Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Unthinking On Why Abe Will Visit Yasukuni In August

Once we are past the July 21 elections, Sino-Japanese relations will be in a sweet spot. Both China and Japan will have ostensibly new, legitimate leaders, with significant political succession campaigns far off. It will be years before either side has to gin up the paranoia/resentment machine to advance its political program. Both leaders, with their inherited political bona fides, would be in a position to find ways to work together to keep the bilateral relationship on an even keel. Given the tight intermeshing of the economies of the two countries, crippling relations over pride would be daft. This is doubly so because the Chinese economy is going to be entering a rough patch, with growth gearing down sharply from deleveraging and a shift from investment-led to consumption-led growth. It is trebly so because big business in Japan, which is invested in China up to its earlobes, has been an unquestioned and unquestioning backer of Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party.

Nevertheless, Abe will toss the opportunity to make history into history's dustbin and go to Yasukuni in August. He not do so on the August 15 defeat day but on another day (I have bet that it will be August 12) -- not with a herd of lawmakers and flunkies in tow but quietly, without warning.

Why? Abe does not have to prove anything. The revisionist base loves him, whether he goes to Yasukuni or not. The collapse of the Japan Restoration Party means there is no more threat to the LDP from the right.

If Abe goes to Yasukuni there will be anti-Japanese riots in China. Xi Jinping will never come to Japan for a summit. Ship intrusions into the area around the Senkakus will skyrocket.

To which I can only respond, "And how will all these outcomes not fulfill the predictions regarding Chinese behavior that Abe and his fellow travelers have been making since...forever?"

In addition to the self serving opportunism of instigating exactly the kind of hysteria and overreaction in China the revisionist right has prophesied, Abe has purely personal reasons for going to Yasukuni in August. The first is psychohistorical: he has never forgiven himself for failing to go in August 2007. Second, since their accessions to power, Xi Jinping has made not the least sacrifice of political capital in order to reach out to Abe. Unlike Park Geun-hye, who has to be seen giving Abe the cold shoulder in order to bury talk of her father's service to Japan, Xi is free to extend the hand of friendship to Abe. For reasons of either cowardice or prejudice, Xi has done nothing.

He will do nothing.

A terrible error.

Abe has been wearing a mask of affability these past six months in line with the needs of his party in the run up to the House of Councillors election. Once past the election, Abe will let down the facade of buoyant happiness, reverting to his usual state of umbrage. We have already seen flashes of resentment creep out from behind the mask, the anger he feels toward anyone showing him disrespect, in Abe's Facebook attacks on anti-Trans Pacific Partnership demonstrators, Tanaka Hitoshi and Hosono Goshi. Once past the election, Abe's brittle edginess, shared by many in his Cabinet, will no longer need to be hidden away.

So many of the projects dear to the revisionists are closed to Abe. Garrison the Senkakus? Suicidal, stupid. Revise Article 96, Article 9 and the rest of the Constitution? Not enough votes in the House of Councillors for the necessary 2/3rds majority.

Going to Yasukuni is the default dream realization -- and Abe will revert to it once the election is over and done. Provocative, spiteful will the visit be, yet not threatening except in rhetorical terms.

After Abe takes the plunge world opinion will fault him for his lack of sensitivity and inability to appreciate the fragility of Japan's position in East Asia.

World opinion will, however be drawing a bead at the wrong target. Those lacking in sense and sensitivity are in Beijing. Those afraid of an objective accounting for the past are there too.

Can one fault the Chinese for failing to understand Japan? Not really. Power and wealth have muddled brains. A global fear of losing access to the China bounty has clipped tongues.

At the end of the day, at the very end, the interests of East Asia's princeling leaders are best served by conflict between the nations. Marginal territorial and history disputes are helpful distractions, turning the attention of citizens away from such questions as "Are the children and grandchildren of past leaders really the best persons for these jobs?" and "What is there in this aristocracy thing for me and my family, anyway?"

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