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Japan in 2014: Between a China Question and a China Obsession

  1. Introduction

Events in 2014 confirmed the centrality of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō in Japan’s political landscape, in line with the expectation of the previous year’s analysis.[2] Following the landmark Cabinet decision allowing the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, much-coveted by the Prime Minister, and the insistence on expansive monetary and fiscal measures under the rubric of Abenomics, Abe secured his place in post-war Japanese history as one of the country’s longest-lasting and most consequential Prime Ministers by calling and winning snap elections for the Lower House in mid-December. In all likelihood, Abe’s mandate at the helm of Nippon-maru (the Japanese ship of state) will continue until late 2018, when his second consecutive, and traditionally final, term as LDP President will coincide with the call for new general elections.

On the diplomatic front, Abe was able to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping without caving in on Chinese requests for Tokyo’s acknowledgement of the existence of a territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. At the same time, the joint statements accompanying that informal bilateral summit failed to resolve the multiple Sino-Japanese «games of chicken» over the disputed islands. Rather, Beijing merely signaled a tactical desire to avoid further escalation with China’s prosperous, powerful and increasingly assertive neighbor. In the author’s view, China’s softened stance also resulted from a hardening of the U.S. position and the forthcoming security guidelines governing the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Through an extensive use of primary source materials including official documentation, first-hand interviews with Japanese and foreign policy-makers, and original analyses this article concentrates on the Sino-Japanese rivalry, focused on the standoff over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and beyond. It will explore how a rising and assertive China has shaped Japan’s strategic options, not only in the realm of foreign and security policy, but in the domestic politico-economic landscape as well. After all, Abe’s desire to build a strong Japan and to confront China’s ascent, explicitly rested on an appreciation of the cross-fertilization between the domestic and international realms. As Abe said in a December 2014 interview with The Economist: «for the past 20 years, [Japan] has stagnated. During that time, we’ve seen the emergence of other strong global players. And so there is no way that we can separate our domestic policies from our diplomacy. We have to have a strong economy to have a strong diplomacy; and with strong diplomacy and a strong foreign policy, we can in turn ensure peace and stability in the region. And in the international community, our stronger influence will ensure smoother progress in [building relations and] getting things done».[3]

Notwithstanding veiled references to Beijing in official statements, I argue that Japanese policymakers were almost obsessively driven by the need to balance China’s ascendance, as a means to mollify Beijing’s position at the negotiating tables. As recounted last year, the Prime Minister was the driving force to bring about consistent and successful policy change.

This essay devotes attention to the Abe administration’s international and domestic responses to the China challenge. The first section introduces the nature of the ongoing Japan-China spat over the contested islands through a brief historical account. The second section analyzes the evolution of the Japanese government’s foreign and security strategy in 2014, tracing back the origins of this strategy not just to Abe’s and Yachi Shōtarō’s worldviews, the original subject of last year’s essay, but also to their past responses to and encounters with Beijing. Here I also analyze Abe’s major security reforms, such as the highly consequential Cabinet-led constitutional reinterpretation allowing the exercise of collective self-defense (CSD). Consequently, I evaluate Japan’s foreign policy, and focus on Japan’s relations with the U.S. and Australia, with whom it enjoys the closest security relations. The third section introduces an extensive and original analysis of the Japanese government’s increased international and domestic public relations efforts vis-à-vis China, partly in reaction to Beijing’s own attacks on Japan. Here I also provocatively claim that a «governmental-institutional-media complex» preoccupied with Japan’s territorial claims and China’s assertive behavior deliberately facilitated an increasingly hostile tone towards China. Finally, the last section briefly assesses the significance of Japan and China’s negotiated parallel statements, which paved the way to the Abe-Xi APEC meeting, and addresses the tenability of a Sino-Japanese «cold peace» in light of the previous insights.

  1. A Fistful of Rocks: The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute, Mirror of Shifting Axes of Power

In order to contextualize the heated Sino-Japanese standoff, this section provides a brief historical account of the island dispute with concomitant attention given to the broader structural changes affecting bilateral relations. The Senkaku Islands, known in China as Diaoyu Islands, consist of five islets and three barren rocks in the East China Sea contested by Japan, the People’s Republic of China (henceforth China) and the Republic of China. Neither China nor Japan’s sovereignty claims based on history are rock-solid and the historical grey zones help corroborate the respective national narratives, although Japan presents a stronger claim on the basis of international law, given its consistent effective control of the contested archipelago.

In January 1895, during the tumultuous final stages of the first Sino-Japanese war, the victorious Meiji government quietly incorporated the Senkaku as terra nullius (vacant territory), and placed them under the jurisdiction of Okinawa Prefecture. However, China claims that Japan surrendered the Diaoyu as part of Taiwan following World War II, in line with Tokyo’s acceptance of the 1943 Cairo Declaration. According to its provisions, territory acquired by Japan from the Qing dynasty shall be restored to China. Thus, China claims that Japan obtained the archipelago only in April 1895, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, with the island of Formosa, or Taiwan. Documentary evidence disproves that the Senkaku have been Japan’s «inherent territory», since the Meiji government had waited for the final stages of the Sino-Japanese war to secretly incorporate the islands, and since the Japanese government had never made the act of incorporation public. Indeed, Japanese documents prove that prior to late December 1894 Tokyo exerted caution over asserting its claims over the Senkaku Islands for fear of provoking Qing China.[4] The Meiji government’s caution and its calculated silence over the act of incorporation weakens Japan’s historical claim over the islets.

On the other side, protracted and effective administration by Japan throughout most of the 20thCentury vindicates Tokyo’s claims in light of international law. Since it excluded the Senkaku Islands from Chinese maps, China implicitly acknowledged Japanese sovereignty until 1971. This was one year before the end of the U.S. exclusive lease over the Okinawan archipelago, which Washington had obtained through the post-World War II San Francisco Peace Treaty. In 1972 the U.S. returned the Senkaku to Japan along with the Ryukyu Islands. As mentioned, China’s late claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 1971 was partly a response to the end of the lease by the U.S., but it was also a reaction to the recognition of possibly rich hydrocarbon reserves in the East China Sea around the Senkaku Islands. Strengthening Japan’s claim, according to the provisions of a 1972 U.S. Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) the Japanese government has been granting the U.S. a lease over two Senkaku islets to use as a firing range.[5] Together with the 1972 reversion, these facts seriously question Washington’s neutral stance over the territorial row, and corroborate the Japanese government’s claims on the basis of international law.

At the same time, the Japanese government demonstrated flexibility to facilitate the swift normalization of diplomatic ties with mainland China in 1972. Back then, Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei responded to Premier Zhou Enlai’s call for «shelving» (tana-age) the issue of territorial sovereignty with an «unspoken understanding» (anmoku no ryōkai) that had continued to guide Tokyo’s stance over the territorial dispute. But, eventually the Japanese government refused to acknowledge the existence of this unofficial understanding or that this had guided Japanese policy since 1972. It used this denial to negate that there ever was, nor is, any territorial dispute. The islands were Japan’s. Period. However, evidence –including oral testimonies by former Japanese diplomats– has proven otherwise.[6] In late December 2014 a declassified British government document provided an authoritative confirmation of the existence of the tacit Sino-Japanese understanding over the disputed islands. In 1982, none other than Prime Minister Suzuki Zenkō detailed the gentlemen’s agreement between the Japanese and Chinese leadership to Margaret Thatcher, who was seeking advice on the conduct of negotiations concerning the reversion of Hong Kong to China.[7]  Moreover in 1978 when the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Tokyo and Beijing was being reviewed, Japan reiterated this tacit understanding during the negotiations. It brought clear benefits to both sides. A weak China was content with Japan’s indirect acknowledgement of the existence of a dispute, while Japan would quietly extend its effective control over the Senkaku, cementing the legal foundations of its claim and avoiding a row with its economically attractive neighbor. More importantly, both states had a common interest, albeit not with the same priority, in countering the Soviet Union’s influence in East Asia. In other words, post-1972 Sino-Japanese cooperation reflected the imperatives of international politics, as both parties never seriously undermined the tacit agreement throughout the end of the Cold War.

