Friday, December 27, 2013

Shinzo Abe's Strategic Miscalculation

Shinzo Abe was wrong to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.


Because at a foreign policy level, Abe's pilgrimage will be regarded by Beijing as a one-fingered salute. Indeed, Abe almost certainly intended to send such a message. The Japanese Prime Minister might have had fun, but his action was ill-advised. For a start, it's crucial to remember that the Chinese are desperate to advance their regional power base and perceptions of that power. This unambiguous reality is evident in both the East China Sea and in Space. In this sense, by challenging China in such an emotionally evocative way, Abe is playing straight into the hands of the Politburo hardliners. In essence, he's granting them the political cover that they need in order to push a tougher line against Japan. With Sino-Japanese relations already poisonous, this injection of emotion is thus likely to further destabilize the region. China's Foreign Ministry has already hinted that China may respond - they've stated Japan will bear responsibility for the ''consequences'' that follow. Let's be clear, this wasn't the way to send a (necessary) signal of Japanese courage. This wasn't the way to let China know that Japan won't back down in face of growing Chinese aggression. Instead, calm resolution is the far better option - China must understand that Japan and the US will not equivocate; that while we favor good relations, if necessary, we'll use force to defend our interests. 

Rather, this was a product of arrogance. The Japanese political elite remains largely unwilling to face up to the horrific crimes that Japanese military forces committed during WW II. By hiding from that reality, the Japanese Government has failed to understand how deeply those crimes are etched into the Chinese socio-political psyche. Their failure catalyzes the deeper problem - emotion plays a toxic influence in political strategy. It fosters mistrust in place of effective communication and it makes a miscalculation all the more likely. By playing games under the umbrella of American security, Abe has dishonored the United States. While that unyielding umbrella should (and will) of course remain in operation, Obama should also make clear his dissatisfaction over this profoundly unproductive act.

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