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Introduction to Special Issue on Nuclear Weapons

Written by Richard Selwyn.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system has been generating significant displeasure in Beijing for some months now. Deployed by the US to counter Pyongyang’s unpredictability, the THAAD missile defense system appears a rational insurance policy. But a diplomatic spat played out in Korean-drama bans has trivialised an issue that goes to the heart of China’s nuclear weapons policy. Since the 1960s, China has been satisfied with a small nuclear deterrent and an unequivocal no first use policy on nuclear weapons. In Beijing’s eyes, THAAD threatens China’s ability to retaliate, leaving the US impervious and China vulnerable to a nuclear weapons attack. Continue reading “Introduction to Special Issue on Nuclear Weapons”

Sino-North Korean Relations: Blood Allies without Mutual Trust

Written by Mikyoung Kim.

Unlike South Korea which submitted itself to the US for security protection, North Korea has never compromised its national defence with China. That is despite often cited historical precedents: the Sino-North Korea Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty which remains effective until 2021; and China’s participation in the Korean War (1950-53) which caused 180,000 deaths of Chinese soldiers. While these precedents resulted in the term of “blood allies,” the empirical details reveal the description being close to a euphemism at its best, or a hyperbole at its worse.  Continue reading “Sino-North Korean Relations: Blood Allies without Mutual Trust”

Why China takes a softly-softly line on North Korea

Written by Astrid Nordin.

In the run up to its first party congress since 1980, the North Korean government increased its drive to develop nuclear weapons, raising tensions in the region. This has alarmed and angered neighbouring countries, and particularly China, whose president Xi Jinping made clear at a recent conference that China will not tolerate chaos on the Korean peninsula.

At the same time, many outsiders suggest that Beijing’s close relationship with Pyongyang means that China has a crucial role in reining in North Korea – and that it could do so if it really wanted to. Continue reading “Why China takes a softly-softly line on North Korea”

The Abe Statement and the politics of war memory in Japan

Written by Edward Vickers.

Since the mid-1990s, successive Japanese premiers have issued expressions of regret for wartime aggression and colonialism. Nevertheless, anti-Japanese nationalism in China and South Korea has reached new heights. Hardly surprising, then, that apology fatigue has set in. Channeling this sentiment in his August 14 statement, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stated, ‘We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come… be predestined to apologise.’

The commitment to peace is central to post-war Japanese national identity, buttressed by consciousness of the nation’s unique experience of atomic attack. Japan is a democratic society where rule of law and civil liberties are safeguarded. The country’s determination to play a constructive role in world affairs is demonstrated by its enthusiastic participation in UN programmes and disbursements of overseas aid – of which China has been a prime recipient. Why, then, should Japan feel compelled to apologise to an oppressive Communist Leviathan that challenges the international order and threatens regional peace?

In fact, the ‘Abe Statement’ itself helps explain why Japan remains the object of suspicion and resentment in China and Korea. Abe and prominent cabinet colleagues have repeatedly denied the veracity of widely attested wartime atrocities. The Japanese media, covering his speech, has engaged in endless semantic analysis of his references to ‘aggression’ and ‘colonialism’. Despite acknowledging Japan’s engagement in both, he noted that this was unexceptional in a world dominated by western imperialism, and alluded to Japan’s earlier role in inspiring anti-colonial nationalisms.

The insincerity of any ‘apology’ Abe might utter was transparent even before he opened his mouth; this was a statement issued under duress. But questions of sincerity or morality aside, the willful ignorance that Abe exemplifies and promotes threatens disturbing consequences not just for external relations with Asia, but also for Japan’s internal politics.

The external dimension has drawn most international comment. Chinese and Korean politicians stoke anti-Japan sentiment for their own domestic purposes, but Abe and his right-wing allies afford them endless ammunition – through visits to the Yasukuni Shrine (where convicted war criminals are honoured with other war-dead, and an on-site museum portrays the Asia-Pacific conflict as a heroic struggle for anti-colonial liberation); outright denial of wartime atrocities; and campaigns to revise school textbooks to promote a more ‘patriotic’ account of the war. Foreign observers are entitled to conclude from all this that official Japanese statements of ‘remorse’ or ‘regret’ for the war are two-faced. This does nothing to further regional security.

