Washington should take peril of Japanese re-militarization more seriously

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-3 19:58:02

Speculation has been mounting for quite some time among East Asian countries as to what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will say on August 15 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. When Abe on a TV political debate show recently hinted that the so-called Abe statement may drop some key words and phrases of remorse and apology in the previous Murayama and Koizumi statements such as "heartfelt apology," he once again triggered disappointment in neighboring states.

Meanwhile, it seems that there are some big and worrying gaps over Japan's attitude between Asian countries and the US.

Contrary to frustrated emotions in Asia over the slow pace of Tokyo's remorse for its wartime crimes, and amid the rapid emergence of its right-wing forces, Washington does not seem to take it seriously and few Americans are speaking on the issue.

There is no denying that the US is not pleased with Abe's and other Japanese right-wing politicians' view of history. For one thing, the US and Japan were opponents during WWII, and it was Japan that launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, provoking the war against the US. And Washington finds Tokyo's perfunctory attitude over historic issues incomprehensible.

Moreover, Japan's behavior has directly led to a complicated relationship between the US and South Korea, which is a major concern for the US.

The US is eager to see all its alliances in the Asia-Pacific region enhancing unity and solidarity, in order to coordinate more smoothly with its own strategic planning in the region.

However, in the past few years, Japan and South Korea, both US allies, have increasingly brought their rivalry to Washington due to historical disputes. The two brawling allies have proved to be a headache for the US.

Consequently, the US will come forward to condemn Japan's military past, and urge the country to deal with historic issues properly in a responsible manner.

This is not only because the US itself was a victim of the war, but more importantly the US wants Japan to ease tensions with neighboring countries, especially with its allies in the region, for the good of the US  rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific.

But for the US, the strategic value of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region outweighs the importance of Japan's attitude to its past. Thus Washington is not planning to remodel its policy toward Japan and the basics of the US-Japan ties won't be shattered.

But Washington needs to look further for ideas about its policy toward Japan. US politicians believe that apart from Tokyo's significant role in its Asia-Pacific strategy, Japan is now a peaceful country, and that with or without soul-searching on its wartime crimes, Japan cannot and will not start a war again. Yet this might be seriously wrong.

Japan is moving toward militarization while enhancing its defense capabilities, with the help of close ties with the US. Washington might have overlooked the problem that Japan might no longer be subject to the US' rebalance to Asia strategy, if the country can continually gain military strength through expanding its army and amending its pacifist constitution. The US should plan for such unexpected contingencies and not rule out countermeasures.

Unfortunately, there have been a series of false American strategic judgments on actions toward Asia, which led to the Vietnam War (1959-75) and the Korean War (1950-53).

Therefore, time and observation are needed at this moment, to tell whether the White House has made another wrong decision over its Japan-related policy.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Li Aixin based on an interview with Li Haidong, a professor with the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University. liaixin@globaltimes.com.cn

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