China, with its paltry aid to the Philippines and its announcement of a new air-defense zone over the East China sea, has not been making friends in its region these days. But the country to worry about in the Far East is not China. It is Japan.
Countries such as China and South Korea that have suffered the horrors of Japanese imperialism must feel chills up their spines as they take note of Japan's newfound militarism. Since its defeat in WWII and its experience of being the only victim of nuclear war, Japan has adopted a pacifist posture. But perhaps not any longer. Under hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy of "new nationalism," Japan is ramping up its defence budget and expanding its navy (already the second largest in Asia).
This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but this is only part of it. Abe, something of an historical revisionist, wants more patriotic propaganda taught in Japan's schools and is proposing a tough state secrets law that threatens lengthy jail sentences for whistleblowers and journalists who break its catch-all provisions. In other words, it isn't just bulking up Japan's military he is seeking but rather outright militarism.
To many Asians, Abe's recent pronouncement "I will make Japan a force for peace and stability" may sound disturbingly like Japan's "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" of the 1930s and 40s.
While Asians shudder, the U.S., to quote The Guardian, is "positively purring with pleasure." Abe's government has agreed to work with the Americans to enhance co-operation in
ballistic missile defence, arms development and sales, intelligence
sharing, space and cyber warfare, joint military training and exercises, and advanced radar and drones.
The U.S., it seems, is playing off Japan against China, anything to limit the influence of its latest rival in the great power race. It might just be backing the wrong dragon.