Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Abe's shrine visit raises risk of conflict: analysts

AFP reporting by Harumi Ozawa on December 27, 2013.

Tokyo — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's inflammatory visit to a Tokyo war shrine demonstrates his determination to drag pacifist Japan to the right, and nudges northeast Asia a significant step closer to conflict, analysts say.

Already-frayed regional ties will be further damaged by what Abe claimed was a pledge against war, but what one-time victims of Japan's aggression see as a glorification of past militarism.

Abe's forthright views on history -- he has previously questioned the definition of "invade" in relation to Japan's military adventurism last century -- have raised fears over the direction he wants to take Japan.

"His ultimate goal is to revise the (pacifist) constitution," said Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus at Tokyo's Hitotsubashi University. He is "arrogant and running out of control".

After a creditable performance in getting Japan's chronically under-performing economy back on track, which has kept his poll numbers respectable, Abe is now spending his political capital pursuing pet nationalist projects.

His trip to Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, the anniversary of his coming to power, came days after approving the second consecutive budget rise for Japan's military.

That money will partly buy stealth fighters and amphibious vehicles intended to boost Japan's ability to defend remote islands, the government said, citing fears over Beijing's behaviour in a row over the ownership of a Japanese-controlled chain.

Observers say China has stepped up the aggressiveness of various sovereignty claims against Japan and other Asian countries, setting nerves on edge throughout the region.

It has also invested heavily in its armed forces, and has no compunction in parading its military capabilities, sailing its battleships through narrow sea lanes between Japanese islands.

In November the world reacted uneasily to Beijing's unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone over the East China Sea, including disputed islands, a move the US said was an attempt to change the status quo by force.

Ed Griffith, a specialist in Sino-Japanese relations at Britain's Leeds University, says Beijing's apparent intransigence led Abe to conclude he had nothing to lose by going to Yasukuni.

"Abe has always wanted to pay a visit to the shrine as prime minister, but the threat of ruining Japan's relationship with China has previously been enough to keep him away," he told AFP.

"However, with the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands taking the relationship to its lowest point since 1945, he clearly no longer sees that as an impediment."

Beijing says the islands have been its territory for hundreds of years and were snatched by Japan in the opening stages of its empire-building romp, which culminated in the brutal subjugation of swathes of China.

Like Yasukuni, they stand as a symbol in Chinese eyes of Japan's unrepentant militarism, and as a proxy among the Japanese Right for righteous nationalism.

"China has made it abundantly clear that visits to Yasukuni Shrine by a serving prime minister cannot be tolerated," said Griffith. "With (President) Xi Jinping still in the early stages of his leadership he cannot afford to be seen as weak.

"In the context of the unresolved dispute in the East China Sea, that is very serious indeed."

For Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international relations at Waseda University, the pilgrimage was the natural extension of Abe's efforts to ape his staunchly nationalist grandfather.

Nobusuke Kishi, a World War II cabinet member who was arrested, but never convicted, for war crimes, was prime minister in the late 1950s and is remembered for fighting leftists and his desire to slough off the US-imposed constitution.

"Abe is regressing to the Kishi doctrine," he said. "He has implemented national security measures since taking power almost as if there is something in his DNA that has made him do it."

Earlier this month the government rode roughshod over objections from opposition lawmakers, media, lawyers and social rights activists to hammer through a far-reaching national secrecy law.

Critics say the legislation represents a real threat to freedom of the press and democratic governance, and recalls the repressive laws used to silence dissent in pre-war Japan. Abe dismissed the qualms.

But it was his explosive visit to Yasukuni that proved the icing on the cake.

Around 2.5 million souls are enshrined there, the majority of them common soldiers, but also including senior officials executed for war crimes, like General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.

For Jia Qingguo, an international relations expert at Peking University, Abe is being deliberately provocative to prove he will stand up to China.

"I think it makes the already very difficult relationship between the two countries more difficult."

Hitotsubashi's Kato agrees, warning neither side is prepared to back away.