Importantly, discreet efforts at maintaining the 1972 status quo progressively eroded due changes in the domestic and international environments taking place after the end of the Cold War in 1991. Japan’s slow growth as an advanced and mature economy contrasted with China’s ever-more confident rise in economic and political terms. Thus, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, China progressively enjoyed increased strategic latitude in East Asia. On the other side, Japan’s continued reliance on the United States’ support gradually gave way to a more assertive foreign policy concerned with defending core maritime interests. The changed strategic landscape also favored the resurgence of nationalistic tides, to such an extent that rising nationalistic waves of different intensity, origins, and impact had rocked bilateral relations since the early 1990s.[8]Thus, for instance, China’s 1992 Law on Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone explicitly included reference to the Diaoyu Islands as part of Chinese national territory. Tokyo sternly protested the claim, but consistently avoided a rupture to the status quo for the reasons mentioned above. Further on, the early 2000s witnessed a quiet bilateral standoff over the extraction of hydrocarbon resources in the East China Sea, the dispatch of a growing number of oceanographic research vessels there, and the November 2004 incursions of Chinese submarines in Japanese territorial waters.[9] These negative developments coincided with the progressive chilling of political interaction, brought on by mounting nationalistic outbursts and by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō’s repeated visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine.

Conversely, in the mid-2000s, the consolidation of the Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao leadership coincided with China’s substantial openings to Japan, since they both favored stable good-neighborly relations. According to David Lampton, Hu and Wen were informed by a «cooperative internationalist» outlook, to concentrate on the adjustment of domestic inequalities while maintaining high economic growth. Thus, the creation of a «harmonious society (hexie shehui)» had to be linked with a «harmonious world (hexie shijie)», for pragmatic and realistic purposes. To this end, the most outstanding point of friction in China’s new diplomatic outlook, namely, its relations with Japan, needed to be corrected.[10]  The Japanese government took advantage of this window of opportunity to inaugurate in 2006 a Sino-Japanese détente that rested on a framework of tit-for-tat cooperation: the awkwardly named «Japan-China Strategic, Mutually Beneficial Relationship» (nicchū senryakuteki gokei kankei, henceforth SMBR).[11]  Within the SMBR framework, the Japanese government successfully pushed for an agreement in principle on the joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea, announced in June 2008. While not touching upon the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, this agreement constituted a major Japanese victory at the negotiating table, since it suggested China’s implicit acknowledgement of Japan’s claims over the demarcation of the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones in the East China Sea. In his memoirs, then Administrative Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Yabunaka Mitoji argues forcefully for the «significant importance of this agreement to Japan, in light of (China’s) acceptance of Japan’s long-standing claims».[12] A similarly proud account of the bilateral negotiations transpires from the biography of then Foreign Minister Kōmura Masahiko.[13] Yet, in what marked a setback for Sino-Japanese relations, the Chinese Marine Surveillance agency stationed two vessels in the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands for nine hours in December 2008.[14] This first ever such intrusion by Chinese official vessels into the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands probably represented a reaction by hawkish minority political factions and interest groups against the major concessions announced in June 2008. The vessels had appeared just before the inaugural Japan-China-South Korea trilateral summit that took place in Fukuoka, Japan, to the surprised consternation of Premier Wen Jiabao.

As the 2008 agreement failed to materialize into a bilateral treaty and tensions rose, the Japan-China SMBR framework progressively turned into an empty slogan. In fact, China’s assertive maritime policy, Japan’s mismanagement of the 2010 crisis and the badly-timed 2012 nationalization of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – both at the hands of the Democratic Party of Japan-led (DPJ) administrations – gave the mortal blow to the status quo premised on the afore-mentioned «unspoken understanding». The Kan Naoto administration’s decision to press charges against a Chinese fisherman, who was responsible for intruding in the Senkaku/Diaoyu waters and ramming his boat against two Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessels, constituted an important step backward for bilateral relations. This incident cornered the Hu administration down the pathway of economic and political retaliation. In fact, China’s muscle-flexing over the incident and its total misrepresentation in the state-run media, according to which it was the JCG vessels that rammed into the defenseless trawler, highlighted the growing clout of nationalistic hardliners in Beijing. [15] Indeed, Japanese and U.S. China-watchers trace back China’s assertive behavior to late 2009, when the country overtook Japan as the world’s second wealthiest economy. Sustained high-level economic growth in China and the dismal state of its post-financial crisis competitors, most notably the U.S., served only to strengthen Chinese policymakers’ confidence in regional security matters or, more simply, to embolden hardline interest groups that were previously a minority.[16] It is worth noting that Beijing’s retaliatory measures paid off: the Japanese government backed down by restituting the boat and by releasing the captain back to China without a formal indictment. More recently, on September 11, 2012 the Japanese government announced the acquisition of three of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese citizen. While the aim was to thwart plans to build on the islands launched by former Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarō, the Noda Yoshihiko administration wholly mismanaged it and simply provoked the Chinese charge of aggressive nationalization – the more so since the announcement came just two days following a bilateral meeting between Hu and Noda on the sidelines of APEC, several days before the anniversary of the Mukden Incident (September 18, 1931), and only two months before the delicate leadership transition staged during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As a consequence, the nationalization served only to legitimize bolder and more assertive Chinese action. Ever since September 2012, China has sent naval and aerial forces in the proximity of disputed waters on a regular basis, with the aim of challenging Japan’s effective control and pressuring Tokyo publicly to acknowledge the existence of a territorial dispute. This stance was symptomatic of China’s new-found willingness to abandon a cautious foreign policy course and make fuller use of the leverage provided by its might and its wealth, to maintain its territorial integrity. Japanese policymakers would not accede to Chinese demands to reverse to the status quo ante or acknowledge the existence of a dispute and instead embarked, under the new Abe administration, into a quiet «game of chicken» characterized by steady reciprocal escalation.

  1. Standing Up to China: Abe and Yachi’s China Strategies

Within the above-sketched broader structural changes, I posit that Abe’s political leadership effectively stirred the rudder of Japan’s foreign and security policy into a definite course. I find that the late 2012 comeback of Abe Shinzō witnessed the re-enactment of security strategies aimed at balancing China’s rise, strategies that were almost identical to those pursued under his first administration and under his oversight as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary.[17] The Abe administration’s foreign policy executive centered on the figure of Yachi Shōtarō, who had served as Administrative Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2005 and 2008, and subsequently as special advisor to the Cabinet and Japan’s first National Security Advisor.[18] The impressive consistency and impact of their foreign and security initiatives, which I will detail below, underlines the undisputed role of human agency, with its idiosyncrasies and cognitive structure in the Japanese decision-making process. In addition to Abe and Yachi’s own personal leaning, the subject of last year’s essay, this section demonstrates that their earlier personal interaction with Beijing in the mid-2000s informed the same maneuvering following their ascendance to power. For this reason, I sketch an original, brief and preliminary historical reinterpretation of the road to the 2006 Sino-Japanese political détente on the basis of new documentary evidence and first-hand accounts.

Given Abe and Yachi’s shared conservative colors, their self-confidence in the management of diplomatic affairs, their ill-concealed preference for a strategic Realpolitik, and their almost presidential conduct of foreign policy – one that was often clouded in secrecy and premised on room bias – to me the relationship appears similar to the historical collaboration of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, although Abe likely depended more than the former U.S. President on the input provided by his external advisors.[19]  Diplomatic propriety required Abe and Yachi to insist publicly on the «(international) rule of law», «engaging China» and «leaving the door open for dialogue with» China, but Abe and Yachi’s writings indicated a clear preference for power politics, deterrence and coercive diplomacy as useful tools to mollify Beijing’s positions.[20] The late Japanese diplomat Okazaki Hisahiko, whose traditional strategic and geo-political thinking impacted greatly on both Abe and Yachi, once remarked: «[take] the 2006 Arc of Freedom and Prosperity (detailed below), it does not mention China, but clearly aims at encircling China. [That’s] just like the 1907 Triple Entente, which aimed at encircling Germany, but has no explicit reference to Germany».[21] Like Nixon and Kissinger’s overtures to the USSR, Abe and Yachi were the unlikely candidates for inaugurating the 2006 détente with Japan’s main strategic adversary; the Japan-China SMBR détente had its own set of linkage policies, but rested on the solid foundations of power politics. Both the English and Japanese literature fail to appreciate the undercurrents of power politics behind the inauguration of the SMBR, with the partial exception of China scholar Anami Yūsuke, who nonetheless joins the chorus of scholars who identify Japan’s China policy back in 2006 as mainly a policy of China engagement.[22] In fact, if there ever was engagement, it came from a conciliatory Hu administration.

