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U.S. worried election-emboldened, nationalist Abe may roil Asia waters

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Sunday’s overwhelming victory by the Liberal Democratic Party has created a dilemma for the United States, which wants closer economic and military ties with Tokyo even as it fears that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet now have free reign to pursue a hard-line diplomatic stance that will damage U.S. interests in East Asia.

Concern about Abe in Washington was present well before Sunday’s Upper House election. A May report by the Congressional Research Service went so far as to warn that due to tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, the U.S. could find itself taking sides in a shooting war, while Abe’s views on history, the report said, were not good for the U.S.

“Comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Prime Minister Abe and his Cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests. His approach to issues like the so-called ‘comfort women’ sex slaves from the World War II era, history textbooks, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, and statement on a territorial dispute with South Korea will be closely monitored by Japan’s neighbors as well as the U.S.,” the report said.

Washington’s worries about Abe were reflected in comments by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, also the co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), that the comfort women system had been a wartime necessity. The strong criticism of Hashimoto by the State Department was seen as indirect U.S. criticism of similar comments by Abe and some members of his Cabinet.

At a news conference in Washington on Monday, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, welcomed Sunday’s results.

“It’s true Japan faces a range of thorny problems with some of its neighbors,” he said. “These are problems that sometimes seem to get worse and other times seem to get better. We hope that all leaders and the public will be guided by a sense of wisdom, of shared interest, and will take actions and decisions with a view to the future.

“With respect to specific problems, including the issue of the territorial dispute in the East China Sea, the U.S. is very consistent and very clear, both with Japan and with China. We don’t take a position on the substance of the territorial disputes. We continue to strongly encourage a process, a diplomatic process that can manage differences in a way that will reduce tensions,” Russel said.

  • Osaka48

    The U.S. is straddlng the Japan/China fence with regard to the “territorial” issues in the East China Sea. This cannot be sincerely seen as “neutrality,” but as a policy of U.S. appeasement towards China and a weakening of the Japan/U.S. alliance — does the U.S. position really indicate a strong commitment?

    This U.S. “position” comes regardless of the factual history of China’s aggressive militaristic hegemony in the region (and So. China Sea), and its refusal to come to the table on reasonable terms for territorial negotiations.

    In very recent times, Chinese “fishing boats” disrupted U.S. Navy operations in the So. China Sea, and China “suggests” that the U.S. Navy request “permission” to navigate there. China has made a mockery of the U.S. Navy by such bold challenges, yet the U.S. response was weak.

    A “neutral” position towards China’s aggressiveness is also perceived as weakness, and it is time for the U.S. to reexamine its role with respect to the U.S./Japan mutual defense agreement. Whose side are the on?

    • ff

      The US is on Japan’s side, always has been since WW2, and we will always be on their side. If you look at other such disputes, the United States says the same thing, it is none of our business. But the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the secretary of defense have both said that we won’t take a side, but we are obligated to defend Japanese territory if they are attacked. I can provide links if you’d like.