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News analysis: Abe turning up heat on cold war maneuvers threatens stability in East Asia region

By Jon Day (Xinhua)    17:54, June 09, 2015

TOKYO, June 9 -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's latest multi-pronged push to recast the nation's military and assert more of its control in East Asia has been a protracted and strategic one, but should the hawkish leader's plans come to fruition and see his "brains" turn to brawn, the prospects for the region will darken severely if not become cataclysmic.

Abe's latest maneuvers have, among other moves, involved inking a new defense pact with the United States, ramming unconstitutional legislation through parliament at home, coaxing military support from smaller nations who believe they could benefit from Japan's increasing clout, and trying to sway the opinion of the Group of Seven (G7) that saber rattling is the best way to solve current territorial and other conflicts in the region.

The Japanese leader in special debates on the nation's domestic security legislation has consistently failed to unequivocally communicate the precise scenarios in which Japan's forces would be allowed the right to exercise collective self- defense and has flip-flopped over questions of whether the lives of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) could be put in mortal danger during his envisioned deployments.

Indeed, the right-wing nationalist is currently looking again to circumnavigate the nation's Constitution to bring about his latest military drive, despite leading constitutional scholars pointing out, for the umpteenth time, the glaring unconstitutionality of such moves.

But the prime minister, as has largely been the case since he came to office in 2012, has and continues to single-handedly, unilaterally, and, to a great extent with neither party nor public support, forge ahead with his singular, legacy-making master plan of firing up Japan's old militaristic war machine. One point in case of such solo-governance being the new Guidelines for Japan-U. S. Defense Cooperation, which were unveiled during Abe's visit to Washington in April.

The new agreement saw a number of provisos agreed upon between the two allies, including the U.S. expectations, as laid out by Sen. John McCain, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, that the U.S. expects to see Japan's SDF put "boots on the ground" where there to be a conflict on the Korean Peninsula and be visible alongside the United States in the Middle East and in contingencies that could occur closer to home. "This is what (prime minister) Abe does. He makes his own mind up about how he sees the nation developing, in this case militaristically, makes promises with the necessary powers that be, such as the United States and then, in contravention to the Constitution, tries to force through the necessary bills in parliament retroactively to legalize his decisions," political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua, adding that such methods make a mockery of parliament and the Constitution as ultimately the decisions have already been made. "And it is perhaps such unilateral moves that are the biggest threat to the region, as Abe himself is solely at the controls when it comes to turning the heat up or down on conflicts and disputes in this region and, naturally, that is going to make neighboring countries very angsty, especially when considering Abe' s penchant for ultra-right ideologies, including revising history and remilitarization, Muramatsu said.

Abe is also trying to convince other G7 nations that he is being reactive rather than proactive, meaning that he is merely " responding" to a "perceived" threat and the "increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan", rather than contributing to it, or actually being the very architect of it in the first place, Muramatsu continued. But while other G7 countries have identified specific issues pertaining to this region and are well aware of how those situations are developing in the East and South China seas, they have not singled out any one particular country as being to blame. "But the plot thickens," Muramatsu continued. "Let's not forget that Abe is a very shrewd and adept politician and with a party majority in both houses of parliament and apparent contempt for constitutional legislative practices, Abe is facing little resistance at home; with a powerless electorate perhaps just ruing the day they allowed the now ruling Liberal Democratic Party to oust the Democrats in 2012, and in the eyes of smaller countries, Japan is once again being viewed as an up-and-coming global player. "

He went on to explain that smaller countries in the region, at least economically or militarily, were now in a position to cozy up to Abe and receive military hardware in return for solidarity, and how such relationships and concord with new allies, plus the economic benefits, were probably in mind when Abe relaxed the nation's decades-held weapons embargo, again in contravention of the Constitution and against the will of the public.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's recent visit to Japan is evidence of one of Abe's new multi-pronged formula for expanding Japan's influence in East Asia. Aquino's visit was specifically to hold talks on boosting the two nations' defense and security ties and being that both countries are underwritten by the United States as allies, have the belief in a new-found freedom to make deals that the United States would have once quashed in the post- war years, or have its own security threatened.

Aquino, a self-confessed novice on historical issues, once again likening China's moves in its own territory as similar to Nazi Germany's expansionist moves before World War II, while hailing Tokyo and Manila's new-found solidarity, was of course going to draw the ire of China and play straight into Abe's hands as he continues to turn up the heat and the perceived "fear factor" in the region and in doing so, attract more accomplices, while further alienating the one country that Abe desperately needs to dialogue with, before the situation escalates beyond the control of diplomacy. "Abe's words and deeds are supporting recent beliefs that the leader is wittingly ignorant of the Potsdam Declaration and has minimal qualms about diminishing the importance of the 1972 China- Japan joint communique, the 1978 China-Japan treaty of peace and friendship, the 1998 China-Japan joint declaration and other such pacts made as recently as 2008," Asian affairs analyst Kaoru Imori told Xinhua. "Add to this the prospect of Japan providing hardware to and using the military bases of a country whose leader has likened China to Nazi Germany -- an ill-conceived calumniation often levied with historical accuracy against Japan's own wartime actions -- and of course cages are going to be rattled and responses are going to be provoked. Furthermore as Japan courts the likes of Australia, as it has the Philippines, more fuel is being added to a very unnecessary fire that threatens to burn more ferociously in East Asia the longer Abe continues to act out his legacy," Imori said. "At what point is Abe going to realize that he is still on the U.S.'s leash? He's a puppet, albeit a shrewd and arrogant one. The U.S. pivot to Asia involves cooperation from malleable countries and sadly Japan is one of them, the Philippines and Vietnam others. As for Australia, well that remains to be seen." "Abe's being allowed to run amok with his nationalistic ways and winding up of neighboring countries, but only because Japan remains such a strategic location in the Pacific for the U.S. who has previously said that its Navy will increase its footprint in this region by 18 percent between 2014 and 2020, with an aim of having around 60 percent of Navy ships oriented toward the Pacific by 2020. The U.S. strategic shift predates Abe's antics, but the U.S. has used them expertly for its own means," Imori said, adding that Abe himself was a threat to the region only in as much as an Abe-triggered military or maritime skirmish, intentional or otherwise, would force the U.S. to intervene to some degree to defend its allies.

But while Abe's moves may threaten the stability in East Asia and the U.S.'s pivot to the region just more unnecessary and unsanctioned global policing, a threat does not necessarily constitute an engagement, although does little to ensure one is avoided.

In the eyes of some authorities on the matter, Abe's multi- pronged maneuvers that have also been dubbed the Abe Doctrine, may not be the end of the story and, ultimately, reason, logic, law, facts and, most importantly, diplomacy, will eventually prevail as Japan is only part of a bigger equation in the region. "Thus, the Abe Doctrine seems more like a stopgap tactic rather than a compelling strategic vision. Detente with China is imperative, and there are some encouraging signs, but the hard work of diplomacy lies ahead," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, said in a recent editorial on the matter.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Jin Chen,Bianji)

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