• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 6:22am
Column
PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 4:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 5:58am

China and US should work together to rein in Abe

Two sides share common ground after ill-timed shrine visit undercut Washington's 'pivot' to Asia

BIO

Wang Xiangwei took up the role of Editor-in-Chief in February 2012, responsible for the editorial direction and newsroom operations. He started his 20-year career at the China Daily, before moving to the UK, where he gained valuable experience at a number of news organisations, including the BBC Chinese Service. In 1993, he moved to Hong Kong and worked at the Eastern Express before joining the South China Morning Post in 1996 as our China Business Reporter. He was subsequently promoted to China Editor in 2000 and Deputy Editor in 2007, a position he held for four years prior to being promoted to his current position. Mr. Wang has a Masters degree in Journalism, and a Bachelors degree in English.
 

There is never a right time for a Japanese prime minister to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine because it honours, among 2.5 million Japanese war dead, 14 Class A war criminals from the second world war.

Such visits always provoke condemnations from China and South Korea - both victims of Japan's wartime atrocities - and often trigger political, diplomatic and economic instability.

But Shinzo Abe's Boxing Day trip, the first time a sitting prime minister has paid homage to the shrine since 2006, could not have come at a worse time. Ties between Japan, China and South Korea, the region's three main economies, have already been frayed by territorial disputes and Beijing's declaration of an air defence identification zone over most of the East China Sea.

The shrine trip has made the situation even worse, judging from the swift and strongly worded protests by Beijing and Seoul.

Some Japanese media reports suggested that Abe, who had expressed regret over not visiting the shrine during his first stint as prime minister seven years ago, went this time because he saw no chance for improved ties with Beijing and Seoul in the near future. So he chose to risk their anger now and try to repair the damage in the new year.

If this was indeed part of his thinking, Abe has miscalculated badly. Moreover, he is taking the serious risk of having Japan isolated in the international community.

With China's leadership under President Xi Jinping taking a more assertive stance on international issues, Abe's visit is only expected to harden the resolve to get tough on Japan.

Already, the hawkish tabloid the Global Times, which is published under the People's Daily, has urged the mainland authorities to declare Abe a persona non grata and ban him from visiting China. The existence of such sentiment shows that the chances of any significant improvement is very low in the months ahead.

Outsiders who are unfamiliar with Japan's wartime history are often surprised by the strong reactions from Chinese and Koreans when Japanese politicians visit the shrine.

Both peoples see the shrine as the most prominent symbol of Japan's refusal to fully repent for the atrocities it inflicted on them and others in the Asia-Pacific region. The Class A war criminals honoured in the shrine were directly responsible for the deaths of millions of civilians during the war.

One is Iwane Matsui, the Imperial Japanese Army general who led the invasion force in China. He was convicted and hanged for ordering the Nanking massacre in which some 300,000 Chinese perished.

Unlike contemporary German leaders who have showed total remorse for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and have visited former concentration camps to pay their respects, many Japanese politicians have been accused over the years of whitewashing the country's war history.

Abe is well known for his conservative views on the subject. Since he came to power nearly a year ago, he has increased military spending and passed a secrecy law. He also sought to revise the country's pacifist constitution, which would set the stage for the country to once again have a fully fledged military instead of a self-defence force.

This has aroused great concern in China and South Korea.

Another sign of Abe's miscalculation was the stronger than expected reaction from Washington, which expressed disappointment in the shrine visit, saying it would "exacerbate tensions" in the region.

Some Japanese media reports have suggested that Washington repeatedly urged Abe through informal channels not to visit the shrine, worrying that it could develop into a major international issue.

In another sign of Washington's displeasure, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel reportedly cancelled a scheduled phone call on Friday with his Japanese counterpart without explanation.

Japan is not only a key ally of Washington's - hosting several US bases and nearly 50,000 military personnel - but also an important part of its policy "pivot" towards Asia. The US reaction shows that it is very much concerned that Abe's visit will cause create unnecessary headwinds against its plans.

The US criticism may help explain reports that mainland police have prevented activists from taking to the streets to protest against Japan. Beijing may intend to take advantage of the situation and solicit Washington's help behind the scenes to rein in Abe. It may find Washington receptive.

