Nobody will accuse the Chosun Ilbo of being instinctively anti-American, but in this morning’s editorial they call on the United States to do something about Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Interestingly enough, the editorial begins by citing a recent NYT and WaPo editorials criticizing Abe’s visit to Yasukuni (Marmot’s Note: I get the feeling the Chosun didn’t read the entire NYT editorial).
Then, however, the Chosun says Abe is behaving like he is because he thinks he’s got the United States behind him. The United States wants to use Japan to fill in the gap resulting from lower US defense expenditures. Abe knows this, and is spouting off with little concern about pissing off Washington. US criticism of Abe’s provocations have been little or none, while Washington has shown active support for Abe’s push to remilitarize Japan under the name of collective defense. This American attitude, says the Chosun, has brought about Abe’s miscalculations.
The Chosun wonders why the United States treats Abe’s historical distortions—and his denial of Japan’s wars as wars of aggression in particular—as somebody’s else’s problem when its an attack on the legitimacy of the sacrifices made by Americans killed in the Pacific War (note to Chosun Ilbo: in our defense, we did nuke two Japanese cities, which tends to release a great deal of han). If Washington had issued a strong warning to Abe, he would never have engaged in behavior that has essentially wiped out the historical reflection Japan had made so far. Meanwhile, Washington is telling Korea that it must deal with security issues and historical issues separately.
The Chosun Ilbo quotes the New York Times: “Japan’s military adventures are only possible with American support; the United States needs to make it clear that Mr. Abe’s agenda is not in the region’s interest. Surely what is needed in Asia is trust among states, and his actions undermine that trust” (Marmot’s Note: I think they skipped over the entire middle part criticizing President Park Geun-hye’s refusal to meet Abe as giving him the freedom to visit Yasukuni). Anyway, the Chosun warns that unless the United States gets Abe to apologize for the shrine visit and promise not to do it again, cracks will emerge in US strategy in Asia. Japanese money won’t be able to mend the harm done to the United States in the region by the wounds left in Korean hearts.
The Chosun notes that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement on Dec 28 welcoming the decision by Okinawa Prefecture to accept the Futenma relocation plan, saying the continuous partnership between the United States and Japan would strengthen. This came just a day after a State Department spokesperson issued a statement of regret over the Yasukuni visit. The Chosun thinks maybe Abe though he could pacify American protests to the shrine visit with this “gift,” and that we’ll soon learn whether he was right.
The Chosun concludes by warning US President Barack Obama, who’s visiting Japan in April, that without a fundamental shift in Japan’s attitude, the United States will find it difficult to get its new Asia strategy off the ground.
Marmot’s Note: Look, I think I’ve made it pretty clear I think Shinzo Abe’s a jerk. And yeah, I think there needs to be diplomatic consequences to some of his antics, including the recent visit to Yasukuni. As a friend, the United States needs to sit Abe down and explain to him in no uncertain terms that being a dick won’t help him achieve the goals that both he and the Americans want.
That said, it’s probably in everybody’s best interest—the Americans, the Koreans and the Japanese—to compartmentalize a bit here. Countries do this all the time. Turkey enjoys security cooperation with a large number of countries—including Korea, BTW—despite Turkey being pretty unapologetic about the Armenian genocide. As far as I know, America’s Middle Eastern allies don’t make security cooperation contingent on accepting the Arab view of the Crusades (Marmot’s Note: which, as everyone knows, were a defensive war).
For what it’s worth, I thought the US State Department statement was rather strong. Still, there’s only so loud the United States can get here. Japan’s an important US ally, and as I said in the previous paragraph, it’s hardly the only US ally with a questionable interpretation of history. Japan’s World War II history gives the United States a bit more latitude to speak, but even that has limits—interpreting one’s history is, after all, largely an internal matter. Mind you, I’m inclined to agree that Japan’s historical distortions are an insult to American veterans of World War II, but Japan is not the only country to insult US veterans of the Pacific War with bullshit interpretations of wartime atrocities (see also here).