Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Japan's regional isolation higher than ever,DW
Japan's regional isolation higher than ever
Japan's neighbors are getting wary of PM Shinzo Abe and his center-right government. At home, however, Abe is bucking the trend of his immediate predecessors and riding high in the opinion polls.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe watches honour guards pass by after a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Moscow's Kremlin walls April 29, 2013
(Photo: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
In public, the Japanese government has kept its counsel about the decision by Park Geun-hye, the new South Korean president, to select Beijing as the location of her first diplomatic mission within Asia. In private, Japan's leader must be displeased at what is a clear put down.
But it should not be a complete surprise to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, given the chilly relationship that Japan has at present with its immediate neighbors - China, South Korea, North Korea and, to a lesser extent, Taiwan and Russia.
In opting to travel to Beijing to meet China's leaders ahead of a visit to Tokyo, Park has deliberately broken with the tradition set by the previous four South Korean presidents since Seoul normalized its diplomatic relations with China in 1992. It also suggests where she sees her nation's economic future and, potentially, its security.
The months since Park was sworn into office in Seoul in February have been marked by an increasingly irritable and awkward relationship with Tokyo.
An aerial photo shows a Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No. 66 (C) cruising next to Japan Coast Guard patrol ships in the East China Sea, near known as Senkaku isles in Japan and Diaoyu islands in China, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 23, 2013
(Photo: REUTERS/Kyodo) Island disputes in the East China Sea are fueling nationalism
Disdain for Japan
The key issues behind South Korea's apparently growing disdain for Japan are the territorial row over the Dokdo islets between the two nations, which Japan claims as its territory. The islets are protected by a detachment of armed South Korean police. Furthermore, the South criticizes Japan for its failure to admit responsibility for thousands of women forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military in the early decades of the last century.
The South Korean media is missing no opportunity to berate Japan, with shrill editorials in newspapers this week insisting that Abe had set out to offend by being photographed sitting in the cockpit of a military trainer jet with the number 731 stenciled on the side. Unit 731 was a military unit that carried out horrific experiments on civilians in parts of occupied Asia during World War II.
"It is clear that President Park is putting priority on China over Japan and this is definitely a snub to Abe," Jun Okumura, an international relations analyst with the Eurasia Group, told DW. "I think Prime Minister Abe and members of his administration who share his way of thinking would be very angry. But I also think they are resigned to the likelihood that South Korea is just going to continue to behave in this fashion."
Jun says that South Korea wants nothing short of complete capitulation on the issue of history. He points out that previous administrations have sought to draw a line under the question of the so-called "comfort women," but have been rebuffed.
"There is no way that a Japanese government will be able to satisfy South Korea on this issue, so I think politicians here have reached the conclusion 'so be it'," he said.
It is a similar story with Beijing, with whom Tokyo is locked in a bitter war of words over the sovereignty of the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, which Tokyo controls but which China knows as the Diaoyu Islands and claims as its territory.
Tensions around the disputed islands continue to rise, with an unidentified submarine being recently detected by the Japanese military close to Japanese territorial waters. The assumption is that it was Chinese and that it was testing Japanese defenses.
Beijing equally takes issue with Japan's interpretation of history - the "comfort women" and the way in which history is taught in Japanese schools. The glossing over of Japan's brutal invasion and occupation of much of eastern Asia in the early twentieth century is decried as "revisionism" in China.
Japanese protesters shout slogans during a rally, opposing China's territorial claim over the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, at a park in Tokyo, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012
(Photo: Itsuo Inouye/AP/dapd) Japan is angered by China's claim to the Okinawa Islands
At home, however, Abe is faring well in the public opinion polls and the his center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is apparently on course to record a second successive solid victory in the election for the upper house of the Japanese parliament in July.
In recent polls, Abe's approval ratings have ranged between 66 percent and 76 percent. Other polls suggest that the LDP has a support rate of 36 percent of the voting public as the election draws closer. The party's closest rival, the Democratic Party of Japan, has a mere 10 percent.
The public is apparently impressed with what Abe has achieved at home in the relatively short time since he was elected in December.
"In terms of domestic policy, I am somewhat surprised that he has done as much as he has," Professor Ian Neary, director of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies at the University of Oxford, told DW. "We might have predicted that he would have been cautious between his election and the House of Councillors election in July for fear of disrupting the support of the electorate."
Conventional wisdom would have suggested that he would focus almost exclusively on getting the economy back on track through his "Abenomics" plans.
That has not been the case, however, with Abe tackling a long list of policy proposals, ranging from rewriting the constitution to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions.
"The cabinet has been much more successful in the opinion polls and PM Abe has clearly felt confident that he could address these other issues as well," Neary said.
Abe has also apparently learned his lesson from his first - albeit abbreviated - time as prime minister. Shortly after being elected in September 2006, he attempted to push through revisions to the constitution too quickly and without sufficient support in parliament or in the nation as a whole.