However, the potential consequences for Japan’s internal political development are perhaps just as serious. In a critique of China’s propagandist distortions of history, The Economist recently described Japanese democracy as ‘deeply entrenched’. But is it? For almost the entire post-war period, Japan has been governed by the Liberal Democratic Party. This has in turn been dominated by the political, and often actual, heirs of the imperialist elites responsible for the disastrous wars of the 1930s-40s. Japan has remained an intensely regimented society, even if collective energies since 1945 have been directed towards peaceable economic rather than militaristic ends.

Invoking visions of a Japan in peril, the Abe administration today seeks to justify measures that are far from ‘liberal democratic’. One of its first acts was to introduce a sweeping official secrets law granting arbitrary power to bureaucrats, and backed by draconian penalties. Official oversight of school textbooks, already stringent, has been further tightened, with coverage of wartime atrocities significantly curtailed in most of the newest editions. Meanwhile, there has been a ramping up of ‘moral education’ in schools, promoting a homogenous, totalizing and uncritical vision of ‘Japanese tradition’.

Nor is Abe’s kulturkampf restricted to schools. The Education Ministry has announced that all ‘national universities’ will henceforth be required to raise the national flag and play the national anthem at key ceremonies. Previously foisted on schools, the extension of these rituals to universities raises serious concerns over academic freedom. Will faculty and students (including thousands of Chinese studying in Japan) be sanctioned, as schoolteachers have been, for refusing to honour the symbols that accompanied Japan’s invasion of Asia?

Even more worrying, perhaps, are attempts to suborn and intimidate the mainstream media. NHK, the state broadcaster, never a paragon of editorial independence, has been placed under the leadership of Momii Katsuto, an Abe associate with similarly disturbing views on wartime history. Momii has declared that NHK should not much ‘deviate from the position of the government in its programming.’ True to his word, NHK programmes commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II have slavishly toed the prime ministerial line. Abe had called for an emphasis on the ‘peaceful achievements’ of post-war Japan, rather than dwelling on the events of the war itself.

NHK is far from alone in its supine political posture. A special edition of the mass circulation right-of-centre periodical, Bungei Shunju, issued to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the war, focuses on key episodes in Japan’s post-war history. Omitting any reflection on the war itself, it commences with a piece by the son of an executed Class A war criminal, celebrating his father’s dignity in adversity and lamenting the vagaries of ‘victor’s justice’.

Right-wing groups associated with Abe and his political allies have also conducted a concerted campaign of intimidation directed at those who expose wartime atrocities. Chief target has been the Asahi Shinbun, which in 2014 admitted the unreliability of one source for its early 1990s reporting on ‘comfort women’. Notwithstanding the mass of other testimony on the military system of forced prostitution, this admission sparked an escalation of right-wing attacks on the liberal media. Many editors appear to have been cowed into submission.

In democratic Japan, how do Abe and his associates get away with this? The answer lies in the depth of popular ignorance of Asia. Few students seriously study modern Asian languages; more Americans than Japanese are currently enrolled on Mandarin courses in China. And historical ignorance remains a central and inescapable challenge. Witness the enormous popularity of the novel The Eternal Zero (Ei-en no Zero), in 2013 also a blockbuster film. Depicting the heroism and self-sacrifice of tokkōtai pilots (i.e. suicide bombers), this is typical in focusing entirely on the struggle with America, ignoring the context of Japan’s bloody aggression in mainland Asia.

Ignorance breeds fear, in turn reinforcing reluctance to engage with the feared object. This vicious circle also renders many Japanese susceptible to the blandishments of crypto-fascists intent on compromising democracy in the name of ‘security’. Perhaps Abe’s attempts to ‘reinterpret’ the constitution’s ‘peace clause’ will overstep the limits of public tolerance. But a coherent, forceful and popular counter to the rightwards drift of Japanese politics has yet to emerge.

To be sure, Chinese depictions of Japan as an active threat to East Asian security are disingenuous and hypocritical. For the Communist Party, such claims distract from a welter of domestic problems, and an army of skeletons in its own cupboard. But with Japanese public discourse on the war as warped as it is, we are entitled to wonder how a ‘free’ Chinese media might report this issue. In Hong Kong, media criticism of Japan has always been more unrestrained than on the mainland.

Far from being an imaginary obstacle to good relations with Asia, conjured up by Japan’s ideological foes, memories of war and imperialism are thus central to Japan’s relationship not only with its neighbours, but with itself. The time for apologies may have come and gone, but the need to remember and confront the past remains as urgent as ever.

