Don’t hyperventilate about Japan turning right
December 18th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Don’t hyperventilate about Japan turning right

By Michael J. Green, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael J. Green is Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Associate Professor at Georgetown University. The views expressed are his own.

With the landslide victory of Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) this past Sunday, the media is atwitter with warnings of dangerous new friction in Northeast Asia. Shinzo Abe, the man about to return to power after resigning as prime minister five years ago, has said he will get tough with China and might reconsider past apologies for some of Japan’s wartime transgressions. If the new government follows through on some of this overheated rhetoric, it could complicate U.S. foreign policy and hurt Japan’s image abroad. But that does not mean that Japan is becoming a dangerous nation. If anything, the growing realism in Japanese security policy should be welcomed by the United States.

With Chinese defense spending increasing at double digits and an aggressive new Chinese maritime doctrine aimed at pressing outward to control what strategists in Beijing call the “Near Sea,” the current constraints on Japanese defense policies pose more risk than any specter of returning Japanese militarism. Japan spends less than 1 percent of GDP on defense and Abe will likely increase that, particularly to support the Japanese Coast Guard, which is currently overwhelmed trying to track the surge in Chinese ships operating in and around not only the disputed Senkaku islands, but the entire Japanese archipelago.

Abe has also promised to exercise Japan’s right of collective defense under the U.N. Charter, which would allow Japan to do more to support U.S. forces in crises not involving a direct attack on Japanese territory. This would move the U.S.-Japan alliance in the direction of NATO or the U.S. alliance with Australia, where we can expect support if the U.S. or a like-minded state comes under attack. Immediately after 9/11, for example, NATO and Australia were able to invoke our treaties to offer military assistance, while Japan had to find highly restricted workarounds to help refuel coalition forces in the Indian Ocean and provide humanitarian assistance in Iraq. Exercising the right of collective defense will be particularly important for joint efforts on missile defense as North Korea expands its arsenal for striking both Japan and the United States.  Another trademark of Abe’s foreign policy is to extend security cooperation with other maritime democracies such as Australia and India, two countries with which he initiated unprecedented defense cooperation agreements when last in power. These are all steps that enhance security in the Pacific.

More from GPS: Back to the future in Japan

It is also misleading to cast Japan as a pariah within Asia, as much of the commentary surrounding the return of Abe has. In Southeast Asia, opinion polls about Japan are generally more favorable than polls about either the United States or China. Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam are particularly eager to see a more resolute Japan given their own maritime problems with Beijing. The two countries in the region where Japan polls negatively are China and South Korea. Even between those two immediate neighbors, however, Chinese views of Japan are far more hostile. Moreover, Korean views of China tend to be far more negative than views of Japan.

Therein lays the real problem for U.S. policy in some of the overheated nationalistic rhetoric of the right in Japan. Japanese and Korean leaders tend to agree that the future of Asia depends on democracy and the rule of law. Chinese leaders tell their Korean counterparts that the real issue in Asia is blocking Japanese militarism. The more these latter words resonate with Koreans, the more Japan’s position in Northeast Asia will be weakened, and along with it the position of the United States. The Asia-Pacific region is moving towards greater embrace of universal norms that will ultimately shape Chinese leaders’ choices about the future of their own nation. Abe has himself been an outspoken champion of those values. Given the rapid power changes in Asia, it is critical that U.S. allies rally around a common vision of the region’s future and not be distracted by divisive issues that opponents of democracy will use to justify their own authoritarianism. It is equally important that the United States, Japan and Korea work together to dissuade North Korea from a third nuclear test and to strengthen common defense should one occur. Japan’s turn to the right is not a threat to peace and stability, but the wrong tone in Tokyo could set back U.S. and Japanese strategy for the region.

Chances are strong that the new government in Tokyo will move from ideology to pragmatism. The outgoing Democratic Party of Japan was swept into power in a wave of anti-incumbent furor in 2009, but proved incapable of governing effectively, particularly after Japan was hit by massive earthquakes and tsunami in March 2011. Abe has won a large majority, but that means little with Japan’s fickle voters these days. To win longer-term support from the public he must demonstrate competence on the economy. He has also made it clear that he knows Japan’s ability to deal with the security problems in his backyard rests first and foremost on a solid alliance with the United States. As allies, we should step up support for Japan’s efforts to secure its sea lanes, while making it clear that U.S. interests are served by a Japan that is proud, resolute and strong – but not one that is picking gratuitous fights with other important partners in the region.

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Topics: China • Japan • South Korea

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Marine5484

    I'm hoping that J apan will become more self assertive and maybe replace our troops in Korea with theirs so we can bring ours home.

    December 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • whatanidiot

      Obviously, u don't know anything about e. asian history. What a jarhead

      January 23, 2013 at 5:24 am | Reply
    • america

      i don't think we want to leave korea. our government wants some influence in the region.

      January 25, 2013 at 1:36 am | Reply
    • San Tron HonoH






      January 30, 2013 at 8:41 am | Reply
  2. Strg

    Those who do not know the history of WWII of Asia cannot objectively judge the trend of a country. Do you think it is a good idea to trigger wars in this region? What would happen?

