Hawks Ascend to Power in Asia

Japan and South Korea underwent leadership changes this week, which means all four of North Asia’s major powers now have different leaders in office since this time last year. As these nations undergo leadership transitions, they’re also jockeying for position in a shifting world order, which places China in a dominant role.

Japan’s new premier is the grandson of a World War II minister who helped run Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and who later tried to abolish the pacifist clause in Japan’s constitution. China is now ruled by the son of a Communist Chinese revolutionary hero—who was a close comrade of Chairman Mao. And both Koreas are now in the hands of descendants of Cold War dictators.

LDP leader Shinzo Abe—who became Japan’s premier on Wednesday—embodies the party’s hawkish agenda. Abe has repeatedly pledged to challenge Japan’s pacifist constitution and to increase its defense spending. Abe’s grandfather, Nobushuke Kishi, was imprisoned for war crimes under the U.S. postwar occupation, but never charged. In 1957, Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and tried to remove the pacifist clause from the nation’s constitution. Like his grandfather, Abe envisions constitutional revisions to “normalize” and strengthen Japan’s military. He wishes to bring an end to what he has called “Japan’s self-torturing history”—or recognition of Tokyo’s egregious war crimes. Abe now holds a super majority power that allows him to override any upper house vetoes of his legislation.

Japan has long been moving toward a quiet “normalization” of its military, but is now likely to make the change official and deeper. “In many ways, the Japanese have been making that change anyway,” Stratfor’s North Asia analyst Rodger Baker said. “The Japanese military has advanced weapons systems, it’s got advanced training, it’s got better interoperability. In many ways, [changing the constitution is] really just removing that last little fiction, rather than a fundamental alteration of Japanese military capabilities” (December 21).

The United States welcomes Japan’s moves toward military expansion because Washington wants to contain China’s mushrooming influence without expending too much of its own resources. For this reason, the Obama administration has encouraged Japan to expand its military strength and to take a sturdier stance against Beijing. This tougher stance against China will be accelerated under Abe.

In November, the Chinese Communist Party installed Xi Jinping as general secretary in the midst of a vigorous campaign to assert China’s rule over the South China and East China seas. It is potentially significant that Xi, like the other three new Asian leaders, has nationalist bloodlines. There is a “very nationalistic drive in each of these countries,” Baker said. “[W]hether it’s through election, through the rejection of the existing parties, or just through the way in which the parties are shaping and organizing themselves.”

Nationalism is a self-perpetuating ideology, and perhaps more so in Asia than anywhere else. When one country lurches toward nationalism, its neighbors rapidly follow suit. Despite an increase in political and economic cooperation, Asian nations tend to view each other strictly as rivals. More and more of the citizens of these countries believe war should be undertaken if that is what is required to stop China. Rising levels of concern prompt these citizens to elect governments that are willing to draw a line in the sand that they will not allow China to cross.

Nationalism and militarism are on the rise throughout Asia. And although the countries’ swings to the right are at present designed to protect themselves from other Asian nations, all of the intra-Asian tensions will soon be trumped by a collective Asian concern about a common enemy.

Full article: Hawks Ascend to Power in Asia (The Trumpet)

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