Indeed, China’s conciliatory stance towards Japan in the mid-2000s I see as an attempt to soothe tense political ties in response to Japan’s increasing resort to Realpolitik – the progressive hardening of the Japanese government’s foreign and security policy in tandem with the U.S. government. This was evident from the landmark February 2005 joint statement of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (also known as 2+2 meeting) where Japanese negotiators had insisted on including repeated reference to China.[23] Wording there encouraged the «peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait through dialogue», as well as «improving transparency of its [i.e. China’s] military affairs».[24] According to a former U.S. State Department official, language in those February and October 2005 joint statements «was considered significant and somewhat provocative».[25] In addition, the U.S. aimed by then at enhancing cooperation among its regional security partnerships, by linking the bilateral alliance spokes to one another.  In response to these developments, China’s 2006 White Paper on defense noted: «The United States and Japan are strengthening their military alliance in pursuit of operational integration. Japan seeks to revise its constitution and exercise collective self-defense. Its military posture is becoming more external-oriented».[26] As the environment became more hostile towards China, Chinese openings in the mid-2000s thus aimed at: i) driving a wedge between a progressively conciliatory second George W. Bush administration and a less accommodating Abe administration; ii) deterring the development of a security architecture in the Asia-Pacific that targeted China, such as the nascent U.S.-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral entente. This proposed entente was an Abe initiative that Canberra, Delhi and Washington would eventually nip in the bud to avoid provoking Beijing;[27] and iii) assuaging a growing sense of Japanese wariness that would have allowed swift passage of Abe’s bold security agenda. In short, China’s overtures were tactical remedies to a more ominous security environment: a behavior that somewhat reflected Beijing’s progressive softened stance with its neighbors since mid-2014.

As a consequence, China agreed to what was called the 2006 Japan-China «Strategic Mutually Beneficial Relationship» framework. As mentioned, this was premised on tit-for-tat cooperation, but China made substantial concessions in the negotiations towards the afore-mentioned agreement in principle on joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea. Abe, in return, needed to assuage China’s historical sensitivities and, above all, abstain from Prime Ministerial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine on an ambiguous «don’t ask, don’t tell» fashion that avoided politicizing the issue. That is, Chinese policymakers agreed to a face-saving solution that entailed silence on the Yasukuni issue and public praise for post-war Japan’s peaceful path. Leaked U.S. State Department cables shed partial light on the nature of the bilateral understanding leading to the establishment of the SMBR.[28] At the same time, the second Bush administration quietly expressed its concerns over Abe’s revisionist credentials and sent veiled warnings directly to soon-to-be Prime Minister Abe about the negative impact of history-related issues on U.S.-Japan relations.[29] This important detail – revealed for the first time in last year’s essay[30] – highlights Washington’s earlier concerns on the negative spillover effects of the history issue in Japan’s relations with both South Korea and China; these concerns prompted the second George W. Bush administration in playing a brokerage role to defuse and avoid entanglement in potentially explosive Sino-Japanese animosities. Thus, while Tokyo had traditionally pursued a more sympathetic China policy compared to its ally, Japan and the U.S. have often traded roles in the early 21st Century, even before the Japan-China standoff over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

At any rate, China was likely unaware of U.S. pressure and as a result Abe de facto renounced his visits to the controversial war shrine during his first mandate. It is worth noting that Yachi was in charge of negotiations that brought about the Japan-China SMBR and that his trusted diplomatic task force negotiated the agreement in principle on gas fields, announced in June 2008, but agreed upon several months earlier. [31] China’s resumption of summit diplomacy and deepened political cooperation with Japan on Tokyo’s terms, confirmed the beliefs of Yachi and his team about the effectiveness of power politics.

Hence, Abe and Yachi later acted on the seemingly vindicated conviction that a «resolute stance» (kizen to shita taido) was conducive to taming Chinese power, thus bringing Beijing to the negotiating table on favorable terms. They also thought that minor concessions on the territorial dispute would only whet Beijing’s appetite, and favored a policy of resolute «strategic patience», accompanied by a Realpolitik designed to balancing the Chinese threat.[32] In short, Abe’s foreign and security posture tackled China’s rise through external and internal balancing: the former aimed at deepening Japan’s security relations with strategic states, first and foremost the U.S., the latter centered on expanding the scope of Japan’s power projection and augmenting the centralized policymaking capabilities centered in the Kantei, the Prime Minister’s office. A high-ranking Australian diplomat in Tokyo commented in 2013 «Japan has been seriously advancing a China strategy in the past year».[33] Yet, an almost identical strategy was at play several years earlier. In the mid-2000s a Yachi-led MOFA inaugurated overtures to maritime states in the peripheries of the Eurasian continent, most notably India and Australia, often through the interested intercession of the United States. Yachi’s grand strategy presented a clear geo-political footprint that referred to the founding fathers of modern geo-politics, such as Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman. In fact, his attempt at establishing a network of Sea Powers along the Eastern portion of the Eurasian rimland reflected, as he explicitly recalled, the thought of Alfred T. Mahan, according to whom naval powers were essential in keeping in check a continental power’s advancement into the seas.[34] Similarly, in 2006-2007 Abe pushed through sweeping security reforms and would later resuscitate all of the initiatives, which did not succeed back then, under the same handpicked foreign and security policy executive.

As opposed to the situation in the mid-2000s, both Japan and China engaged in a bilateral standoff following Noda’s 2012 nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, since both parties expected their counterpart to make a concession first. The highly sensitive nature of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute and China’s new-found confidence as the world’s second wealthiest economy led the newly-inaugurated Xi Jinping administration to similar strategies, premised on identical assumptions: nominally, that Japan will «chicken out» and make concessions, since it needed China more than vice-versa. As a consequence, the Sino-Japanese «game of chicken» brought along a slow but steady escalation in the two states’ moves in the security, economic and communication chessboards. Since my previous year’s essay highlighted Japan’s economic statecraft and the domestic and international implications of Abenomics, the following sections will focus mostly on Tokyo’s security and communication efforts in the year under review.

3.1.Longing for «Normality»: Abe’s Quest for a Powerful Japan 

Although scholars usually assess Abe’s earlier one-year mandate as a half-baked failure, his prime-ministerial leadership was responsible for substantial policy changes in the security field then as it was in 2013 and 2014. This reflected Abe’s personal distaste for the traditional bottom-up process of policy-making, in particular the meddling of the bureaucracy. Back in 2006-2007 Abe set the security agenda and shepherded through the Diet three pieces of legislation that reflected his security priorities: the first bill upgraded the Defense Agency into a Ministry; the second spelt out the administrative details in preparation for a confirmatory referendum on Constitutional amendments; the third facilitated the implementation of the 2006 U.S.-Japan roadmap for realignment of U.S. forces. The Cabinet was not responsible for drafting these laws, as was the case in the Kantei-led legislation pertaining to Japan’s participation in the «War on Terror». [35] Yet, Abe placed the bills high on the Diet agenda, and pressure from the Prime Minister’s office favored smooth passage in the Diet. Read the testimony of the then-U.S. Ambassador Schieffer’s glowing secret report card on Abe’s security agenda in his first six months: «Abe’s successes in passing legislation and implementing policies that strengthen Japan’s security and defense posture are unprecedented. Abe and his LDP team have smoothly passed bills that would have been virtually impossible even 10 or 15 years ago».[36]  Following his comeback, Abe consistently pushed through with his security agenda with the same intensity. So much so that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the leading U.S. impresario for  Abe’s security reform package, echoed Schieffer’s excitement seven years later: «No democratically elected leader, in 550 days, has ever achieved the changes in security policy that  Abe has achieved».[37] Abe’s aims were consistent throughout: recovering Japan’s «normality» as a Great Power that does not shy away from playing a larger role in the international arena, and that is able to more autonomously address the challenges posed by a rising China.

The rapidly evolving international environment reinforced Japan’s security renaissance, as evident in the explicit and consistent reference to U.S. decline and China’s ascendance in key official security documents. At the same time, the very pace of Japan’s updating of its Japan’s National Defense Policy Guidelines (NDPG, formerly NDPO) – 1976, 1995, 2004, 2010 and 2014 – was indicative not only of the ever-changing security challenges resulting from an increasingly multipolar post-Cold War regional order, but also of the greater say enjoyed by political leaders in the security policy-making process. Thus, similarly to the Advisory Panel on National Security and Defense Capabilities (henceforth NSDC) in charge of formulating Japan’s National Security Strategy (NSS), the 2010 NDPG reflected the input of politically-appointed advisory groups, rather than the more traditional decision-making process centered on bureaucratic politics and U.S. pressure.[38]Shortly, a changing international structure and the gradual structural change in Japan’s policy-making machine facilitated Abe’s imprint in formulating his domestic security agenda.

