Japan Teeters on the Edge

By Macshane, Denis | Newsweek International, November 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

Japan Teeters on the Edge


Macshane, Denis, Newsweek International


Byline: Denis Macshane

Geographically, Britain and Japan are cousins, two island nations off Eurasia. Geopolitically, they could not be more different. Western Eurasia, with its comfort blanket of NATO, two nuclear powers, and a burgeoning EU defense profile, could hardly be more stable. Meanwhile, Japan has more than 4,000 islands, many potential flash points for regional peace.

Japan shivers virtually naked as military pressures mount in Eurasia. From the northern ocean borders with Russia to the subtropical seas coveted by China, competing claims to Japan's islands are inching up the global-security agenda. While NATO members pledge to fight for one another, Japan has only a one-sided alliance with the U.S., which under the 1951 U.S.-Japan security treaty pledges young Americans to die in defense of Japan, but makes no reciprocal demand on young Japanese. The post-1945 settlement turned Japan into the first pacifist industrial superpower, one that neighbors never needed to fear, but one that now has reason to fear its neighbors.

Authoritarian nationalism is reasserting itself in Asia. After Tiananmen Square, Chinese leaders decided the best way to turn young people away from democracy was to teach them patriotic nationalism. Following Orwell, leaders like Jiang Zemin made Japan the key hate country in schools. In 2005 China's Education Minister said schools should "promote patriotic education" by "using the history of war against Japan."

Japan claimed the East China Sea's uninhabited islands following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. In September, after the Japanese Coast Guard arrested a Chinese trawler skipper who strayed into the waters off the islands, China unleashed a barrage of nationalist emotion. Japanese cars and shops were trashed in Chinese cities. Japanese businessmen were arrested as hostages. And in a sinister move, China suspended the export of rare earths essential for high-tech Japanese products like electric automobiles. Japan caved in, and returned the arrested fishing-boat captain. This was a humiliating loss of face for Tokyo and a triumph for Chinese nationalism.

Japan looks on with fear as China's military arsenal grows in line with its economic power. …

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