Thu, Dec 05, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Is Japan’s ‘new nationalism’ a return to imperialism?

Tokyo’s bid to play a more leading role on the international stage is alarming Beijing and Seoul, which see in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s split with pacifism proof that the country is reviving its military mindset

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian, YOKOSUKA, Japan

The pact reflected “shared values of democracy, the rule of law, free and open markets and respect for human rights,” it added.

Yet Abe’s opponents fear that the country is developing a new military mindset.

What the Japanese public makes of what seems to amount overall to a landmark post-war shift in the scope and ambition of Japan’s regional and global engagement is hard to gauge.

China’s disapproval ratings are a record high 94 percent, but a big majority (80 percent) of people polled also believe that good bilateral relations with Beijing are important.Many cling to the old pacifist verities, but many others now understand that the world around Japan is changing fast and unpredictably, Kuni Miyake of Tokyo’s Canon Institute for Global Studies said.

“Despite his conservative, hawkish image, Abe is in fact a very pragmatic, reasonable politician, but he is also proud of Japan and he is saying it’s OK to be proud,” Miyake said.

“A huge power shift is going on in East Asia. Before Abe and the new era, we were daydreaming. We thought we could follow pacifism, not threaten anybody, have no army and the world would leave us alone. We were in a bubble and it worked because of the US alliance, not because of pacifism,” Miyake added.

“The next generation doesn’t believe that...People are aware that prayers for peace are not enough. We have to deter many potential aggressors. If China insists on being a Pacific power and challenges the US-Japan hegemony at sea, a showdown is inevitable,” Miyake said.

For Takahara, the opposite holds true. There are limits to what Japan could do when faced by China’s rising power and Abe’s approach was fraught with peril.

“There is really no choice but to use diplomacy and dialogue to mend ties with China,” Takahara said.

“Abe is very right-wing by traditional measures. He is a historical revisionist at heart. He would really like to visit the Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s war dead are remembered. He is a nationalist ... but Abe won’t succeed with his ‘new nationalism.’ We are a post-industrial society. There’s no way the youngsters will go along,” Takahara added.

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