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How Japan’s prime minister is shaking things up

April 24th, 2014
02:18 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Japan’s waters are full of riptides, but the country’s prime minister isn’t opposed to taking a dip.

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday, the first stop on his high-stakes tour to four key American allies in Asia.

Notably absent from his list of destinations is China, whose huge economic growth, and the influence that comes with it, looms large over the region.

President Obama has reiterated his commitment to America’s security agreement with Japan, albeit while sticking as much as possible to dry, diplomatic language.

“Territories under the administration of Japan are covered under the treaty,” he said. “There's no shift in position, no red line; we're simply applying the treaty.”

If there’s apprehension in that statement, it is because Japan’s conservative Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has upended the commitment to pacifism that has defined post-World War II Japan.

Among Prime Minister Abe’s affronts, according to his detractors: Visiting a memorial to Japanese war dead, among whom are convicted war criminals; refusing to apologize for Japan’s use of sex slaves in wartime China and South Korea; and a commitment to rewrite Japan’s constitution, which places great limits on the country’s military.

“It would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue rather than dialogue and confidence-building measures between Japan and China,” President Obama said, standing alongside Prime Minister Abe.

Many of Japan’s international disputes center on China, and that country’s detractors hardly give it a free pass.

“The reality is hardly a day goes by without us seeing attempts made by the Chinese side to send their official vessels into either contiguous or territorial waters of Japan,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, Special Adviser to the Japanese Prime Minister, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

He is referring to the dispute over a group of uninhabited islands that Japan and China each claim as their own – they are ‘Senkaku’ to Japan and ‘Diaoyu’ to China.

“We should not tolerate any action to change the borders by using brute force,” Taniguchi said.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry responded to President Obama’s statement on the treaty with Japan by saying, “No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the basic reality that the Diaoyu Islands are China's inherent territory.”

Taniguchi told Amanpour that if the international community is sending that message to Russia, over its incursion in Crimea and alleged incursion into eastern Ukraine, “we should say the same to the Chinese, who have been attempting to do exactly that – not just around Japan, but also in the South China Sea.”

President Obama, while affirming his commitment to Japan, also warned that it would be a “profound mistake” for there to be continued escalation with China, rather than dialogue.

Both countries have new leaders, and both took office at the end of 2012. But nearly a year and a half into their respective tenures, the two have yet to meet.

Amanpour put it bluntly in a question to Taniguchi.

“The fact that the world’s third-largest and second-largest economies are not even talking to each other at this time is pretty worrying to all concerned,” Amanpour said.

“Prime Minister Abe and members of the cabinet are very much keen on having straight talks with their their counterparts in China,” Taniguchi said. “Slowly, gradually, attempts have been made from both sides, I believe, to break the barrier and see eye to eye.”

Seeing eye-to-eye might be hard; in the next breath, Taniguchi said “before anything happens,” he urged China to “stop provoking actions.”

The United States finds fault on both sides.

Responding to Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni memorial in Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy in Japan released a statement that read, in part:

“Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors.”

“The problem is not that serious, I believe,” Taniguchi said; Prime Minister Abe is not trying to return the country to the 1930s.

Indeed, he told Amanpour, Japan’s economic problems – government debt and a shrinking population – mean it has little ability to expand its military budget.

(China, he was sure to add, has massively expanded its military.)

For “historical reasons,” he said, Japan had imposed a “strange interpretation” of its constitution, which bars the military from taking part in overseas operations.

“Everyone, every individual, and every nation” has the right to “act collectively with your like-minded peers,” he said.

All Japan is trying to do, he said, is “shoulder its own due responsibility” to global security.

“I think Shinzo Abe is doing exactly that.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Japan • Latest Episode
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Milano

    When ASSAD of Syria used force-military against his own people, Russia supported his actions calling those peaceful-demonstrators terrorist. The same goes for UKRAINE. These rebels seizing government offices in UKRAINE are terrorists as well. If Russia attacks UKRAINE, it will be a long war that will reduces Russian’s influence and status as world power. Russia is only making noise because he knows that the ARAB countries dislike the USA because of ISRAEL. But, the ARAB countries are cowards. ASSAD will slaughter everyone who is not a Shiit -Alawites. IRAN supports the Palestine unrealistic hope because they want to stop going to Mecca, and instead use Jerusalem as the Holy-Place for Islam pilgrim. The IRAN hates SAUDI-ARABIA secretly. BUT, Sorry! It is just too late: there is no way in this world that the Palestine will have total control of Jerusalem.... If they want war, then let’s bring this world peace to a close. They want to destroy the USA; but, I bet you all, if the USA falls, it will be the beginning of sorrow for mankind........ Milano!

    April 24, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • chokin

      You seem to be forgetting that the previous democratically elected Ukrainian prime minister (notwithstanding his high levels of corruption) was ousted by the current administration in what can be deemed as a plain coup d'etat, with hardly any criticism arising from the self-righteous 'democratic' west. So these 'rebels' are simply claiming what has been denied to them in the ballots.

      April 25, 2014 at 6:44 am | Reply
  2. OMAR PEERZADA

    Dear Amañpour....I am an ardent admirer of urs. .writing to you for the first time; with hope that ur raising of issue at will catch International attention. .about 1000 Muslim slaughtering in Burma...pls do something ...ur the ambassador of peace n humanity. ..ur help will be greatful service to the humanity...The suffers are looking with much hope at u n likes....pls do something for them..regards Omar (india)

    April 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  3. Joe

    The Chinese coastguard ships are all over the Diaoyu islands. Why doesn't Obama go sink them and demonstrate the treaty is worth more than the toilet paper it is written on.

    April 25, 2014 at 5:57 am | Reply
    • STEVE

      Exactly! why not, go go Obama, sink them.

      April 25, 2014 at 8:56 am | Reply
  4. nnc

    cnc

    April 25, 2014 at 7:40 am | Reply
  5. 1

    The big problem is the dog does not want to get chained. And it was a "maddog".

    April 26, 2014 at 12:17 am | Reply
  6. marvs

    waiting for red line again????

    April 26, 2014 at 7:17 am | Reply
  7. I Love America

    CNN deletes my post b/c it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the liberal internationalist cabal. Go bow down to your Chinese masters CNN!

    April 27, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  8. Andrew Milton

    Disappointed that so many people here are urging other people to shed the blood of other people. The important thing everwhere is to support the people who want to live in peace with their neighbours, and to isolate the people who don't.

    May 11, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Reply

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