Shinzo Abe goes to Washington

By Joe hung

So Mr. Abe is all set to go to Washington. The second-time Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will be seeing President Barack Obama in search of stronger security ties between the two countries to cope with a China that is flexing its military muscle in preparation for a showdown over the disputed Senkaku Islands, known in Beijing as the Diaoyu Islands.

Mr. Obama, who has just succeeded in stopping Uncle Sam from a fall off the fiscal cliff and is getting ready to meet another falloff crisis in two months’ time, is more than willing to grant Mr. Abe’s wish, of course. The United States doesn’t want China as a regional hegemony in Asia, and Japan is practically the only country that can offer substantial help.

Known as a hawk, Abe hid his talon to go to Beijing to meet Hu Jintao shortly after he had been sworn in as prime minister. Abe was very much disliked in Beijing for his ultra-nationalistic stance emphasized by his denial of the sex slavery of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War and his visits to Tokyo’s Yasukumi Shrine where General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who started the Pacific War and who was hanged as a war criminal, is enshrined. So Mr. Abe went to Beijing in 2006 to improve his image in China. He failed. This time around, Mr. Abe will succeed. Obama needs Japan as a partner in the post-Cold War containment of China more eagerly now than ever. There is no doubt that Obama will give what Abe wants, including a hastily decided plan to expand the Japan-U.S. security partnership to Australia and India as Japan is facing the bitter territorial row with China. It’s ill-considered. Australia may pay lip service and India, eager to rival China, likes to join in security cooperation but its participation is of little significance.

Among normal countries under normal conditions, their sovereignty dispute over a tiny archipelago of eight barren, uninhabited islets shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but China isn’t a normal country and Japan has been made much less normal by its tilt toward nationalism that has helped Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party to claw back to power in the first place. He has to live up to the expectations of a majority of Japanese by getting tougher with the saber-rattling Beijing appearing poised to take over the Senkaku Islands that every Japanese has been taught to believe are their inherent territory. As he can’t do anything to get the Japanese economy ticking enough to be felt, the only way out for Mr. Abe is to go to Washington to beg for help, which will be readily given.