In late 2013 and 2014 the Abe government successfully implemented major initiatives that would drastically change Japan’s security policy. In December 2013, it established its first National Security Council modelled after that of the United States and passed a new and strict State Secrecy Protection Law that was enacted in December 2014.[39] In the same month, the Japanese government issued new National Defense Policy Guidelines (NDPG, formerly NDPO), and Medium-Term Defense Program (MTDP): the former defines Japan’s longer-term defense policy, the latter details its defense policy and development of military capabilities for 2014 to 2018. In addition, the NSDC panel chaired by Kitaoka Shinichi, with Yachi as deputy chair, produced Japan’s first-ever National Security Strategy.[40] In particular, under the banner of Japan’s «proactive contribution to peace» (sekkyokuteki heiwa-shugi) Tokyo would step up its efforts not only in UN-led security activities, but, more importantly, in safeguarding regional security in tandem with the U.S. and key Asia-Pacific states. For that purpose, the NSS provided a comprehensive account of the government’s objectives, the perceived security environment and the foreign and domestic policy means to achieve said-objectives.

In other words, the NSDC in charge of the NSS effectively produced a Grand Strategy, which attempted to concert domestic and international efforts towards coherent national goals: concretely this entailed a more muscular security policy in strong coordination with Japan’s Trans-Pacific ally and, possibly, other relevant regional actors. Observers should not have confused Japan’s foreign policy new mantra, «proactive contribution to peace», with a liberal vision for Japan in the 21st Century: virtually all members of the panel were proponents of a balancing policy that was in line with Abe’s vision. The positive, liberal-sounding branding was intended to render palatable to international and domestic audiences Japan’s more muscular security posture. After all, the concept of «proactive pacifism» clashed with the Prime Minister’s earlier insistence on «breaking away from the post-war regime» (sengo rejīmu kara no dakkyaku), a concept that implied the rejection of the notion that Japan’s «pacifism» made it exceptional and declaring Japan to be a Great Power like any other autonomous Great Power. In fact, Abe had to be convinced of the merits of using the slogan «proactive contribution to peace»,[41] since he thought of it as diluting his rejection of traditional «pacifism». Away from the public stage Abe confirmed his appreciation for power politics.

Another major reform that reflects both the structural imperatives and the imprint of the Abe administration was the government’s April 2014 decision to substantially relax Japan’s arms exports’ control system. In fact, while the Noda government’s 2011 relaxation of Japan’s 1976 (quasi) total ban on arms export issued a set of comprehensive exemptions, the 2014 guidelines altogether ditched the total ban. The Abe government’s «Three Principles Concerning Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology» underplayed the scope of change from their very name. These promised to: 1) prohibit arms transfers to states involved in international conflicts and to those that breach U.N. Security Council resolutions; 2) allow exports following NSC-led government screenings; and 3) require Japan to vet any diversions of destination or different end-use of the technology. In this, the Japanese government was particularly sensitive about  diversions to China, as highlighted by the failed tank sale to Turkey.[42] The new guidelines will certainly increase Japan’s profile through joint development with key strategic partners and empower its indigenous defense industry. Yet, specialists on arms export controls agree that insuring proper end-use and preventing diversion has always proved arduous, if not altogether impossible.[43] The decision to assign licensing responsibility for sensitive cases to the newly-established NSC may also prove problematic. Given the NSC’s strong affiliation with Kantei, political factors will cloud its export decisions; all the more so since decisions will be taken behind closed doors, and without any obligation to record its minutes.[44] Moreover, Japan’s relative inexperience and seemingly limited overseas intelligence-gathering capabilities may hamper accurate assessments. At any rate, a comparison with the arms export regulations and practices of other states, including those with similarly minimalistic security postures, such as Germany and Sweden, showed that common practice often resulted in the sanctioning of exports to controversial destinations. This depended also on the structure of the arms export market following the global financial crisis, where most of the new demand for advanced weaponry came from new middle-income economies and rising powers with an imperfect track-record on human rights, and trade diversion.[45] Since domestic norms and identity still curtailed full-blown «normality» in the security field,[46] there existed the possibility of a domestic backlash against the newly formulated guidelines. For this reason, Japanese policy-makers had to walk a fine line between enduring domestic sensitivities on one side, and economic and strategic interests on the other. For all of the above reasons, Japan’s arms export decisions throughout 2014 were limited to reliable import countries, who provided solid guarantees on end-use and control, and with whom Japan often enjoyed a strategic relationship.

Finally, the July 1, 2014 Cabinet decision that allowed Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense was the most consequential security-related reform undertaken by the Abe administration. The Italian Constitution has a similar pacifist complexion, but Italy’s rejection of war as a means for the settlement of international disputes had the qualification that it should not impede the deployment of its military force to maintain «a world order ensuring peace and justice among the Nations», usually with the mandate of «international organizations furthering such ends».[47] Abe’s new interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 arguably brought Japan in line with Italy’s position. But this is not exactly the case. Tokyo’s reinterpretation limited Japan’s involvement in collective security and endowed the country with the universal, inherent right of collective self-defense, enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. In an even narrower sense, it allowed a limited use of force to aid friendly countries under attack, and when said-attack threatened «Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (sic)». At the same time, the Cabinet decision calls for «legislation which enables necessary support activities to armed forces of foreign countries engaging in activities for ensuring Japan’s security or for peace and stability of the international community».[48] This major change will grant greater integration and cooperation between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and the military forces of friendly countries, mainly the United States. Arguably, it also aims at increasing Japan’s appeal as a reliable security partner to strategic states such as Australia and India, by allowing greater military engagement in regional, if not global, non-combat security activities. The decision had substantial implications for U.S.-Japan relations: it paved the way for seamless defense cooperation, and «jointness» between the two military machines, thus enhancing Japan’s deterrence vis-à-vis China.

3.2. Longing for «Normality» II: Washington’s Quest for Alliance Burden-Sharing

Away from the limelight, U.S. alliance handlers and official government policy certainly pushed for and facilitated smooth passage of Abe’s major security package. U.S. prudence vis-à-vis Beijing (detailed below) and budget cuts to U.S. military spending implied that Japan had to chip in with an ever greater share of the joint defense «burden» of the alliance. In fact, according to former assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis Management Yanagisawa Kyōji, it was indicative that U.S. military cuts for fiscal 2015 vis-à-vis 2012 corresponded to more than one year and a half of Japanese defense budgets, which contributed to Abe’s sense of urgency.[49]   Thus, given mounting dependency on its ally’s military protection throughout the post-Cold War, the Japanese government faced ever more serious incentives to «hug» the U.S. and concede to its requests for alliance burden-sharing that went beyond substantial cash contributions.[50] U.S. active involvement in directing the Japanese policy debate towards that particular direction was evident from the inception of the second Abe administration, although most of it was understandably not done in public. There was a rare instance of overt public acknowledgement to that effect, when in January 17 2013, U.S. Ambassador John Roos delivered a speech which stressed that Japan’s inability to come to the rescue of its ally, due to constitutional impediments, would have de facto entailed an end to the U.S.-Japan alliance.[51] U.S. government and pro-government activists also pushed forward Abe’s quest for collective self-defense (CSD). A key question was whether the government coalition’s «pacifist» member, the Komeitō, would accept it. One of its Diet Members revealed the flurry of personal visits by prominent American U.S.-Japan alliance handlers to convince the party leadership to be «on board» the July 1 Cabinet decision. Also included were informal meetings with the Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission.[52] These examples testified to Washington’s consistent push for greater Japanese military support to the bilateral alliance.

Yet, the Center for Strategic and International Studies-sponsored Armitage-Nye reports were the policy documents that had the greatest impact on Japan’s security agenda. Their bipartisan consensus and their authors’ prestige endowed these reports with great authority. They publicly spelled out the U.S. government’s policy desiderata, without being a U.S. government publication and, free from diplomatic protocol that demanded respect of another state’s sovereignty, the reports’ tone veered on the patronizing. Thus, on August 15, 2012 the third Armitage-Nye Report, U.S.-Japan Alliance, Anchoring Stability in Asia, wrapped its policy recommendations into a dramatic wake-up call: «In our view, tier-one nations have significant economic weight, capable military forces, global vision, and demonstrated leadership on international concerns. [Does] Japan desire to continue to be a tier-one nation, or is she content to drift into tier-two status? If tier-two status is good enough for the Japanese people and their government, this report will not be of interest».[53]  In a personal interview, Richard Armitage, trustee to the Center of Strategic and International Studies was conscious of its successes: «Joe [i.e. Joseph Nye] and I took a lot of satisfaction [from the three Armitage-Nye Reports]. Here is a Republican and a Democrat who worked through this thing seamlessly, never had a cross word between us, debated all the issues, and published our report. I don’t think any other civilians ever, non-governmental people, ever had reports that had that much effect on policy».[54]  In other words, the U.S. government’s desire for greater burden-sharing was so much the overwhelming consensus in Washington, that the CSIS report did not need be a government document: it merely reflected the U.S. taken-for-granted consensus. Yet, the fact that the two «Japan hands» had been in top government positions under the Clinton and Bush administrations, and kept acting as U.S.-Japan alliance handlers for different governments, including the Obama administration, gave the two documents a quasi-governmental allure, an aspect recognized by Joseph Nye: «I think the Japanese may have read more into this being a government wish list than was really the case».[55]By the mid-2000s, the reports were so influential that a recently-elected Abe had obtained, through the intercession of CSIS-based U.S.-Japan alliance manager Michael Green a delaying of publication of the second Armitage-Nye report to early 2007.[56] In an interesting historical twist, the same Abe would later push for a security agenda that reflected the mainstay in the bipartisan reports, the key elements of which remained the same throughout. Prime Minister Abe’s 2013 delivery of a public speech at CSIS following a bilateral summit with Obama further underlined the para-governmental allure given to the reports and the think-tank that sponsored them. Abe’s insistence then on Japan’s status as a «tier-one nation», a message that was also tailored back home, was testimony of the reports’ influence.