Edward Vickers is the co-editor (with Paul Morris and Naoko Shimazu) of ‘Imagining Japan in Post-war East Asia: identity politics, schooling and popular culture’ (Routledge 2013). He is a member of the ‘War Memoryscapes in Asia’ Partnership (‘WARMAP’), funded by the Leverhulme Trust and coordinated by Mark Frost and Daniel Schumacher of Essex University. Image Credit: CC by OECD/Flickr.

Japan’s way of remembering World War II still infuriates its neighbours

Written by Sarah Hyde.

The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 have left the country with a legacy of victimhood unique in human history – and uniquely codified in law. In early 1946, US General Douglas MacArthur brought in his staff to write the country’s new Constitution and sanctioned on May 3 1947, stating amongst it that the Japanese “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation”.

Seven years later, Japan took its first step towards remilitarisation by creating the Self Defence Forces – but they were not deployed outside a Japanese crisis until the International Peace Cooperation Law was passed in 1992, allowing Japanese troops to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. Japan has since sent troops to assist the US army both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This slow crawl towards militarisation has gathered pace, with Shinzō Abe pushing through new security laws and potentially rewriting sections of the Constitution that outlaw the use of force.

There’s been plenty of coverage of these moves and their ominous overtones – but much of it has missed the point. Japan’s preferred memories of its own conduct in the war are very selective, and still major bone of contention in east Asia.

 Case closed

Unlike certain other axis belligerents, Japan has shown no intention of apologising for its acts in World War II and its pre-war aggression into neighbouring countries. And most worryingly of all, in contrast with Germany, Japan has historically offered postwar generations of students very little education on its conduct in the war.

The Japanese school curriculum largely glosses over the occupations of Taiwan, China, Korea and various Russian islands before the attack on Pearl Harbor; it essentially doesn’t teach the detail of the war in the Pacific and South East Asia until Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

China and South Korea are of course particularly angry at this, especially given the lack of an apology for the assorted war crimes Japanese troops committed in their countries from 1910. That list includes torturemass slaughter, and the abduction of women to serve as sex slaves for soldiers (“comfort women”).

Certain Japanese prime ministers have stirred up protests among their former wartime enemies by publicly visiting the highly contentious Yasukuni Shrine, a religious Shinto monument to the Japanese war dead that’s closely associated with the imperial era.

In 1985 the then prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, drew condemnation for visiting it for the 40th anniversary of the bombings at a ceremony also attended by the Emperor Hirohito. Junichiro Koizumi, a popular right-wing prime minister, made a similarly controversial visit 20 years later.

Today, there is just as much controversy around the war’s legacy, and no new effort to defuse the old tension. Despite widespread public rancour over the war across the rest of east Asia, the Abe government is making no effort to improve Japanese war education 70 years on, or to flesh out the radically stripped-down memory of Japan’s actions.

While Germany has managed to build holocaust education into its curriculum and is now at the centre of the European project, Abe and his predecessors have never acknowledged that relations with Korea and China would be greatly improved if there were a push for education and discussion about this terrible history.

As things stand, no matter how the militaristic and nationalistic Abe handles the memory of the war in this anniversary year, Japan’s relations with its former adversaries are set to keep festering.

Sarah Hyde is a Senior Lecturer in the Politics of Japan at University of Kent. This piece originally appeared on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by Tim Gage/Flickr

Alliances and Partnerships for a Rebalancing United States

Written by Abraham M. Denmark.

As the United States continues to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific, alliances and partnerships will take on a greater significance in this strategy. Whereas Washington was initially focused on enhancing American power in the Asia-Pacific, its strategy is rapidly evolving to one focused on upgrading its alliance and partner relationships in the region, nurturing intra-regional engagement and cooperation among its allies and partners, and building the capabilities of its friends in the region so they can contribute more to an increasingly broad set of mutual interests.

While much ink has been spilled on the specific dynamics, challenges, and opportunities of these individual relationships, the broader implications of this new approach has not been as thoroughly analyzed. While a more in-depth study of the subject is warranted, four major implications about U.S. alliances and partnerships are readily apparent.

1) Alliances and Partnerships are absolutely central to U.S. power, presence, and influence in the Asia-Pacific and around the world.

The United States is lucky to have such a broad, diverse, and robust network of alliance and partner relationship. No other country enjoys anything even remotely comparable with this system, and they both support and represent America’s unique role as the “indispensible nation.”