    December 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  3. Ashrakay

    I live in Tokyo and have been here for the past 6 years. Politics in J@pan are not comparable to politics in America. The right wing here is still left of the left wing in America. Keep in mind, we have government mandated healthcare and pensions, we receive monthly income for having babies, or taxes are high, education is premium and free, we only have a Self-Defense Force which is less than 1% of the US military budget, we have NO nuclear weapons and are currently discussing banning nuclear power completely. There is no religiously-motivated legislation and everyone in our parliament accepts the theory of evolution as sound fact. Abortion is legal and support as a right of choice by all members of the house. The policies of all parties support the middle class but protect the lower classes. The more you make the more you pay in taxes.

    December 18, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • ytman

      Shame they are a little bit xenophobic.

      January 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply
      • Steve S.

        Thank goodness there's none of that racism stuff here in the US.

        January 24, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • p,b.


      January 24, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Reply
    • Debra

      I have lived in the US for 43 years. What you described is different than US politics but we do overlap on some issues: We are moving toward government mandated helathcare under Obamacare but not gov't mandated pensions. Our country is strong militarily and would have been even stronger if Romney would have been elected as he was prepared to spend more in that area. Abortion is legal and supports a woman's right to choose. Education is free up to 18 years of age. Beyond that, we pay. Taxes and insurance are sky high. Themore you make themore you pay and it is affecting the realestate market and we have many foreclosures on homes across the nation because people are choosing to feed their families over worrying about the bills. They tend to put more on their credit cards to survive. Everyone in Congress has theior own viewpoint on religion but they serve the masses in general not their own views per se. The middle class income supports the country so President Obama keeps themiddle in mind when decision-making.

      January 28, 2013 at 10:44 am | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Arms manufacturers, if not J apanese voters themselves welcome the return of Abe. Everyone expects him to increase the military budget and spend yet more money the government doesn't have. The way to do it is to pressure the Bank of J apan into spending trillions – in a desperate bid to push up prices and finally reflate the economy.

    December 19, 2012 at 8:06 am | Reply
    • cool arrow

      Spend money that they don't have, just like us. That really makes sense. They see what is happening to us.

      December 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  5. HUH??!!??!!

    How isn't it dangerous?! This guy talked about arming J@pan with nuclear weapons! Or is the author paid by the J@panese government to write such a piece.
    Really shows how ignorant Americans are ignorant of history beyond America. WWII never been forgotten because of politicians like Abe!

    December 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
    • nonukes

      Where did you hear about Abe wanting nuclear weapons??? Are we talking about the same country?

      January 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    My comments are vanishing -2 in the last hour- welcome to CNN censorship -all political.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
    • Alex

      there is the possibility that are are on the ext page to

      January 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • J

      Censorships are everywhere, just a matter of degree.

      January 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    I can not write more-censors are removing my comments to mold the public opinion.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:25 am | Reply
  8. Rev Dr Felix Nwosu

    in a war is alway the grass that suffers i mean that poor suffesr more.

    December 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
  9. war maker

    all chinese hate JP。。we need war 。。we can't exist both。。

    December 31, 2012 at 5:12 am | Reply
    • Q

      All the world hates china.
      So why don't you just go nuke yourself.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:44 am | Reply
      • 肏你妈

        if i am the communist,i first to burn you down,low IQ animals。
        what makes the world to hate china ?we invadeed them?,if I am the communist ,i will give other country a big warning ,we have the ability to do that。

        January 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • J

        The god damn Earth shall be nuked. And there is no escape for you as well.

        January 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • bh

      war maker is probably a lady boy, thin framed geek with glasses empowered by the secrecy of the internet

      January 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  10. no peace


    December 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  11. Bluerain

    By calling what JP did during WWII as "transgressions ", Mr Greens demonstrated he is at the same side of evil and someone utterly lacking conscience.

    January 8, 2013 at 10:03 am | Reply
  12. Jim

    History can repeat.

    January 15, 2013 at 12:43 am | Reply
  13. dddd

    the Uncle Sam wants to get another Pearl harbor bomb.

    January 16, 2013 at 9:38 am | Reply
  14. p,b.

    boy....are we in trouble!

    January 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Reply
  15. Karen

    One needs to be tough to fight for one's country! Why not? Since everyone should be protecting their country against foreign invaders.

    January 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  16. iran and iraqi shiia are evil

    THE SHIIA THUGS REGIEME OF NORI AL MALEKI open fire on the peacful demonstrators and killed people while praying killed kids women and old men with machine guns while they are walking peacfully in a demonstartion is this usa democracy? usa brought thos evil iraninas for a reason thats why USA AND SO CALL THE FREE WORLD ARE DOING NOTHING TO IRAN AND SYRIA AND GAVE IRAQ ON a silver plater to ira, shame on you, china are evil helping iran , evil heping evil

    January 29, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      How did this grammatically-incorrect abortion of a response even get posted on CNN? You sound like that homeless guy on the street corner claiming to be Jesus Christ reborn.

      January 30, 2013 at 10:22 am | Reply

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