3.3. The Tenability of Abe’s Security Agenda and the Demographics Problem

The verdict on the endurance of Abe’s security agenda is unclear. The previous sections have highlighted the impact of political leadership in foreign and security policy-making, as manifested by Abe’s consistent and successful passage of his idiosyncratic security agenda, beginning in 2006-07. This was evident with regard to the earlier vagaries to endow Japan with the right of collective self-defense. Yanagisawa Kyōji, a former Defense Ministry official seconded to the Kantei as Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary, recalled being presented in 2007 with a ready-made set of recommendations of the blue ribbon advisory panel in charge of devising the legal framework for allowing collective self-defense. This was the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security. Yanagisawa would later attend all the panel meetings as rapporteur and lament the lack of legal experts on the Constitution.[57] However, Abe’s first administration ended before the committee’s final report and was succeeded by a considerably more prudent and milder Prime Minister, Fukuda Yasuo. When Fukuda was presented with the panel’s prescriptions for allowing the exercise of CSD he decided altogether to stonewall them, to the consternation and anger of prominent panel members.[58] Only in 2013 would Abe resuscitate the advisory panel with almost the exact same composition.

In fact, the markedly more restrained stance of previous DPJ and LDP-led administrations, such as the Fukuda administration’s (2007-2008) conscious decision to ignore and therefore kill (mokusatsu) Abe’s earlier CSD and NSC initiatives, left the door open for further policy change following Abe’s departure.[59] On one side, Abe’s extended political mandate following the December 2014 snap elections will allow him to consolidate earlier changes. In 2015, pertinent domestic legislation and the subsequent U.S.-Japan Security Guidelines – the equivalent of a ratification-free new security treaty – will enshrine and de facto institutionalize Abe’s security reforms. On the other side, low popular support for Abe’s changes of Japan’s defense policy was symptomatic of an enduring popular allergy against security issues, and a well-rooted antipathy against international military intervention, even only in non-combat activities. Perhaps more importantly, an evident gap between Abe’s objectives of turning Japan into a Great Power and the country’s actual material capabilities, such as demographic (hence long-term economic) capabilities, seriously questioned the long-term resilience of Abe’s agenda.

Indeed, Japan’s serious shrinking population problem remained unresolved. According to forecasts at the time of writing, Japan’s population will shrink by a third by 2064, while less than 2% of Japanese citizens and permanent residents were of foreign origin in 2014, an incredibly small figure compared to other rich economies.[60] The substantial increase of foreign residents needed to halt sinking natural population change (i.e. the number of births minus the number of deaths) implied a revolutionary immigration reform: in 2013 alone the population shrank by 244,000 while the number for new foreign citizens/permanent residents was around 10,000. In other words, the government needed to welcome more than 200,000 immigrants per year to keep pace.[61] A Herculean task the Japanese government demonstrated no intention of tackling. In fact, immigration remained a social taboo. Interviewed on primetime TV, Abe was unwavering when he held up a NO (batsu) signboard to throw open Japan’s doors, and added: «In countries that have accepted immigration, there has been a lot of friction, a lot of unhappiness both for the newcomers and the people who already lived there».[62] In fact, Japanese authorities still understood immigration as a temporary measure tied to particular economic circumstances, for instance in preparation of the Olympic Games in 2020. For these reasons, there were no incentives for companies to integrate and train foreign human resources employed in Japan, implying scant innovation and low human capital. On the demand side, short-term contracts and a short stay also meant low consumption, since foreigners would save for remittances and business activities back in their country of origin. Pundits often mention an increased use of robots as a possible remedy, but forget that a market economy thrives on supply and demand, that is, consumption is equally important to maintain the business cycle.

The lack of responsiveness on immigration policies is explained by a variety of factors. According to Atsushi Seike, five main reasons and popular fears work against a relaxed immigration policy:  i) the high costs connected with integration policies; ii) the loss of social stability and worsening of public security; iii) the likely decrease of the overall salary levels; iv) the formation of a closed society with immigration ghettos; v) and the ever-present anxiety over the dilution of Japanese culture.[63]In the author’s view, these anxieties rang particularly true in Japan, given the susceptible perceptions of its risk-adverse society, which is proud of its «particularism».[64] For these reasons, the Abe administration diverted attention from the sensitive topic and pushed, instead, for relaxed measures for highly-skilled immigrants to gain permanent residence and for greater participation of women in the workforce. The economic impact of these measures, however, will be limited.

In the author’s view, domestic concerns with the principal country of origin of immigration, China, reinforces the taboo. Paradoxically, one of the most integrated communities in Japanese society was the Chinese one. An overhaul in immigration policies would have entailed a substantial intake of Chinese immigrants, thanks to the incentives they faced. It makes perfect economic sense to employ domestically a cheap Chinese labor force that hailed from one of Japan’s biggest trade and investment destinations. Since the Chinese community is the largest foreign group in Japan, (674,230 as of June 2013),[65] relocation of new immigrants from continental China is made easier by extensive family networks. However also because   of diffuse national animosity against China, the demographic issue was altogether jettisoned from the national agenda. Abe’s intention to re-build Japan’s military strength recognized the perils of a Japan caught between the Scylla of a rising China and the Charybdis of a declining U.S., whose commitment to its ally’s security cannot be taken for granted indefinitely. However, overt governmental debate about immigration did not dwell either on the need for, nor on Japan’s long-term ability to deploy its military strength.  Comprehensive and detailed long-term policy and strategic documents, such as the National Security Strategy, simply did not refer to the issue.

3.4. The Logic of Playing Chicken:  Japan’s External Balancing and Economic Statecraft

In tandem with bolstering their own military capabilities and defense posture, Japanese policymakers sought to confront China by deepening and widening the net of Japan’s security ties with other states. The new Abe administration took up the geo-political strategy inaugurated by a Yachi-led MOFA in 2005 and 2006: the so-called Arc of Freedom and Prosperity was briefly rebranded as Japan’s «Asia Security Diamond». Later it was raised, at least in name, to the level of a global rather than regional strategy as the «Foreign Policy based on a Panoramic Perspective of the World-Map» (chikyū zentai o fukan suru gaikō).[66] It is here worth reminding the reader of the importance of Yachi’s previous interaction with Beijing: his belief that a powerful Japan that extended its network of strategic partners to deter assertive Chinese behavior, would succeed in softening Beijing’s posture.

For this and economic reasons, Abe travelled extensively and became the Prime Minister with the highest number of states visited on official diplomatic missions, hitting the record of 49 countries visited by September 2014.[67] There were multiple strategic overtures. The one strategic opening that promised the highest returns was between Russia and Japan: Abe’s five personal summits with Vladimir Putin aimed at finding a solution over the disputed territories, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and as Northern Territories in Japan. An eventual Peace Treaty would, in fact, have increased Japan’s leverage and allowed Tokyo to reorient more of its military forces towards its South-Western flank, to counter China’s advancement into the seas. Yet, the Ukrainian crisis forced Japan to side with the U.S. government’s sanctions policy. It did so, however, with much limited enthusiasm, leaving the door for a landmark agreement still ajar.[68] At the same time, many of these diplomatic missions were merely symbolic, if not altogether cosmetic. An instance of the latter was the display of supposedly strong personal bonds of trust between ‘Shinzo’ and other foreign leaders, including notoriously aloof ‘Barack’.[69] Similarly, Japan’s granting of prestigious ‘heads of state’ receptions to key foreign heads of government did not necessarily translate into concrete results. This was the case, for instance, in Japan’s relationship with India. After all, in 2014 the regional presence of the Chinese economy, both as an investor and as a trading state, had risen to formidable levels. India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had China’s market and investment in mind when he courteously refused to inaugurate a Ministerial-level 2+2 Japan-India Strategic Dialogue between the countries’ Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries. The failure to conclude a Japan-India civil nuclear agreement and a deal on Japan’s export of a search-and-rescue aircraft further testified to the summit’s limited results. Still, Modi’s visit was high on the media-hyped «bromance» between fellow nationalist state leaders, and led to a not properly-defined Japan-India «Special» Strategic and Global Partnership, whose major effect as of late 2014 was a resumption of joint military exercises.

