The Chinese rhetorical fireworks over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend have been so widely reported that we are at risk of losing a sense of what Mr Abe actually said.
As Interpreter readers will recall, the speech was denounced by the senior Chinese military delegate at the conference, Lt Gen Wang, as nothing short of 'unacceptable' and 'unimaginable'. Wang attacked it in the same breath as his rejection of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's remarks; both, he claimed, were full of provocation, intimidation and threat against China.
Abe is a controversial figure at home as well as abroad, but what exactly did he say on this occasion that was so objectionable?
In my view, Chinese warnings about a supposed return of Japanese militarism and fascism are far removed from Abe's carefully-worded policy speech which focused on Japan's willingness to help other countries build their own security capacities, Japan's readiness as a normalising military power to work more with allies and partners to discourage Chinese maritime coercion, and Japan's record as a peaceful nation. If you want to form your own judgement, here is the full text.
The onus should be on Abe's and Japan's critics to say precisely what is unreasonable about a Japan that can protect its interests and help its partners. That point applies not only to Chinese generals but also to a former Australian prime minister.
Malcolm Fraser has become an outspoken critic of the Australia-US alliance and US policy in Asia. Now Abe's Japan is also in his sights. On Saturday, he fired off a tweet about Abe's Singapore address, describing it as an 'aggressive speech, pro war'. (The original tweet is no longer in Mr Fraser's prolific twitter stream, but it can still be found on his Facebook page.) [fold]
When I asked Mr Fraser what precisely was pro-war about the Japanese leader's remarks, he replied that the meaning behind the words was most relevant – the context, the things unsaid. He went on to list some of the Abe policies he finds troubling.
I respect Mr Fraser's readiness to contribute to Australia's contemporary foreign policy debate, and look forward to bringing an open mind to his book calling for an end to the US alliance, as well as hearing him speak about it next month. But I would also be interested to know exactly how he thinks Japan, Vietnam and other states experiencing frictions with China should change their policies to protect their interests in ways that are, in his view, pro-peace.
Although Abe expressed remorse in Singapore, Japan remains vulnerable over its brutal history, which included the prolonged occupation of Korea and much of China and ended with the suicidal conflagration of the 1941-1945 Pacific War. Abe has made matters worse through his apparent indifference to the widely-accepted international record of much of this history, particularly on the issue of so-called 'comfort women'.
Unless Mr Abe reaches out to repair damage to ties with South Korea, and stays away from Yasukuni Shrine for the rest of his time as prime minister, he risks undermining his own policy achievements in making Japan a more effective defender of its interests in a changing Asia.
Photo by Flickr user IISS.