Tag Archives: Abe

War history and the Commonwealth Pivot to Asia

There is something interesting developing between Japan and the old British-led ‘Commonwealth of Nations‘. Long out of fashion, the Commonwealth has been popping up again in an unexpected guise – the grouping of like-minded nations forging alliances with Japan.

Here are two recent examples :

1) Australian PM Tony Abbott’s speech to welcome Japan’s PM Abe on July 8, 2014 was a breakthrough in terms of the use of WWII history for contemporary geostrategic advantage. As I have suggested in this blog before (link), Prime Minister Abe’s ‘unapologetic’ style was seen as an opportunity for Japan’s adversaries to isolate it from partners and allies today. It seems to be working only in the case of South Korea, where Imperial Japan bashing is also good domestic politics. PM Abbott turned the table by acknowledging the respect Australians paid to those who fought for Japan in WWII:

“We admired the skill and the sense of honour that they brought to their task although we disagreed with what they did. Perhaps we grasped, even then, that with a change of heart the fiercest of opponents could be the best of friends.”

Abbott also made reference to the coming centenary of WWI, when the Japanese warship Ibuki escorted the Anzak convoy to the Middle East; another way of putting WWII history in a more nuanced context.
PM Abe was apparently prepared to reciprocate:

“Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan.”

It was a reference obscure to many listeners outside Australia, but as a Sydney Morning Herald headline put it, Abe’s words caused the Australian Parliament to freeze in ‘a moment that stopped time’:

“…to Australians who know the story, it was the greatest atrocity of the Asian-Pacific war…In a world moved on and a region colliding in new ways, it was a moment to stop time.”

In his remarks to the Australian Parliament, PM Abe used stories of Australia and Japan’s postwar reconciliation to cement a very contemporary bond – a ‘Pacific community’ for the 21st century:

Australia and Japan have now freed ourselves from one old layer and are now moving towards a new “special relationship.” … Today, Prime Minister Abbott and I will sign an agreement concerning the transfer of defence equipment and technology. That will make the first cut engraving the special relationship in our future history.

It earned Abbott criticism at home:

“In his comments on the submariners Abbott verged on prostituting history for his own geo-political ends.”

And from abroad. In an editorial on 14 July, the Global Times said Australia was in no position to criticize China’s human rights record in part because it

“…used to be a place roamed by rascals and outlaws from Europe”.

But the response from China only confirmed that the post-war Asian consensus about Japan’s security role has been broken. Abe and Abbott’s bonding over shared war memories sent a new message – We fought, but with honour. There were atrocities, but we have put it behind us. Others may try to use history to divide us, but today’s common interests are too strong for us to let that happen.

2) The UK Minister for Asia, Hugo Swire presented the UK’s Asia strategy on 15 July, and had this to say:

More broadly, the Commonwealth gives a unique extra dimension to our relations with many countries in the region – those I have just mentioned, plus several of the Pacific Islands…We have reinvigorated our relationships with our Pacific allies Australia and New Zealand, not least through a highly successful AUKMIN process,..Although we are not a major military power in the region, the UK makes an important contribution. As well as our military involvement through the Five Power Defence Arrangements and the Brunei Garrison, the Royal Navy continues to work closely with counterparts from the US, China and Japan… With Japan, for example … our joint work has entered a new phase. We have made clear that we welcome a greater role for Japan in international peace and security, which will allow more practical cooperation with the UK and other countries in areas such as peacekeeping operations and humanitarian and disaster relief. During Prime Minister Abe’s visit to London, we announced we would develop a “comprehensive framework” to deepen our security co-operation. This builds on an agreement to collaborate on the research, production and development of defence equipment signed last year…The final pillar of our approach to Asia Pacific is the promotion of our values. Throughout the region, Britain speaks in support of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is of course vital that like-minded countries in Europe and America, in particular, do so in a concerted and coordinated way…

Is this “The Rebirth of the (British) Empire“? Although there is some congruence with PM Abe’s ‘democratic security diamond‘, it is no use trying to frame the emerging alignment of nations on Asian security issues according to the old pink zones of Britain’s Empire. Anyway,  too many of the countries in question (Burma, Vietnam, USA) were never Commonwealth members anyway. However, we may see  more attempts to select from our common history and patch together a sense of historical community between Europe, America, Australia, New Zeland, Malasia, Singapore, India, Myanmar and the rest. Look out for commemorations of our alliance in WW I (so useful to contrast against what China and Russia have started to call the ‘war against fascism‘). Look out for other old/new allies to adopt the ‘put it all behind us’ line and incant about shared values of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and free trade. Never mind the patchy record of the old commonwealth on these standards – it’s the contrast that counts. As long as it comes across as the alternative to dictatorship, corruption and the state controlled economy, the message will be clearly heard.