That could prove mutually beneficial to both Washington and Beijing as they attempt to build a "new type of major power relationship" in Asia's fast-changing geopolitical environment.

xiangwei.wang@scmp.com

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This article is now closed to comments

scmpbeijing1
Maybe the Chinese people need to rein in the Communist Party. Several days ago, senior CPC officials visited the corpse of Mao Zedong--isn't that an insult to the 30 million who starved to death during Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward, as well as the countless Chinese who died or had their lives ruined in the various political movements that Mao delighted in instigating? I think Communist leaders paying homage in front of Mao's corpse is a far greater crime than Japanese officers visiting Yasukuni. This commentary is a slap in the face to all the Chinese who suffered under Mao.
John Adams
Why on earth don't the Japanese re-bury their war criminals in another place separate from the graves of normal war- dead soldiers ?
I'm sure that convicted German war criminals were not buried in sacred places - if they were even buried at all.
That would solve this problem once and for all !
(Or do the Japanese actually WANT this stupid little bone of contention so they can rattle it from time to time when they get upset by their big pushy neighbor - the neighbor which the Japanese only a generation ago invaded and abused horribly with the objective to conquer forever ? )
hongkiejj@malaysiaboleh
he has his rights as much as we do to write what he perceive to be correct. its his opinion and he is writer afterall.
you or myself can agree or disagree.
its really up to you how you want to define the harassment between both navies...you say its china fault and I say it is usa arrogance...
lastly, nobody is seriously thinking about gang bang japan...Japanese ppl are quite decent but sadly they are struck with this mad politics of abemania
bajie.zhu.908
Japan's commitment to peace is demonstrated unmistakeably by:
1. Almost all of its Prime Ministers paying formal respects to war criminals executed by the world at the end of WW II.
2. Stockpiling enough weapons grade plutonium enough to make 10,000 nuclear warheads.
3. Rearming itself to the teeth.
4. Taking aggressive postures to claim land that was declared by the world at the end of WW II to be forfeited.
5. Having a grandson of the WW II commerce minister of Japan now act as PM, and pushing for abolishing the Japanese Constitution that kept Japan peaceful for 65 years.
Abe has now hijacked the joint defense treaty with America, and is counting on America spending blood and treasure on its behalf while Japan becomes, once again, the "glorious" bloodthirsty imperial devil that caused death and pain to hundreds of millions.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen. Japan is the aggressor seeking to change the status quo. What is the status quo? A peace constitution outlawing war, even though Japan maintains a huge military budget and boasts the strongest fleets (both warships and warplanes) before China reacted in response. Japan has to walk it back.
The only deal that makes sense is for Japan to demilitarize altogether. There really is no alternative, unless you count annihilation as one.
johnh
"Japan is the aggressor seeking to change the status quo"
That's not what the rest of the world thinks.
simont
This analysis could have been published in Global Times. I expect more from SCMP.
wiseman
A piece of all too familiar speech out of jealousy and hatred against China. From an American, Japanese or so-called 'pro-democracy' Hongkonger? The author of the article is hardly qualified to be a Chinese propagandist as he has foolishly hoped for the cooperation of US for China in containing Abe. Everyone knows who is the biggest mastermind behind everything in trying to prevent the emergence of China.
As for 'the global community will eventually isolae China....", seems more like to be a wishful dream than a sound assessment based on emerging facts.
hongkiejj@malaysiaboleh
don't forget history...the Japanese need to accept and admit their atrocities during ww2. you can hide but you can never run away from the truth !
johnh
"Japan is ran by Yakuza thugs"
And China is run by Communist thugs. At least Japan is far away from Hong Kong, the Communists are right at our doorstep.
ejmciii
True, the US should work in the interest of a nation that maintains hundreds of nukes aimed at the USA and continues to act aggressively in international waters at the expense of an ally that is doing nothing but go about its internal business and defending itself against that same aggressive, nuclear armed neighbor. Good point. Assist your enemy against your ally because your enemy is in a snit like a 14 year old girl. Thanks for the clarification.

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