Most obviously, U.S. allies host to tens of thousands of American military personnel. This presence enables the United States to truly act as a global superpower that keeps the peace while also enabling Washington to focus on more immediate crises. Indeed, while some scholars and officials lament that a seemingly unending series of crises will somehow undermine U.S. intentions to rebalance, the reality is that alliances have a profoundly additive quality to American power. Not only do they enable America’s global presence; they also free Washington to focus on and address immediate crises (while often contributing to these efforts as well) and additionally offering a sufficient guarantee to help preserve stability in the meantime. This is why the United States was able to focus on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without needing to be overly concerned about China or Russia attempting to exploit a distracted America. U.S. allies and partners, and the American forces they host, represent the key infrastructure maintaining today’s international order.

2) Alliance relationships in the 21st Century Asia-Pacific will be of a fundamentally different character than European alliances in the 20th century.

Initially conceived as military relationships required by the geopolitical realities of WWI, WWII, and the Cold War, alliances for much of the 20th century were relatively straightforward arrangements. Uniform mechanisms for alliance management, such as NATO, were put in place to enable robust military coordination and cooperation against a shared existential foe. Economic relations naturally flowed from these relationships, as trade between the belligerent sides during the World Wars and Cold War was virtually nonexistent. Political coordination was certainly more complicated, but flowed from this shared sense of multinational purpose and the “long twilight struggle” against a shared arch nemesis.

Asia in the 21st century looks nothing like Europe in the 20th. While the United States enjoys strong alliance relationships across the region, there is nothing like a unified NATO-like mechanism to bring them together. Moreover, the economies of America’s allies are tightly integrated with China – a dynamic that raises complicated strategic calculations for allies whose economic and strategic loyalties are increasingly divergent. Finally, political calculations among America’s Asian allies are far more complicated than they were in Europe. Antagonisms and distrust over past aggression continues to roil relations between Japan and South Korea (for example), have not been able to find a way to move beyond their past the way France and Germany have.

Even the term “alliance” is growing more complicated for American strategy in the Asia-Pacific. While the United States has five formal treaty allies in Asia (Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand), it also has robust partnership relations with a host of other Asian powers, such as India, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and (unofficially) Taiwan. Since pursuing a rebalancing strategy, the United States has recognized the geopolitical importance of strengthening its relationships with these nations and has consequently intensified its outreach.

As part of rebalancing, the United States has sought to upgrade its alliances and partnerships for the 21st century with a series of political, economic, and military initiatives. These moves – which including the United States joining the East Asia Summit, reinvigorating efforts to conclude a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) economic agreement, and upgrading its military arrangements with several countries around the region – signal that alliances and partnerships are evolving from relationships based primarily on military arrangements to robust platforms that support political, economic, and military cooperation and coordination.

3) America’s success will hinge on its sensitivity to the specific interests, fears, and ambitions of each individual ally and partner.

Each ally and partner has its particular interests informing its approach to relations with China and the United States. Some, such as Japan and Australia, have embraced their status as an ally of the United States and are actively seeking ways to enhance all aspects of their relations with Washington. Others, such as Indonesia, India, and Vietnam have more complicated considerations at play: while they certainly seek closer relations with the United States in part to help balance a potentially aggressive China, they are also highly sensitive to any appearance that they are being treated as pawns in a geopolitical game between Asia’s major powers. Moreover, many strategists in these countries are allergic to even the suggestion that they are taking sides in some of these disputes – in part out of fear of retribution by the other part, but also out of a normative belief in the importance of nonalignment. These challenges are entirely navigable by the United States. But they will require adroit diplomacy and eternal vigilance against taking these relationships for granted.

4) As the U.S. rebalances, its allies and partners will look for opportunities to lead and contribute.

Efforts to upgrade its alliance and partner relationships will have the effect of expanding the role they have in preserving regional stability and promoting its prosperity, while also evolving America’s system of alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific from a “hub and spoke” arrangement to a networked model. Deepening economic integration, political coordination, and military cooperation will have the natural effect of expanding the role that U.S. allies and partners can play in regional geopolitics.

This can mean a wide variety of complex dynamics, in which American friends act – sometimes with the U.S., sometimes with one another, and sometimes unilaterally – to defend themselves and advance their interests. Generally speaking, this is a phenomenon that the United States should encourage and foster. Like-minded nations such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia have a great potential to take the lead on several political, economic, and military issues. Specialization and cooperation – essential for nations with limited resources and unique geopolitical objectives – will give each nation unique roles to play, while also ensuring that the United States remains the leading nation among equals.

Abraham M. Denmark is Senior Vice President for Political and Security Affairs and External Relations at the National Bureau for Asian of Asian Research (NBR). He is on Twitter @AbeDenmark. Image Credit: CC by Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr.

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