NEWS ANALYSIS

Japan PM Abe's military talk ignores US stance

Americans don't wish to be drawn into armed conflict involving China

JAPAN'S Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to counter China's rising military power, but he forgets that the United States, his country's security ally and whose influence in the region is declining, wants to see him make peace with China, not prolong the stand-off.

The US is obliged through its security treaty to go to Japan's aid in the event of an attack. But the Americans do not want to be drawn into any armed conflict especially if it involves China.

Mr Abe, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) last week, said that in recent meetings with regional leaders, he realised that "Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific".

He said there were concerns that China is trying to change the status quo "by force, rather than by rule of law", referring to several maritime disputes in regional waters involving Beijing.

One important way a resurgent Japan could contribute is by countering China, he told WSJ.

But the Japanese leader seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that many Asian countries were victims of his country's past military aggression and therefore are nervous about his plan to revise the Constitution to boost the role of its de facto military.

Mr Abe's talk about making Japan stronger also appears partly to be flag-waving aimed at winning support from Japanese who share his nationalistic views.

Asked by WSJ about the pullback in US participation in the region, most notably President Barack Obama's no-show at Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings early this month, Mr Abe did not give a direct answer.

Concerned by Mr Abe's belligerent stance, the US has repeatedly urged Japan to mend ties with China.

The two neighbours are at odds over rival claims to a group of islets in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Beijing has refused to hold summit talks unless Tokyo acknowledges the dispute.

Mr Abe's obsession with praying at the Yasukuni war shrine during his term has also made him unwelcome in Beijing.

Yesterday, China kept up the pressure, sending four coast guard vessels into the territorial waters around the disputed islets. Responding at the weekend to reports that Tokyo was ready to down its drones, Beijing said such action would be tantamount to an "act of war".

Commenting on the Chinese reaction, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that Japan will "resolutely" defend its land, sea and air.

Meanwhile, Mr Abe's remarks to WSJ were met with scorn and anger in China, with state media and analysts belittling Japan's ability to contain China's rise.

The Global Times said in a hard-hitting editorial yesterday that war looms following Japan's provocation, and asserted that China's military power is stronger than Japan's. It also said China will be able to bear the economic blow better than Japan.

"China's efforts in striving for peaceful rise have been successful but enhanced a misperception that China is fearful of war, fuelling countries like Japan to use war to frighten China. If we don't have the luck to circumvent a war, we should deal with it with rationality a big power should have," it added.

State-run newspapers on Sunday carried front-page reports on China's nuclear-armed submarines. The submarines are involved in the navy's ongoing exercises in the Western Pacific.

wengkin@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Kor Kian Beng in Beijing