Frustrated, he stepped down less than one year after becoming the prime minister.
This time, Abe appears to have built a solid support base in both political circles and Japanese society. It appears he will be able to retain his title far longer this time and will almost certainly be able to push through major changes.
That will be welcomed at home, but is likely to provoke further antagonism overseas.
The rocky rapprochement between Japan and China
China has canceled festivities to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Japan due to the two countries' increasingly vitriolic spat over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
China's Premier Wen Jiabao, second left, meets with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, second right, at a bilateral meeting during the fifth trilateral summit among China, South Korea and Japan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing; Photo:Petar Kujundzic, Pool/AP/dapd
Forty years of "normalizing" relations between China and Japan have pretty much run aground over the last few weeks due to a territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
In Japan, people are not going to quickly forget the pictures of Chinese demonstrators carrying banners reading "Kill the Japanese." Especially symbolic were the arson attacks on a factory owned by Panasonic, Japan's largest electronics company. In 1978, China's leader Deng Xiaoping personally visited Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita to ask for help in modernizing China's economy. For Japan, when Chinese protesters set fire to the factory; an entire era of Deng's pragmatism went up in flames.
Since the reestablishment of relations in 1972, Japanese investments in China have created some five million jobs. Billions of dollars of government aid have flowed from Tokyo to Beijing. At one point, China became Japan's most important trading partner. Every year, hundreds of Japanese businessmen travel to China for exchanges and talks with Chinese officials and political leaders. And not long ago, there was also talk of a free trade agreement.
'No common language'
Toyota Motor Corp.'s cars, including Vios, center, are on display at the Beijing International Auto Exhibition in Beijing, Photo: AP Photo/ Vincent Thian Japan has created five million jobs in China over the last 40 years
Political ties, however, have not grown and expanded to the same extent as the economic ties. In their 1978 Peace and Friendship Treaty, the island dispute was pushed aside. "Our generation is not wise enough to find a common language on this question," Deng said at the time, adding the next generation would be wiser.
But that prediction has not come to pass, mainly because the relationship between the two countries has fundamentally changed. Forty years ago, China was a poor, underdeveloped country. Japan could afford to be charitable, despite losing the war. But China's rapid modernization means China is on par with Japan. For the first time in their history, the two sides are major powers at the same time.
"China and Japan have never had this kind of relationship," emphasizes Michael Yahuda, a former professor for international relations at the London School of Economics. There are no historic precedents to fall back on and no institutional avenues to give expression to these ties, he added. "The result is a very uncomfortable relationship," he said.
Imperialism vs. pacifism
Up to modern times, Japan accepted China as the greater center of culture and civilization, said Yahuda. But under Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), Japan modernized so quickly that it defeated China in 1895 in their war over Korea, triggering a feeling of superiority, he noted. Some 40 years later, Japan occupied Manchuria and conquered half of Asia. The Nanking massacre, or the experiments on humans in the secret "Unit 731" of the imperial army illustrated to the Chinese that the Japanese viewed them as inferior.
After losing World War Two, Japan abruptly switched from imperialism to pacifism. The imperial army was transformed into a self-defense force; the constitution prohibited any and all forms of armed aggression. "Even racism was turned off like a water faucet," wrote the US historian John Dower. At the same time, Japan swept its war crimes under the proverbial carpet. Japanese school books called the Nanking massacre a "mishap." The abuse of Korean "comfort women" in brothels for the imperial troops was almost never mentioned.
Shame, not blame
Japan capitulates in China in 1945 China has never forgiven Japan for its war crimes during World War II
One reason for the silence is cultural: Feelings of shame in Japan are more pronounced than feelings of blame. The second reason has to do with the end of the war. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it easier for the Japanese to suppress their own crimes.
"In Japan, Nanking is taboo because it disrupts the view many Japanese have that they were not just warmongers but also war victims," explains Japanese author Yoshikazu Kato.
Vis-a-vis its neighbors, Japan has admitted its guilt time and again, but there was only one official apology in 1993, and not all political parties stood firmly behind it. Other countries in Asia have interpreted that as evidence that Japan does not really take its pacifism seriously.
Japanis still stuck in this dilemma today. The rise of China has forced Japan to become more self-assertive, but the pacifism and war blame get in the way. Conservative Japanese, such as the new chairman of the Liberal Democrats Shinzo Abe, are already declaring that there have been enough apologies. Osaka's popular mayor, Toru Hasimoto, has even proposed striking pacifism out of the constitution.
This trend, no doubt, will magnify the concerns of many neighbors that Japan was never serious about its admission of guilt for its aggressions. From the Japanese point of view, however, this is a misconception. This time, in their version of the new historical situation, the imperialism is emanating from China and Japan is just defending itself.