Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has some tough words for China

February 21, 2013

Shinzo Abe, now Japan's prime minister, on the campaign trail in December. (Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December, was not shy about discussing Japan's problems in a recent interview with The Washington Post. But neither did he hold back on China, accusing it of attempting to take the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands "by coercion or intimidation" and warning that China risked "losing the confidence of the international community."

The Washington Post's Chico Harlan wrote about the interview here. The full transcript is here. Some of the highlights are below; I've added emphasis in some places by bolding sections that struck me as noteworthy.

A quick note: The interview was conducted in Japanese and translated into English.

On China 'teaching' anti-Japanese sentiment

As a country that is under the one-party rule of the Communist Party, normally what they should be seeking is equality of results. And I believe it is fair to say that is probably what constitutes the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Communist Party. But as a result of introducing the market economy, China has dropped one of its pillars of legitimacy, which was equal results for all.

This has led them to require some different pillars — one of which is high economic growth, and another of which is patriotism. ...

And the other pillar they are now seeking is teaching patriotism in their education. What is unfortunate, however, is that in the case of China, teaching patriotism is also teaching anti-Japanese sentiment. In other words, their education policy of teaching patriotism has become even more pronounced as they started the reform and opening policy.

On China's future

This, however, is also a dilemma faced by China. That is to say, the mood and atmosphere created by the education in China attaching importance on patriotism — which is in effect focusing on anti-Japanese sentiment — is in turn undermining their friendly relationship with Japan and having an adverse effect on its economic growth. And the Chinese government is well aware of this.

... I wish to make the point that without economic growth, they will not be able to control the 1.3 billion people in China under the one-party rule by the Communist Party.

On 'defending the Japanese territory'

Also, regarding the security environment, for instance, we were having many cases of violations made by Chinese government vessels in territorial waters of Japan, and also we were experiencing many cases where there have been intrusions into Japan’s air defense identification zone and territorial airspace. I believe, therefore, that that has attracted support for my very strong position that we should make sure to defend the Japanese territory, territorial waters and airspace with strong determination. ...

Accordingly, for the first time in 11 years, I have increased our defense budget, as well as the budget for the Japan coast guard. It is important for us to have them recognize that it is impossible to try to get their way by coercion or intimidation. In that regard, the Japan-U.S. alliance, as well as the U.S. presence, would be critical.

On deterring China

Regarding the Senkaku Islands, which is under the valid control of Japan, we need to make them recognize that that current status of Japan’s valid control cannot be changed by coercion or intimidation. Such behavior is going to have an effect on their economic activity at the end of the day, because it will lead to losing the confidence of the international community which will result in less investments in China. I believe it is fully possible to have China to change their policy once they gain that recognition.

On Japan's 'declining' economy and 'foreign policy clout'

In Japan, usually, once you become prime minister, you do not have a second chance. Probably the reason why that was not the case this time is because Japan is facing an increasingly challenging situation.

In particular, it’s the sluggish economy that we are facing, and also the fact that Fukushima and the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake are having a hard time in their reconstruction efforts. Also, as a result of the trust and confidence between Japan and the United States having gone through a pretty rocky period, Japan’s foreign policy clout has been declining. And the stability in Japan’s adjacent waters and in the Asia-Pacific region is being affected, with acts of provocation seen against Japan’s territory and territorial waters.

And also, the sluggish economy is creating a situation where the young people in Japan cannot cherish their desires or have prospects for their future. Also, the decline in Japan’s economic capability is resulting in a declining presence for Japan’s foreign policy as well.

There's also a very interesting discussion about Abe's controversial statements denying some of Japan's wartime abuses; he has previously pledged to revise the country's 1993 apology for the sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.

In the interview, Abe doesn't disown those earlier statements, but he doesn't take the bait on them either. He seems to focus on Beijing's role in stoking anti-Japanese sentiment without even obliquely referencing the very severe Japanese military occupation during World War II that has also helped shape Chinese attitudes. As a politician, you don't expect him to place much blame on Japan in a Chinese-Japanese dispute, but this interview seems to suggest he's going to focus more on standing up to China than on addressing the historical roots of that animosity.

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