The Mainichi Shinbun has opened the year with a blockbuster exclusive news story that is likely to be underplayed, or even ignored, by most of the rest of the Japanese media. One of the biggest headlines in November 2013 was the public announcement by Beijing that it was establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large swathe of the East China Sea.
Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covering the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands and part of the waters between Japan and Taiwan has prompted a strong reaction from Tokyo and, generally speaking, has left nobody in East Asia indifferent.
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
As anyone who studies Japanese political history of the 1930s can attest, the rightwing forces in this nation can be a fractious lot. Once the spirit of nationalism rages, any sort of moderate, compromising behavior can be denounced as treason. Shinzo Abe came to power as a spokesman for the hard right, but after ten months of reasonably cautious behavior, a good chunk of this movement is ready to turn against him.
The appearance on September 9 of an unmanned airplane near the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims under the name Diaoyu, was just one of many incidents reported by the media over the last few weeks. However, it attracted the attention of observers who wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come. On the one hand, it was just a matter of time until this kind of weapon would be deployed by the various powers in the Asia-Pacific region, where rumors about its presence already abounded.
It is not exactly an unknown technique in politics, but the Abe administration is using it in several high-profile cases, and some people, at least, have noticed. The technique is to establish supposedly “independent” panels or organizations, but appointing people to serve on those panels or in those organizations whose opinions and conclusions are already known in advance.
The debate on the meaning of Article 9 of the Constitution is once again making headlines. Beyond the proposals for reinterpretation, and even formal amendment, we can observe yet again practical policy moves crossing its boundaries. In part, these moves reflect the always difficult distinction between defense and offense. Another line which may be shifting is that between self-defense and collective defense.
The new regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping is to be congratulated for accomplishing the remarkable feat of making the rightwing lunatic fringe of Japanese politics look positively wise and prescient this week. Ever since large-scale anti-Chinese protests began to appear on the streets of Japan in the autumn of 2010, one of their staple claims was that Beijing had its longing eyes focused on the uninhabited Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands only as a first step toward encroaching on well-inhabited Okinawa, then Kyushu, then all of Japan.
The return of Shinzo Abe to the Japanese premiership was expected to lead to renewed efforts to build ties with fellow democracies, albeit within a pragmatic framework designed not to give the appearance of an explicit containment policy vis-à-vis China. The early foreign trips by some key members of the administration, including Abe himself, to Southeast Asia, made it clear that this would indeed be on the agenda.