"Even if (this visit) does not mean an immediate war," said Kato, "a small clash at the border is now much more likely."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Unbought and unbossed






Yasukuni is no Arlington

Judge Pal at Yasukuni Shrine
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed a carnival of reporters and sycophants to the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26th. In a well-planned visit, the Prime Minister paid homage to both the known defenders of Imperial Japan and their enemies. Abe brushed aside criticism by saying that going to Yasukuni is no different than an American president’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

Beyond being war memorials to some who served their country, there is no similarity between Yasukuni and Arlington. They share neither the same history nor spirit. Any effort at comparison questions who won the Pacific War and why. It revises Japan's modern history. This is what Prime Minister Abe wants for to do that is to disavow Japan's pacifist constitution and its decades of democracy.

Arlington National Cemetery was created from the estate of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederacy. Occupying Union Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs appropriated the grounds around the mansion in 1864 to use as a military cemetery. Meigs wanted to ensure that if the Lee family returned, their home would be surrounded by tombstones and widows in mourning. The intent was for Lee's estate to symbolize the pain and suffering caused by the South's engaging in the Civil War.

Unlike Yasukuni, Arlington is a cemetery. The bodies or ashes of those who served and their family members are interred on the grounds. The fallen will continue to rest at this national park as long as the United States exists.

None of this is true at Yasukuni. It is a religious shrine established in 1869 to embed the Shinto faith, the Imperial institution, and the divinity of the Emperor into the national polity. At Yasukuni, those fighting for the Emperor from the civil wars of mid-19th century Japan through the end of the Pacific War were transformed into divine spirits to join as one with the Emperor. Here the common foot soldier became equal to the Emperor.

At Arlington, men and women of all religions and races are buried. At Yasukuni, only the souls of identified and approved members of Imperial Japan's military who died on the battlefield--although there have been many exceptions--can be apotheosized with the Emperor. Some Japanese social classes are not allowed; and the unknown are not mentioned.

Yasukuni is now a private shrine. It hosts a museum glorifying wartime deeds. The Yushukan displays a museum full of memorabilia and trophies of past conflicts, especially the “Greater Asian War” and related “incidents.” The narrative boasts of how Japan liberated Asia from the Western colonialists. Its website states “the truth of Japanese history is now restored.”

In contrast, Arlington does not dwell on the glory of any war and claims no truth. It is a quiet place of reflection and contrition. Arlington’s website is subdued and factual. It reviews the rules for interment, outlines the property, and notes the names of famous people buried there, especially women, Jews, African Americans, and Japanese Americans.

Most important, one of the criteria for those buried at Arlington is that they have had to have been honorably discharged from the military. Those court-martialed or tried for war crimes cannot be interred. This is not the case for Yasukuni. In addition to the 14 Class A convicted war criminals who were found responsible for carrying forward the Pacific War, there are thousands who violated both Japanese and international laws.

Yasukuni is about rejecting the judgments of Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. Many Japanese conservative nationalists believe that Imperial Japan should not be subject to rules created by the West. To emphasize this point, a large monument to Tribunal Judge Radha Binod Pal, who rejected its judgments, stands on a plaza at the Shrine (see above).

Yes, buried at Arlington are soldiers from campaigns of which Americans are less than proud. And there are many that escaped justice. Americans, however, do not visit the cemetery to honor them or to consider them gods. And unlike their Japanese counterparts, American politicians do not come to Arlington make political points, especially on the souls of the defeated. For Japan’s leaders, Yasukuni has become a tacit political expression of Japanese defiance and autonomy.

A visit to Yasukuni is a political act. The rites, the grounds, and museum all focus on Japan's Pacific War. The story Yasukuni wants to tell is that Japan liberated Asia and that their fellow Asians should be grateful. Mostly, the Shrine swipes at the United States and the Allies for not believing this narrative. And finally it is a protest against the Peace Treaty and Constitution that remove the divinity of the Emperor.

