Is Shinzo Abe secretly smarter than all of us? Is he running rings around the Chinese, manipulating them for his own political purposes?
Contrary to Chinese hysteria, Japan has not aggravated the issue of the Senkaku Island territorial dispute. They have been trying, unsuccessfully, to keep that old dog soundly dozing. When a right-wing Tokyo mayor attempted to nationalize the islands the central government nationalized it instead, planning to block development and maintain the status quo. The Chinese government, without missing a beat, instead blamed the whole thing on the central government who were in fact kowtowing to them, and the recent confrontation, including flyovers and approaches by vessels, got started in earnest.
Now Abe is back in the Prime Minister’s chair. While talking tough he hasn’t done much on the issue (or on any other issue). In Japan, everything must improve, but nothing must change. A few military resources were shuffled around and everyone went back to sleep.
Or, does Abe have one, Smaug-like eye open? Is there a plan? Such a thing would be unprecedented in Japanese political culture but history is full of unexpected firsts.
Imagine, for a moment, that Abe wants the Chinese to attack the islands. Further, he wants Japanese forces to be pushed back and for China to successfully, and permanently, occupy the islands, thus strengthening their claim to resources in surrounding waters.
Why would he want this? Is he insane? Perhaps, perhaps not. Having lost his pawn, Abe now has room to move his knight. The pacifist Japanese public, incensed and afraid, looks for leadership. Abe is the man to provide it. He acknowledges that Japan is weak, that it is no match for China. His solution?
- Constitutional change to allow Japan a normal military.
- The remilitarization of Japan.
- The development of a nuclear arsenal.
Precisely what Abe always wanted. If he could achieve the first three goals, he could then achieve a fourth: resuming Japanese leadership of Asia. At the moment, Japan is too weak to lead and China, too obnoxious. China is unlikely to change after 3000 years but Japan might become strong again.
So by losing the Senkakus, which everyone pretends to care about but nobody really does, Abe would reestablish, and extend, his father’s Meiji-era legacy.
Check, but not yet checkmate.
This is China we’re dealing with. They are no slouches when it comes to deviousness, duplicity and deceit. If their leadership is as clever as everyone suspects, they might have no designs over the islands at all. In Japan’s control, the Senkakus are an excellent prop for drumming up patriotic fervor. Once won, what good would they be? Party members care a hell of a lot more about their fragile legitimacy than they do about any particular batch of resources. Remember, this is not a Western democracy. If they lose power, Party members will not worry about their jobs – they will worry about their heads. In Confucian thought, a Chinese government only inherits the Mandate of Heaven by protecting and benefitting the people. The inevitable economic downturn will be nasty – if the Japanese are defeated and humbled instead of rabid and threatening, what else does the Chinese Communist Party have to offer?
So perhaps what we have here is two states bickering and risking war over a cluster of islands that neither side can afford to dominate.
Abe, if this was not your plan, feel free to use it. Mention me in your memoirs.
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