What was new in Japan’s 2013-2014 China strategy was its economic component. Abe’s insistence on the perceived economic strengths of Abenomics and of an eventual China-less Trans Pacific Partnership aimed at proving both to Beijing and Japanese public opinion that China needed its neighbor more than vice-versa. As former moderate Ambassador to China, Niwa Uichirō stated in a 2014 book: «We should absolutely not look down on China, but at the same time Japan ought not to be too shy. […] It is still possible for Japan to improve its position in the Chinese market, because China would also find itself in a dire situation had it not received technology and assistance from Japan».[70] According to this reasoning, Japan need not make political concessions to safeguard its economic interests with China; on the contrary, it could take advantage of China’s ill-concealed economic problems. This view attracted a great deal of attention among the Japanese public and informed the second Abe administration’s economic «game of chicken» with China.[71]In addition to the security nexus implicit in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, Japan also aimed at revising its Official Development Assistance (ODA) charter to allow a more strategic use of official government aid, for instance to training foreign armed forces.  At any rate Tokyo was already making a strategic use of its ODA policy, by targeting key regional Middle Income Economies and providing yen loans for constabulary equipment. In 2015 Japan will provide the Philippines and Vietnam, two states that faced heated standoffs with China over disputed islands in the South China Sea, with Japanese patrol boats, already agreed to be funded from the ODA budget.[72] At the same time, China’s parallel and historic inauguration of huge and China-centered international development banks, such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the «BRICS Bank», clearly signaled Beijing’s interest in challenging the Bretton Woods model based on the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Economic statecraft aside, Abe and Yachi’s diplomatic strategy consistently followed the earlier one. Its first pillar consisted in the restoration of strong coordination and cohesion with its U.S. ally to augment the coercive tools at Tokyo’s disposal. To that effect, although the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia lost steam following the 2013 departure of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, on April 24, 2014 Abe secured a clear statement from the U.S. President confirming that «[the] treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands»,  as well as official support for Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense.[73] These signals were a manifestation of the Obama administration’s willingness to fully reassure its most important Trans-Pacific security partner, after some evidence of Washington’s ambivalence towards Tokyo throughout 2013.

The U.S. gave ostensible military support for Japan over the disputed islands in the form of repeated statements by Secretary of Defense Hagel, joint military exercises tailored at a Senkaku scenario, and symbolic gestures of resolve such as the flying of B-52 bombers there following China’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. But the second Obama administration viewed Abe’s return to power with apprehension from its inception. Washington feared entrapment in a potentially explosive Sino-Japanese confrontation, as a result of both Tokyo’s and China’s stances. Washington was initially reluctant to update the Defense Guidelines and also refused to even discuss the merits of Japan acquiring offensive capabilities, a shift in Japan’s military doctrine that would have entailed an overhaul of the alliance framework – a refusal which testifies to U.S. doubts back in 2013.[74] Testimonies from American U.S.-Japan alliance handlers substantiate this view: in a Sankei Shinbun interview former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was highly critical in pointing at «President Obama’s initial apprehension towards the Abe administration, although U.S.-Japan relations were much better than during the DPJ government».[75] A former high-ranking U.S. government official conceded that the Abe administration’s uncompromising stand vis-à-vis Beijing, peppered with both veiled and direct references to the history issue, was highly troubling to the Obama administration and other regional partners, to the point «that U.S.-Japan relations were in better shape under the Noda-led DPJ administration».[76] The Democratic Obama administration also fretted about Abe’s nationalistic stance and his revisionist views on history, fearing they might further damage Japan’s relations with China and South Korea – a U.S. treaty ally. Washington’s stance became evident on the occasion of its public condemnation of Abe’s December 2013 visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.[77] Arguably, Abe misread Obama’s increasing resolution against China following Beijing’s November 2013 unilateral declaration of its East China Sea ADIZ.

Convergence with Japan’s position depended on Washington’s gradually-hardened posture vis-à-vis Beijing in 2014. In early 2014 U.S. government officials dropped reference to Beijing’s calls for a «New Type of Great Power Relations» (xinxing daguo guanxi), fearing it would have emboldened China and perplexed U.S. regional partners, first and foremost Japan. Washington’s stance against China seemingly hardened. Thus, the U.S. actively pushed back China’s attempt at declaring the ADIZ in the South China Sea.[78] Possibly due to the mid-term elections, the Obama administration brought criminal charges against five officers of the People’s Liberation Army for cyberattacks aimed at U.S. corporations. They were beyond the reach of American law, but their public naming and shaming was again a demonstration of Washington’s increasingly resolute stance towards China.[79] Assuming a smooth passage of Abe’s security agenda, the Japanese and U.S. governments also explored ways to reform the alliance’s operational guidelines to allow a greater Japanese contribution to regional security. Preliminary reports also speculated that the new U.S.-Japan Security Guidelines would have permitted joint patrols in the South China Sea with Japanese, U.S. and possibly Australian cooperation as well.[80] In addition, in 2014 Tokyo and Washington started discussing the merits for Japan to acquire offensive strike capabilities, although the issue was discussed on a track separate from the guidelines negotiations. Thus, while bogged down with the Ukraine crisis, the Obama administration was signaling its resolve to maintain stability in East Asia, in particular by providing incentives for the more active involvement of its security partners, such as Japan and Australia. The latter demonstrated proactive leadership and interest in joining Japan under the new conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

3.5.   The Logic of Playing Chicken II: «Beefing Up» Japan-Australia Security Relations

The forceful neo-conservative premiership of Abbott responded with enthusiasm to Tokyo and Washington’s calls for enhanced security cooperation, as the U.S.-centered hub-and-spokes model was gradually giving way to «intra-spoke» cooperation. Former Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the U.S. NSC, Michael Green confirmed that Washington was in charge of the arranged-marriage (omiai) between Australia and Japan back in the mid-2000s. Security cooperation began between rotational Australian troops in charge of protecting relief JSDF operations in Iraq. Subsequently, the Australian government decided to build a security partnership with Japan under the leadership of Andrew Shearer, foreign policy advisor to then Prime Minister John Howard. U.S. efforts were reinforced when the U.S. former Ambassador to Australia, Thomas Schieffer, was subsequently seconded to Japan to smooth the road to security partnership between the United States of America’s closest security partners in the Asia-Pacific.[81]

However, after Abe and Howard signed the landmark Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2007, successive Australian Labor Party governments were typically more lukewarm. They understood the merits of not taking sides in the mounting Sino-Japanese dispute. A high-ranking Australian diplomat remarked that Australians were disconcerted to hear Tokyo’s repeated use of the word «quasi-alliance» (jun-dōmei) to define Japan-Australia relations.[82] That said, when Howard’s neo-conservative protégé rose to power in September 2013 and embraced deepened security ties with fellow conservative ‘Shinzo’, observers felt a strong sense of déjà-vu. In all likelihood, the further deepening of the Japan-Australia security partnership under the Abbott and Abe administrations, presented the same dynamics recounted above: active U.S. intercession, and top-down decision-making in both Tokyo and Canberra. This was another fascinating example of history repeating itself, not least because of the presence of the very same Japanese foreign policy executive.

The strategic partnership between Japan and Australia was repeatedly stated to be born out of shared values. The same foreign policy team under Abe’s first and second administrations had presented Japan’s foreign and security policy as based, on the primacy of universal values, democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of navigation – values not typically associated with Japan’s traditionally pragmatic approach to foreign policy. In fact, late Ambassador Okazaki’s response to an American journalist on the question of Japan’s foreign policy principles aptly summarized the endurance of Japan’s geopolitical imperatives: «The histories of our two countries are different. Your country was built on principles. Japan was built on an archipelago».[83] Again, it is worth noting that Okazaki was Abe’s mentor in security affairs and his thinking impacted greatly on Yachi. In turn, the public insistence on the rule of law and the like clearly sought to establish the legitimacy of Japan’s standing as a status quo Great Power, which consistently upheld the post-war liberal order. They also intended to undermine China’s unilateral claims in its multiple territorial disputes, as attempts to erode the foundations of such a liberal order and, finally, to legitimize the overtures to strategic partners. It did not matter that these principled claims meant condoning self-serving double standards, such as the 2005 U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, in contravention of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. At the same time, Abe and Abbott’s neo-conservative colors point at the reasons behind the qualitative differences in Japan’s two new special relationships: while Japan and Australia benefitted considerably from being stakeholders of the current international order, not so India whose leaders were more skeptical.

