the Asia front and a change back to the era of the Cold War.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
Copyright © 2014 WayneMadenReport.com
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).