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Japan has to make the right choice

By Wang Ping | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-10 08:14

The Japanese Diplomatic Bluebook 2013, which reviews the international situation and Japan's diplomacy in 2012, says China's increasingly active maritime activities to maintain its maritime rights and interests have raised concerns among regional countries as well as the international community. The bluebook or annual diplomatic report, presented by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at a cabinet meeting on April 5, emphasizes that the Japan-US security alliance is crucial for the Asia-Pacific region, where the situation is worsening.

Japan has been playing up the "China threat" theory with an ulterior motive: to use it as a ruse to transform itself into a "military power". To help push forward the "pivot to Asia" policy of the United States, Japan (and the Republic of Korea) has held frequent joint military exercises with the US in recent years, posing a serious threat to security in East Asia. Not surprisingly, the Japanese bluebook is silent on this.

The annual diplomatic report says that given the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region, the international community's existing decision-making mechanism has reached its limit and Japan finds itself in an increasingly challenging security environment that poses a threat to its people and territory. The report claims that Chinese public service vessels "invaded" Japan's territorial waters several times last year, and Chinese aircraft violated Japanese airspace and a Chinese navy vessel trained its fire control radar on a Japanese ship in the East China Sea.

As is well known, Chinese public service vessels enforce maritime laws and safeguard the passage of ships and cargo in China's territorial waters. And there is nothing to prove that Chinese aircraft have violated Japanese airspace. The fact, however, is that Sino-Japanese relations have soured because of Japan's decision to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands.

The security situation in East Asia is indeed serious, but the actions of the US and its allies are to be blamed for that. Japan and the US have been playing up the "China threat" theory since the mid-1990s to create an "imaginary enemy" after the disintegration of the Soviet Union so that they could strengthen their military alliance.

The end of the Cold War eased global tensions to some extent, and there were indications that Japan would break free of the US' hold. But to maintain its presence in Asia, the US did its utmost to unite its Asian allies. Now that the US has renewed its interest in Asia, Japan is using it to strengthen its military power. After more than 10 years' efforts, Japan changed its defense policy from one of "purely defensive defense" to "dynamic defense", and it says the major factors of this change and strengthening of the US-Japan military alliance are "China threat" and rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi denied the "China economic threat" theory, but propagated the "China military threat" theory. During his first term as prime minister, Shinzo Abe vigorously carried out "value-oriented diplomacy" in an attempt to besiege China with an "arc of freedom and prosperity". The Yoshihiko Noda government strengthened military cooperation with the US, and destroyed the trust between China and Japan. Now Abe, who has returned to power after five years, continues Noda's foreign policy of siding with the US.

Since the Abe government's strategic goal is to turn Japan into a "military power", it has to amend the constitution to get back Japan's right to exercise collective self-defense. Of course, the US wants Japan's support and cooperation in the region, but it is reluctant to give Tokyo a free hand in matters of defense because of Abe's "nationalistic" streak. To achieve its goal, therefore, the Abe government will continue to hype the crisis surrounding Japan so that it can gain public approval to increase Japans' military budget, strengthen its defense forces and amend the constitution.

Japanese people are divided in their opinion on whether China poses a "threat" to Japan. Some think that China is a populous country, and it's natural for its economic development to lead to military modernization. But some Japanese right-wing politicians and right-leaning scholars use China's rise as a ruse to incite trouble so that they can seize power and turn Japan into a "military power".

The Diplomatic Bluebook says Japan's three strategic objectives are strengthening the Japan-US alliance and economic diplomacy, and deepening cooperation with neighboring countries. The Japan-US alliance is still regarded as the driving force of Japan's foreign relations, but Abe is likely to lay emphasis more on Japan-US coordination than cooperation.

Japan sees its ties with China as "one of its most important bilateral relations", and Abe has every reason to maintain economic cooperation with China. Japan's goal over the years has been to get security guarantee from the US and economic benefits from China. Obviously, such a policy cannot succeed in the long run.

Now that China has developed friendly relations with African countries, Japan will shift the focus of its economic diplomacy to Africa not only to lay hand on the continent's resources, but also to counterbalance China's rising influence in Africa. After failing to gain permanent membership in the UN Security Council, Japan realized the importance of winning greater support from the international community. So to improve its global status and increase its popularity, Japan has carried out a series of diplomatic activities in Africa over the past five years.

In short, given its strong nationalistic streak, the Abe government will flex its military muscle to deter neighboring countries. But military deterrence can only intensify a crisis; a case in point is the explosive situation on the Korean Peninsula. Containment policies are eventually substituted by cooperation, and deepening cooperation with countries in East Asia would be a wise strategic choice for Japan. If Japan keeps playing up the "China threat" theory, it will only end up as a loser.

The author is a researcher in Japanese studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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