Thus, Tony Abbott’s visit to Tokyo with ‘head of state’-treatment – the first leg of the Australian prime minister’s North-East Asian tour – succeeded in capping bilateral negotiations for an economic partnership agreement (EPA) kick-started in 2007 under the first Abe Shinzō administration. This historical free trade agreement (FTA) opened Japan’s market to considerable competition from a large exporter of agro-alimentary products, most notably beef. Yet, Tokyo was able to retain its tariffs on frozen and chilled beef around a favorable twenty percent level and obtain tariff elimination on automobiles exported to the Australian market. Abbott’s prioritization of a trade deal favorable to Tokyo’s terms was welcome news for Japan, as the Australia-Japan EPA affected the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. With the Japan-Australia EPA signed, U.S. negotiators were also under pressure to reach a compromise, rather than offer less to Japan’s requests in the TPP negotiations for tariff exceptions in the agricultural sector.

With regard to security cooperation the two sides agreed to «elevate the bilateral security and defense relationship to a new level».[84] To that effect Tokyo and Canberra resumed the Foreign and Defense Ministers’ «2+2» consultations in June 2014 and Abe made a highly significant state visit to Canberra. Unlike the Japan-India Special Strategic and Global Partnership, Tokyo’s expectations for greater security cooperation were met by the Australian counterparts and Abe and Abbott inaugurated a «special» strategic partnership that also had substantial consequences. Thus, the Abbott government pushed for a considerable refurbishing of Australia’s submarine fleet with ultra-quiet diesel-powered Japanese submarine technology. Prime Minister Abbott also displayed its appreciation of Abe’s security agenda by attending a meeting of the newly established Japanese NSC, and allowing joint training of amphibious forces stationed near Darwin, close to South East Asia. The Abbott government also opened up the possibility of Australia taking part in sea-borne tracking and intercepting operations through its ballistic missile capabilities.[85]Finally, Abe was granted the opportunity to address the Australian Parliament during his visit, the first ever for a Japanese Prime Minister. On that particular occasion he was able to showcase Japan’s humility over the wounds of history between Japan and Australia: «When we Japanese started out again after the Second World War, we thought long and hard over what had happened in the past, and came to make a vow for peace with [our] whole hearts. We Japanese have followed that path until the present day».[86] To the astonishment of his audience, Abe also did not shy away from spelling out the tragic encounters between Australian and Japanese troops: «Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan».[87]

Why did nationalist Abe address Japan’s historical legacy? He certainly aimed at dispelling fears of a revisionist Japan in the eyes of Australian public opinion. In addition, the speech hinted at Abe’s willingness to look to the future, rather than the past. He cited the words of an Australian prime minister responsible for restoring Japan-Australia relations following WWII: «It is better to hope than always to remember».[88] I argue that Abe is yes a consistent revisionist nationalist, but he was also moved by a Nietzschean ressentiment, a psychological state based on suppressed feelings of envy and hatred precisely because it seemed impossible for Japanese nationalistic revisionists like himself, to be granted the status of  a «normal nation» (futsū no kuni), proud of its history. According to this particular understanding, Abe and the revisionist camp (wrongly) understood the ROK and China’s insistence on Japan’s past atrocities merely as a politically-oriented attempt to undermine the Japanese people’s natural patriotism and national pride.[89] By contrast, Abe was willing to acknowledge Australia’s forgiveness and willingness to move forward, a typically Christian approach to historical traumas. When he said: «We in Japan will never forget your open-minded spirit nor the past history between us» he implicitly was sending a message to his neighbors, but one with very little effect. China’s insistence on the history issue, coupled by Abe’s domestic display of his revisionist credentials, gave a much less promising picture of the prospects for historical reconciliation. Quite the opposite as Japan and China continued to engage in heated reciprocal accusations.

  1. The «Propaganda Dilemma» and the Power Politics of Voldemort

As a result of the continued standoff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese and Japanese governments found themselves embroiled in an additional type of «game of chicken», what I and China scholar Aurelio Insisa have labelled a «propaganda dilemma». Both sides feel vulnerable to the other’s hostile international and domestic public opinion warfare, respond by increasing their propaganda security, and thereby increasing the propaganda insecurity of the other. They respond by insisting on the righteousness of their position over the territorial row and by intensifying their negative campaigns against the other, thus, fostering a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing antagonistic criticism. This process is fuelled by the Realist logic that the standoff depended first and foremost on building up domestic resolve against the opposing state. At the same time, the Japanese and Chinese governments sought international support that would reverberate with their respective domestic audiences.[90] More simply, Tokyo and Beijing exchanged verbal fire to win the support of foreign governments and international public opinion.

Similarly to Abe and Yachi’s afore-mentioned security overtures, past-interaction with China shaped recent policy decisions in this sphere as well. For instance, and virtually unnoticed elsewhere, the propaganda wars coincided with Tokyo’s preliminary arrangements for its 2015 bid for a Non-Permanent Seat at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), with the future prospect of reforming the UNSC altogether, an objective high on the Koizumi/Abe agenda back in 2005.[91]The Japanese government needed to reinforce its PR machine in preparation for the looming 70thanniversary from the end of World War II, given that ten years earlier, at the 60th anniversary, Tokyo was generally thought to have lost to Beijing’s propaganda campaigns. Back in 2005, the then-Japanese Deputy Permanent Representative  to the United Nations, Kitaoka Shinichi, who would later chair the commission in charge of the National Security Strategy (NSS), attributed to Beijing’s pro-active use of the «history card» its success in undermining Japan’s earlier bid for a seat as a UNSC Permanent Member.[92] China’s vehement opposition and media campaigns forced Japan to abort its plans, although the Italy-led United for Consensus initiative was, arguably, the driving force against the G-4 UNSC reform proposal. On the basis of enduring goals and past experience, the December 17, 2013 NSS dedicated a whole section to «Strengthening the Domestic Foundation of National Security and Promoting Domestic and Global Understanding» with two sub-sections entitled «Boosting Communication Capabilities» and «Reinforcing the Social Base». This foundational document paved the way to Tokyo’s major communication strategy and Tokyo’s giant neighbor was high on the Japanese government’s priority list.

Indeed, inflammatory Sino-Japanese public diplomacy characterized 2014 from its inception. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) seized upon Abe’s controversial pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine of December 26, 2013 and immediately crafted an international campaign, which turned into Japan’s recently-formulated communication strategy’s baptism of fire. This campaign aimed at denouncing the dangers of a militarist and revisionist Japan that acted in defiance of the world order created after the victorious war against fascism. By early February, as many as 73 Chinese ambassadors had already penned editorials or granted interviews along the above lines, inviting stern Japanese rebuttals, and counter-criticism in favor of Japan at a global level: from the United Kingdom to the Republic of Fiji![93] Notably, in January 2014 the two governments’ ambassadors to the UK compared the counterpart in newspaper commentaries with «Voldemort» the root of all things evil in the famous Harry Potter series, and exchanged accusations on prime time TV on a popular BBC show devoted to current affairs.[94] The discussion was incredibly heated and, similarly to the above case, Japan’s campaigns were often in response to those initiated by China’s assertive propaganda machine.

Recent original scholarship has pointed to the spiraling nature of discursive animosity between the Chinese and Japanese governments. [95] Nonetheless, it fails to recognize the international power politics and domestic politics behind this progressive construction of antagonistic identities, that is to say the Realist underpinnings of discourse-making. Specific to Japan, previous research employed broad constructivist theories of International Relations to underline how domestic public discourses since the end of the Cold War have increasingly constructed Japan’s state identity in relation to an antagonistic or aberrant Chinese counterpart («Self» versus «Other»). Japan specialists have looked at antagonistic narratives taken from war memorials,[96] the media,[97] as well as political and public debates,[98] to contend that the sedimentation and active re-construction of such discourses eventually define Tokyo’s foreign policy options vis-à-vis Beijing. Contrary to the constructivist literature, I argue that an eminently political logic rooted on the very Realpolitik of Sino-Japanese competition, and on Abe’s worldview and previous interaction with Beijing, determined Japan’s widespread and often indirect denunciations of China when addressing international and domestic audiences. Thus, I contend that the diffusion of negative discourses is symptomatic of Sino-Japanese friction rather than an underlying cause of the same.

