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Update: According to the Japanese Coast Guard via AFP, the PRC did its bit to escalate tensions by dispatching two Coast Guard vessels to loiter in the territorial waters of the Senkakus for two hours. AFP also added this tidbit concerning Abe’s defense posture:
On Sunday, he told troops the “security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe”.
“You will have to completely rid yourselves of the conventional notion that just the existence of a defence force could act as a deterrent.”
Global Times weighed in with a ferocious editorial addressing Abe’s remarks to the Wall Street Journal:
Should one drone of China be fired upon, hostility between Beijing and Tokyo will be fully activated and the situation of Northeast Asia will topple like dominoes. The outbreak of a regional war is possible. Although the US’ support to Japan is obvious, it’s uncertain how the US will interfere. There is too much variance concerning where a China-Japan military clash will go.
China has not been involved in war for a long time but a war looms following Japan’s radical provocation. China’s comprehensive military power, including the navy, air force and the Second Artillery Force of the PLA, is stronger than Japan’s. Once a war breaks out, China will also be able to bear the economic blow better than Japan.
Since the real game in Asia is economic, not military, hopefully the legendary “cooler heads” will prevail. PL 10/28/2013]
As far as I can tell, the pundit community is continuing to peg the needle on the obliviousness meter concerning Shinzo Abe’s China posture.
Conventional wisdom: Abe is chugging along with domestic economic reforms while occasionally and not particularly enthusiastically pandering to his nationalist base with chesty responses to relentless Chinese provocations.
What’s really going on: Encouraging tensions with China is an integral element of Abe’s strategy to redefine the role of the Japanese government both domestically and internationally.
Abe welcomes a polarizing environment in Asia, because it allows Japan to position itself as the protector of the smaller Pacific states against the Chinese behemoth. And I think this has more—a lot more—to do with an attempt to block the extension of PRC trade and investment hegemony in East Asia and aggrandize Japan’s economic role at China’s expense than it does with genuine fears of a Chinese military threat. But the Chinese military threat must be hyped, since it enables the re-emergence of Japan as a regional military power (and put some backbone into the anti-China alliance) despite the anxieties of the United States, many nations in the region, and a significant chunk of the Japanese electorate.
Lest you think I’m just acting as a Chinese homer (reflexive Chinese partisan) in this matter, I think China is happily abetting the whole confrontation cycle—because it sees conspicuous Japanese security unilateralism as a wedge between Japan and the United States, and an opportunity to isolate Japan as a disturbing and destabilizing would-be hegemon in the eyes of the United States and the nations of the region, and not a loyal American ally.
With this perspective, let’s consider the latest iteration of this sorry cycle of provocations, per an October 26 BBC report in which Abe does his best to exploit the opportunities for unchallengeable assertions offered by the passive voice, anonymous allies, straw men, hypothetical scenarios, and reflexive international dislike for the PRC (my italics for emphasis):
Japan will stand up to China, says PM Shinzo AbeJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says other countries want Japan to adopt a more assertive leadership role in Asia to counter the growing power of China.
Mr Abe told the Wall Street Journal there were “concerns that China was trying to change the status quo by force, rather than by the rule of law”. …China said on Saturday that if Japan shot down Chinese drones, this would be considered “an act of war” by Beijing.
The statement was referring to reports that Mr Abe had approved defence plans that envisaged using air force planes to shoot down unmanned Chinese aircraft in Japanese airspace.…In the interview, Mr Abe said he had realised that “Japan is expectedto exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific”.
He promised policies to counter Japan’s waning influence.
Other countries wanted Japan to stand up to China, Mr Abe said without naming any.
“There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully,” Mr Abe says.
“So it shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community.”
The interview comes days after Mr Abe was reported to approved defence plans to intercept and shoot down foreign unmanned aircraft that ignore warnings to leave Japanese airspace.
On Saturday, China’s defence ministry responded saying: “If Japan does resort to enforcement measures like shooting down aircraft, that is a serious provocation to us, an act of war.
“We will undertake decisive action to strike back, with every consequence borne by the side that caused the trouble,” spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry’s website.
And, courtesy of Bloomberg, the beat goes on:
Abe Warns China on Island Spat as Japan Dispatches Jets
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned he wouldn’t permit China to use force to resolve territorial spats, as the renewed presence of Chinese aircraft near disputed islands led its neighbor to dispatch fighter jets.
Japan sent up fighter jets for a third day yesterday after Chinese aircraft flew between its southern islands without entering Japanese airspace, the Self-Defense Forces said on their website. [emphasis added]
Since the Obama administration is quietly displeased with Japan’s display of initiative (which seems to be slighting US security and diplomatic leadership while presuming the US military might will remain on tap if Japan gets in over its head), maybe Abe will be reframed in the Western media as the “Netanyahu of Asia”—a tireless but self-interested and increasingly distrusted fomenter of regional destabilization—rather than “Japan’s Thatcher” as a recent profile chose to style him.