The Yasukuni Shrine is about declaring victory. The Emperor God was right, the barbarians were wrong. Yasukuni is not about contrition or reflection, but about certainty. It is a place of defiance and this is what separates it most from Arlington National Cemetery.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Monday in Washington, December 16, 2013

ANNUAL ENERGY OUTLOOK 2014. 12/16, 9:30-11:00am. Sponsor: Energy, Resources and Environment Program, SAIS, Johns Hopkins. Speaker: Adam Sieminski, Administrator, US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

DEEP INTEGRATION IN MEGA TRADE AGREEMENTS: WHAT ROLE FOR JAPAN AND THE US? 12/16, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Brookings Institution. Speakers: Michitaka Nakatomi, Consulting Fellow, RIETI; Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes, PEW Research Center; John Veroneau, Partner, Covington & Burling LLP; Yorizumi Watanabe, Professor of International Political Economy, Keio University.

THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE KINGSBURY COMMITMENT. 12/16, Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Robert Crandall, Brookings; John Thorne, Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evan & Figel, PLLC. 

THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC): TECHNOLOGY AND REFORM PROJECT. 12/16, Noon-6:30pm. Sponsors: TechFreedom; International Center for Law and Economics. Speaker: Joshua Wright, FTC Commissioner.


CLIMATE INFORMATION NEEDS FOR FINANCIAL DECISION MAKING. 12/16, 3:00-5:00pm. Sponsors: American Meteorological Society; University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Speakers: Lawrence Buja, Director, Climate Science and Applications Program, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Sharon Hays, Account General Manager, Computer Sciences Corporation; Jeffrey Marqusee, Chief Scientist for Engineering and Environment, Noblis.

THE FEDERATED DEFENSE PROJECT LAUNCH. 12/16, 5:00-7:00pm. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Richard Armitage, President, Armitage International; Peter Westmacott, British Ambassador to the US; Jon Alterman, Director, Middle East Program, CSIS; David Berteau, Senior Vice President and Director, National Security Program on Industry and Resources, CSIS; Michael Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair, CSIS; Scott Miller, Senior Advisor and Scholl Chair in International Business, CSIS.

RETHINKING NATIONAL AND CYBER SECURITY POLICIES. 12/16, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor: Rethinking Seminar Series, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. Speaker: Jason Healey, Director, Cyber Statecraft Initiative, Atlantic Council.

THE ROLE OF CIRCUMVENTING TOOLS IN INTERNET FILTERING COUNTRIES. 12/16, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor: New America Foundation. Speaker: Collin Anderson, Technology Researcher.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday in Washington, December 2, 2013

HISTORICAL RECONCILIATION AND PROSPERITY IN NORTHEAST ASIA: 70 YEARS SINCE THE CAIRO DECLARATION. 12/2, 8:45am-5:40pm. Sponsor: Sigur Center for Asian Studies, George Washington University (GWU); "Memory and Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific Program." Speakers: Mike Mochizuki, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs; James Matray, Professor, California State University; Robert Sutter, Professor of Practice of International Affairs, GWU, Deepa Ollapally, Associate Director, Sigur Center; Yong-Chool Ha, Professor, University of Washington; Hirofumi Hayashi, Professor, Kanto Gakuin University; Jennifer Lind (Associate Professor, Dartmouth College; Erin Aeran Chung, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Daqing Yang, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs, GW; Thomas Berger, Associate Professor, Boston University; John Duncan, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles.

US-CHINA CLEAN AIR AND CLIMATE COOPERATION. 12/2, 10:30-11:30am. Sponsor: Center for American Progress (CAP). Speakers: Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator; Carol Browner, Senior Fellow, CAP.

DANCING WITH THE DEVIL: LESSONS FROM NEGOTIATING WITH ROGUES AND TERRORISTS. 12/2, 5:30-7:00pm. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Speaker: Author, Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, AEI.

A CONVERSATION ON US-PHILIPPINE RELATIONS. 12/2, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor: Women's Foreign Policy Group. Speaker: Jose Cuisia Jr., Philippine Ambassador to the US. Fee.