Thu, Nov 30, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Abe’s win and Japan’s rearmament

By Arthur Waldron

I made my genuine Thanksgiving on Oct. 27. The occasion was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s crushing victory in the Japanese election; the reason was a genuine, although perhaps erroneous, sense that we had been spared a potentially ghastly war in Asia by the rebalancing of regional power that victory brought.

Japan will now start deliberately rearming and aiding its neighbors, with the pace determined by China’s aggressiveness. If China does not abandon its current expansionist territorial policy, but rather attempts nuclear blackmail against its neighbors, at the end of the day, Japan will match that too, with its own nuclear force, checkmating China. This will bring an armed peace.

Since at least 1995, when it occupied the Philippine’s Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁), China has been attempting to expand its territory to include Arunachal Pradesh (“South Tibet” in Beijing’s terminology) in India and islands held by South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and others, as well as to take control of the entire South China Sea, twice as big as the Mediterranean Sea.

China calculated that no one would react seriously. It was emerging as the hegemon of Asia; others would recognize this fact (which might not be one) and doff their caps, but no more.

Certainly, the US would continue to do nothing. The administration of former US president Barack Obama had effectively done nothing while this attempt to transform the Indo-Pacific region was being carried out.

China is also seeking bases in Africa and elsewhere, with a view to controlling the key choke points in the international maritime transport network. This is Griff nach der Weltmacht (“grab for world power”) with Chinese characteristics. A continuation of such aggressive behavior will almost certainly lead to conflict, escalation and perhaps general war.

In 2010, sparks flew at the ASEAN summit, as then-US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a strong verbal condemnation. Then, in 2014, the Philippines filed a suit in The Hague, under the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, the authority of which China has ratified and accepted.

Last year, the International Court of Arbitration found that all of China’s actions were illegal. However, China ignored the decision completely, continuing its expansive policy, assuming that it could divide its opponents, intimidating them above all with its immense military and nuclear capabilities.

This seemed to work. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, an erratic man, became president, and he began to come to terms with China. It became bad form to mention The Hague’s decision. Having torn up the international court’s decision, China looked set to create a fait accompli by flouting the law to use military intimidation instead.

The US began to take serious action with the new administration in office. When US President Donald Trump made his highly successful visit to Asia, he did not need to mention security, as an almost unprecedented three carrier strike groups were exercising in the seas nearby — message enough.

The US is far away, though, and not trusted by anyone to use nuclear weapons to defend them. That is why the UK and France, both allies, maintain at great expense their own independent nuclear deterrents, but Japan? It foreswore war in its constitution. Not only that, the US presented it as the “cork in the bottle” that would prevent Japanese armament.

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