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Abe's foreign policy goals go against Japan's interests

(Global Times)

08:21, July 25, 2013

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicks out his visit to Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines Thursday, just four days after his Liberal Democratic Party won a victory in the Japanese parliamentary upper house election.

Some believe Abe's hasty plan is a little unexpected, since former Japanese prime ministers do not usually design trips abroad ahead of upcoming major elections due to political uncertainty at home.

However, Abe's tour makes sense given Japan's post-war diplomatic history and the prime minister's ambitious economic and military strategies.

To begin with, Southeast Asia constitutes a very important region in Japan's economic diplomacy since WWII. As an archipelago, Japan lacks natural resources and a huge market to help drive its economy. It therefore turns to Southeast Asian countries for energy and resources as well as seeing the region as an export market for technology and commodities.

Tokyo fulfilled its obligation of war reparations to these countries during the 1950s, provided enormous support for the foundation of ASEAN in 1967, and reinforced its economic and political ties with Southeast Asian nations during the 1970s and 1980s.

With the conclusion of the Cold War, Japan won the region's support while pursuing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, despite its bid ultimately failing.

Abe formulated a basic foreign policy framework on Southeast Asia after taking office for the first time by laying out his vision of an "arc of freedom and prosperity." He is clearly looking to continue elaborating and implementing this policy while visiting Southeast Asia this time.

By sparing no effort to hype up the "China threat" theory, the nationalist Abe strives unremittingly to strengthen Japan's alliance with the US as well as shore up political and military support from Southeast Asian countries.

Tokyo is currently in a stalemate with China and South Korea because of Abe's right-wing views on the country's past invasions, current military buildup and constitutional revision. Although Abe made it to the White House in January, meeting with President Barack Obama did not bear the fruits he desired.

It is reported that the prime minister will hold talks with US Vice President Joe Biden during his stay in Singapore this time, to reinforce the alliance with the US and reiterate Japan's stance on the Diaoyu Islands.

Since Washington has been dithering over the Diaoyu Islands issue, Tokyo yearns for an explicit response to boost its confidence in the territorial dispute with China.

The US may play an indispensable role in coordinating efforts made by Japan and the Philippines in advancing territorial disputes with China. As a critical step in its "pivot to Asia" strategy, Washington is utilizing these two troublemakers to pursue its interests in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

As for the future architecture in Asia, Japan may have tendency to gradually break away from toeing a US line and may even develop nuclear weapons. But at the moment, the two sides must make efforts to maintain their alliance given Washington's consolidation of its position in East Asia via military bases in Okinawa and Tokyo's need of US assistance to build up its military.

Facing a so-called encirclement, China is supposed to posture up like a major power.

There have been a series of tough remarks and actions coming from the Abe administration, intending to rein in China. But it would be wiser if they tried to resume close ties with China instead. Abe has to adopt a holistic view by taking into account the economic, political and cultural interests of his nation.

Chinese observers are paying close attention to Abe's Southeast Asia trip. Japan has to avoid short-term maneuvering, and adopt a long-term perspective to ensure its priorities are met.

This article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Xiaonan, based on an interview with Wang Ping, a research fellow with the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. [email protected]

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