U.S. Should Speak Truth to Japan

tags: Japan, nationalism



Gregg Andrew Brazinsky is an associate professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University and advisor to the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Japan can sometimes be wrong, a basic fact that Washington sometimes seems to have a problem understanding. American officials have long seen Japan as a staunch U.S. ally, one that former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once suggested could become an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Pacific. But while this may be true, since securing power in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done far more to undermine American strategic interests in Asia than to support them.

Regrettably, the Obama administration’s response to this unfortunate shift in Tokyo’s foreign policy has been weak and confused. It’s time for the U.S. to get serious about reining in Japan.

With his decision to pay an unexpected visit last month to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine recently, Abe demonstrated once again that his government is willing to put a nationalist agenda ahead of both peace and America’s security. The shrine has become notorious among Japan’s neighbors because among the war dead are also enshrined 14 Class A war criminals found guilty of committing war crimes before and during World War II. For Chinese and Koreans in particular, Abe’s visit there conjures up painful memories of the horrors inflicted on them by Imperial Japan in the early twentieth century, and they are understandably outraged.

Abe’s move comes at a time of rising tensions in the region, and it is clear the Japanese government has chosen a truly inopportune time to inflame its neighbors. U.S. interests lie in preserving peace and stability in the region, a task that has already been made more difficult in recent months by an increasingly assertive China and the always unpredictable regime of Kim Jong Un in North Korea....



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