 

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Japan & Italy in talks for intelligence-sharing pact

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, background, arrives in Rome's Villa Pamphili for a meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, on June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, background, arrives in Rome’s Villa Pamphili for a meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, on June 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

See following link for Mainichi report:

Japan, Italy to step up talks for intelligence-sharing pact

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Abe visits Europe, May 2014 – some suggestions

Shinzo Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Europe in May (link). What should he be getting out of this trip?

  1. The idea is to strengthen relations with the European Union , sign a few free trade agreements and finalize the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. Considering Japan’s desire for a more strategic relationship with Europe, why not go a bit further? PM Abe has talked about making some changes in policies that will lead to Japan becoming even more proactive in global peacekeeping efforts, and so far there is little to show for it. UN Peacekeeping is one option, but why not kill two birds with one stone (peacekeeping and Euro-Japan concord) and agree to pursue a Framework Partnership Agreement with the EU that would allow Japanese civilians and members of the Self Defence Forces to participate in EU crisis management missions and operations? Korea is on track to do so, then why not Japan? Approximately two thirds of CSDP efforts are civilian missions, so well within the ‘human security’ paradigm MOFA has supported through the UN. Also, following the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan (an alliance apparently in no hurry to do anything similar again), the EU is still launching missions left, right and centre, and may offer more opportunities for Japan to bond with a European security platform.
  2. To gain international support in light of territorial disputes with China and South Korea and deflect critical remarks from both countries over historical issues, Japan has to start thinking outside the box. This visit is an opportunity to change the narrative from Yasukuni and sex slaves onto something more positive. Abe could counter China’s propaganda offensive by organizing an event in the UK to showcase post-WWII reconciliation between Japan and Great Britain. What if Abe and Cameron together attend a screening of the recent movie based on the true life story of Anglo-Japan reconciliation “The Railway Man”? Abe can give a speech about how Britain and Japan managed to squarely face up to the tragedies of that war and become, united by common values, allies once again. This would have two advantages: (1) refute the image of Abe as being in denial about Japan’s past; and (2) showcase an example of how Japan has managed to rebuild its international relations with an important ally.
  3. Abe is also planning to meet with French President Hollande. This will be interesting because Japan and France have been working hard on their relationship, which is elevated to a 2+2 meeting with a roadmap for security cooperation. This offers a chance to get an indication of which basket (UK, France, EU, V4, NATO) Japan is putting most of its eggs, or if it will continue to distribute them rather evenly across this set.
  4. Abe is set to participate in the Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD in Paris on May 6 – 7. Events in Ukraine will probably set the atmosphere for this. Russia will be out of the G8. It is a shame for Abe, who wanted to settle the northern islands dispute with Russia and secure an alternative source of hydrocarbon energy supplies from Russia. However, Vladimir Putin has gone too far in Ukraine. Abe has to take a stand on this because (1) that is the essence of his narrative about values (rule of law, democracy, free speech, free market); and because (2) Japan has to back up the present world order in case China starts to feel the rules have changed. OECD is about economies, so maybe hopefully there will be more to talk about than handling the fallout from sanctioning Russia.

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UK and Japan security agreement on sidelines of G8

Shinzo-cameron_2592337b

David Cameron met with Japan’s PM Abe just prior to the G8 meetings to talk security. According to this Japanese media report from NHK (Japan’s equivalent of the BBC), they  (i) formally agreed on the promotion of joint development of military equipment; (ii) agreed to speed up joint research on chemical (weapons) protective clothing; (iii) agreed to finalize a mechanism for sharing confidential information on security issues such as counter-terrorism. Reference was made to the close cooperation during the January 2013 ‘Amenas’ hostage crisis.

Much of this is just putting the formal seal on what was already agreed. However, it is another reminder that the UK is keeping up the drum-beat on security cooperation with Asian nations (see here, here for more on this theme).

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NATO, Japan sign Joint Political Declaration – no ‘permanent’ role for NATO in Asia

Anders Fogh RasmussenA full text of the declaration is available here. Not much of note in the text itself, but there was an intriguing if slightly confusing bit of language about what NATO is not  doing in Asia -

On his video blog, the SG makes the point that “my visit does not mean that NATO seeks a presence in the Asia Pacific region, but it does mean that NATO seeks to work with the Asia-Pacific region…” Subtle distinction, but clear enough because the North Atlantic Charter is also pretty clear on allies needing to be from the North Atlantic area.

Then Rasmussen told reporters after the signing ceremony “While NATO has no ambition to take on a permanent role in Asia, we see very clearly the advantage of working with like-minded partners like Japan”.

But why the qualifier ‘permanent’?

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Japan invites European comeback to Asian Security role, and seeks to join FPDA

Shinzo Abe--621x414Now Japan’s Prime Minister (again), Mr Shinzo Abe is inviting a European security ‘comeback’ to Asia (full text can be read here ©2012/Project Syndicate) -

“I would also invite Britain and France to stage a comeback in terms of participating in strengthening Asia’s security. The sea-faring democracies in Japan’s part of the world would be much better off with their renewed presence. Continue reading

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