The Chinese and Koreans and the Japanese left are wasting no time in unleashing invectives on Prime Minister Abe and his visit to Yasukuni on the first anniversary of his second appointment to the prime minister’s office. No doubt Western liberals will not be far behind as soon as they wake up in the morning to find out what Abe has wrought. To these people, Abe’s visit is a paean to the ghosts of the Japanese empire and a salute to theto the Class A war criminals enshrined there.
The problem is, you wouldn’t know from watching his post-visit press briefing or reading the statement posted on the Prime Minister’s Office website. Phrases like “Japan must never wage a war again. This is my conviction based on the severe remorse for the past” and “we must build an age which is free from the sufferings by the devastation of war; Japan must be a country which joins hands with friends in Asia and friends around the world to realize peace of the entire world” and “[i]t is my wish to respect each other’s character, protect freedom and democracy, and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all the previous Prime Ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine” do not exactly translate to “long live the emperor and the empire from which the sun also rises” as far as I’m concerned.
Now, Abe’s value-based detractors may be right for all I know, on the mark for Abe’s secret agenda. Abe’s problem, if that is true, is that he has had to bend over backward to accommodate the complaints, forcing him to issue a statement that, with a few tweaks, would not sound amiss coming out of the mouths of the pacifist Social Democrats. In war, as in love—likewise in politics: it matters not what Abe really means, as long as a slip of the tongue does not reveal his true intent, if such is indeed the case.
We’ve seen something similar with China talking around its new air defense identification zone. Most people in Japan who care about such things believe that it is aimed at Japan and specifically targeting the Senkaku Islands. But this Xinhua report has the following phrases:
“It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace.”
“[T]he establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone will not change the legal nature of relevant airspace.”
Now, no one is amused at the reporting requirements that the Chinese authorities have placed on aircraft merely passing through its ADIZ as well as its threats against aircraft that do not comply. That said, this and no doubt other Chinese statements—the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s press briefings are currently inaccessible for some reason—have led to at least one media report—I’m writing from memory now—that the Chinese authorities have denied any territorial implications to the new ADIZ. That certainly does not help them in the Senkaku dispute. (Yes, “dispute.” “Dispute” and “indisputable” are different words.) If anything, the Chinese authorities left the impression that they tried to change the status quo by force (more accurately the threat thereof) and failed. There’s much more to it than that in my view, but at least they could have avoided that and still achieved whatever other strategic advances that they had intended.