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Will ‘China threat’ cliche help Abe ease domestic tensions on war bills?

By Liu Tian (Xinhua)    11:26, July 29, 2015
People attend a rally to protest against the security bills in Tokyo, Japan, July 28, 2015. About 15,000 people took part in the demonstration here on Tuesday. Japan's upper house of parliament on Monday began discussions on a package of controversial security bills that, if enacted, will allow for the nation's Self-Defense Forces to have an expanded role abroad, despite an ongoing public backlash that has seen hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protests. (Xinhua/Stringer)

TOKYO, July 29 -- The upper house of Japan's bicameral Diet has discussed a series of unpopular security-related bills from Monday, but unlike similar debates in the lower house, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his fellow ministers, as well as lawmakers from Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), directly pointed to and chided China as posing a threat to Japan's national security.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said Tuesday in the upper house that China's reclamation projects and oil exploration in the South China Sea and East China Sea respectively are undeniably affecting Japan's security situation.

Furthermore, Abe himself mentioned the issues twice in as many days and said that Japan needs to enhance its deterrence through the security legislation so as to counter China's moves in the regions.

Since the Abe-led ruling coalition rammed the bills through parliament's lower house on July 16 amid strong public opposition and confusion, the support rate for the prime minister's Cabinet dived about 10 percentage points to around 37 percent, while its disapproval rate surged to more than 50 percent.

For Abe's government, it is paramount to regain support through rationalizing the controversial bills ahead of new hard tasks, specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, restarting of the idled nuclear plants and the closely watched war anniversary statement.

The mishandling of these sensitive undertakings could again slash the approval rating for Abe's Cabinet and, as analysts have attested, could ultimately influence an upper house election next year -- a key election for Abe to launch his campaign to amend Japan's war-renouncing Constitution.

Simultaneous moves of releasing Japan's 2015 version of its defense white paper hyping the "China threat" and publicized photos of China's oil and gas exploration platforms in the East China Sea were all in line with outdated cold war tactics to provoke a sense of nationalism through fear of China, aimed at trying to legitimize the passage of Abe's war bills.

But such a move to scapegoat China for Japan's military beef-up have backfired. Japan's Asahi Shimbun warned in an editorial on Tuesday that considering the geographic ties between Japan and China and their intricate historical issues, it is very dangerous for Abe to imagine China as an enemy.

Meanwhile, Masaki Fujii, a constitutional expert at Gunma University, told a press conference that the security bills will not increase Japan's deterrence and could not protect the Japanese people, adding that fabricating outside threats were maneuvers used historically by Imperial Japan and the Hitler-led Nazi regime.

"The so-called 'China threat' is just a conjecture since, for China, as the world's second largest economy, it is more beneficial to cooperate and exchange with Japan economically and culturally, rather than through confrontation," said the professor, who is among a group of constitutional experts who are against the security bills.

Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua said last week at a press meeting that playing the "China threat" card to seek the passage of the bills will impede the improvement in China-Japan ties and would spread an atmosphere of bilateral conflict.

In addition, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, an expert on international political economics at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland's Lausanne, pointed out that it is Japan that the region should worry about since the controversial bills, which will allow Japan to deploy its troops worldwide for the first time in 70 years and exercise the right to collective defense, "brings Asia closer to war."

The professor said in a recent editorial on the matter that Japan had a history of "military expeditions and wars against its Asian neighbors," and has not reconciled with them on its wartime atrocities, adding the country, however, is praising or whitewashing its past barbarities.

Lehmann said that the region would be more relaxed over Japan's increased military role "if Diet members ceased paying visits to Yasukuni; if the ultra nationalist group Nippon Kaigi were dissolved, and if Abe were to go to Seoul and pay his respects at the memorial erected in honor of the comfort women."

"However, given the unrelenting chauvinism that pervades Japan' s political establishment, it is no wonder that in East Asia there is serious concern about the resurgence of Japanese militarism -- and hence the prospect of war in Asia," he concluded.

In this regard, the opposition camp has collectively urged the government during the two days of deliberations to address public confusion on the bills as about 80 percent of the Japanese population said the government failed to sufficiently explain the legislation.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties also questioned the bills' constitutionality as Japan's war-renouncing Constitution banned its Self-Defense Forces from exercising the right to collective self-defense and about 90 percent of the country's constitutional experts insist that the bills are unconstitutional.

For the prime minister, to berate China is obviously no antidote to relieving domestic pressure and regaining support and the priority for him should be to honorably follow the will of the public.

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

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