Importantly, the flaring up of the Japan-China battle for the sympathies of informed public opinion in turn cemented novel domestic institutions, which echoed the chorus of voices from the government and media organs lamenting Chinese behavior. Given practical, budgetary, institutional and ideational limitations to Japanese remilitarization, I contend that talks of a Sino-Japanese «security dilemma» let alone of an indigenous Japanese «military-industrial complex», are premature.[99] On the other hand, by 2014 a Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma» had already taken shape, with booming expenses and voices dedicated to strategic communication. Along with the «propaganda race», I argue that a «governmental-institutional-media complex» concerned with the neighboring «Other» was also slowly taking root. This section will provide evidence from 2014 to substantiate this novel insight, with specific reference to Japan. It will highlight the centrality of governmental and political actors as «identity entrepreneurs» involved in re-constructing Japan’s «Self» and the Chinese «Other».[100] While some scholars have pointed at the importance of identity politics behind Japan’s relations with China, they failed to notice the basso continuo of power politics, nor did they operationalize the active involvement of political actors in discourse-making. This section intends to better understand these dynamics and underlines the substantial role of the Prime Minister’s office in discourse-making.

I argue that the Japanese government devised novel strategies in reaction to Chinese propaganda warfare and assertive behavior, in turn shaping the politics of Japan. Without proffering Voldemort’s name, the 2013 National Security Strategy spelled out the broad rationale behind these strategies, with international and domestic audiences in mind: «At a time when the global security environment is becoming more complex and diverse, it becomes increasingly likely for countries to have conflicting interests» and «in order to promote its security policy from a medium-to long-term perspective, it is imperative that Japan proactively and effectively communicate its policy to the world and its people».[101] A former MOFA analyst’s plea for confronting China’s «public opinion/media, legal and psychological warfares» aptly summarizes the Japanese government’s rationale for beefing up its communication efforts in tandem with its hard power: «We must realize that soft counter-measures at the expense of hard capabilities will not solve the problems. At the same time, the ‘three warfares strategic’ concept teaches us that hard material capabilities alone will not suffice, […] we need both material and spiritual measures (to confront China’s strategy)».[102] Moreover, the surfacing of a «propaganda dilemma» soon after the nationalization of three Senkaku islets almost coincided with the inauguration of the Abe administration, and shaped the very domestic politics of Japan. In fact, the diffusion of parallel, mutually antagonistic discourses helped consolidate Abe’s power domestically and partly contributed to legitimizing the speedy passage of major reforms in Japan’s security policy. Almost identical dynamics shaped China’s domestic politics since late 2012, when Xi Jinping quickly rose to power and came to be regarded as China’s most influential leader since Deng Xiaoping.

This chapter provides extensive empirical evidence that substantiates this original framework to better understand developments in this fascinating, if worrisome, aspect of Sino-Japanese relations. Following a short outline of the Sino-Japanese negative discourses, I briefly sketch the Chinese government’s domestic and international initiatives. The next sections will then look at the Japanese government’s international and domestic communication efforts. Finally, I explore the role of Japan’s mass media in reproducing the China obsession at the domestic level.

4.1. Sino-Japanese Narratives of «Self» and «Other»

Prior to detailing the Japanese government’s communication efforts, I provide a brief outline of the discourses in question. It is possible to disentangle a set of mirror images that characterize Japan’s images of «Self» and the Chinese «Other»: i) the first paints Japan as a benign and peaceful power pitted against an assertive China, on the lines of the exchange between the two ambassadors to London; ii) the second stresses the revisionist nature of the counterpart as a challenger to the international liberal order, while depicting the «Self» as a status quo country that loyally abides by international law; iii) the third highlights Japan’s political modernization as the first Asian country to uphold universal values, such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, implicitly highlighting the differences with autocratic China, which had surpassed Japan’s economy in 2010.[103] Such themes were evident from Abe’s official statements throughout 2014, although references to China were typically oblique. In fact, the Japanese government carefully avoided naming China, not unlike the fictional Lord Voldemort, whose name should never be proffered. On the contrary, the Chinese government’s arguments were typically more negative in character and accusatory in tone, but somewhat mirrored the content of Japan’s narratives. In lieu of democratic values, Chinese discourses highlighted Japan’s historical amnesia as a mirror of its neighbor’s supposedly aggressive behavior.[104]

Both governments were active in constructing the above-mentioned converging negative images, albeit with important differences. China insisted on issues related to Japan’s imperial legacy, while the Abe administration highlighted China’s violation of the international rule of law. Reflecting the spirit of the «propaganda dilemma», China progressively insisted on war-related nationalism and narratives of victimhood for domestic and international political gains. This was evident from the Chinese government’s decision in early 2014 to institutionalize and memorialize the anniversaries of its victory against Japan and the Nanjing Massacre. On December 13, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese President to publicly commemorate the brutal events at the hands of the Japanese occupiers in Nanjing. Less noticed, the Chinese central and local governments re-opened historical wounds that did not previously figure in the state-sanctioned narrative of the second Sino-Japanese war.[105] For instance, in April 2014 a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official hinted at the new obstacles to bilateral reconciliation when he stated that: «There are three history issues left between Japan and China: the disposal of chemical weapons [dating back to the second Sino-Japanese war], forced labor, and the comfort-women issue».[106] In early 2014 Nanjing City’s decision to preserve its old comfort station, Asia’s biggest, pointed at China’s novel sensibility towards the issue of wartime sex laborers, not all of whom should, however, be identified as «sex-slaves».[107] Chinese authorities had also demonstrated a novel position with regard to plaintiffs who had been or whose relatives had been forced laborers. The Beijing district court agreed in 2013 to hear denunciations and petitions that had been rebuffed for decades. These domestic dynamics, undertaken both at the national and local level, contributed to crystallizing domestic antipathy against Japan.

China’s insistence on raising historical issues also had political implications in the international arena, as seen from its 2005 interaction at the UNSC. In the year under review, Beijing launched a global political campaign against Abe’s Yasukuni visit, and successfully lured into closer relations South Korea (ROK) a key neighboring state, traditionally highly sensitive to the legacy of Imperial Japan. In late 2013 a memorial was inaugurated in Harbin, in northern China, to commemorate a South Korean independence activist, responsible for the assassination of Itō Hirobumi, one of the founding fathers of modern Japan who later became Resident-General of the Korean protectorate.[108] The emergence of the China-ROK common front on history was a new development that had important implications for the regional balance, to the extent that it considerably worried Washington, prompting active U.S. intervention to mend ties between Seoul and Tokyo.[109] At the same time, China’s attempt to win the sympathies of international public opinion bore mixed results. After all, Western public opinion paid, at best, scant attention, and while Western governments viewed with concern the irresponsible escalation that the Abe government’s ambiguous revisionist posturing partly contributed to, these were well aware of China’s use of the «history card» for diplomatic gain. China’s failed attempt at pitting Japan against Germany, the model penitent state, during President Xi’s state visit to Berlin in March was a case in point.[110]At the same time, I argue that the Chinese media’s insistence on the righteousness of Beijing’s international propaganda war against an «unrepentant» and «revisionist» Japanese government indicated that these supposed PR victories were for a large part also tailored for its domestic audiences.[111] As a result, in 2014 history and its public remembrance became ever more vivid and inflammatory during the Sino-Japanese standoff. Abe’s own silences, half-hearted apologies and ambiguous statements and the December 2013 Yasukuni visit contributed in reigniting nationalistic and accusatory vicious spirals. In line with Abe and Yachi’s China strategy, Tokyo unwaveringly responded with its own set of accusations. The escalation of anger was becoming evident in the two governments’ communication efforts.

4.2.     Tokyo’s «Information Dissemination on the Offensive!»

Reciprocal bilateral accusations at major international venues have provided for the full display of the Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma» and of the afore-mentioned narratives. One case in point was the 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, where Prime Minister Abe was granted the honor of delivering the keynote speech; Abe extolled the merits of economic reforms under the rubric of Abenomics, but devoted the second-half of the speech to selling Japan’s more muscular security policy in conjunction with the need to «rigorously maintain the (international) rule of law», necessary for the preservation of regional public goods, which include «fundamental values like freedom, human rights and democracy».[112] In addition, over the Q&A session with media representatives, Abe warned those present that economic interdependence was no panacea for inter-state conflict, as proved by the exacerbation of antagonism between the UK and Germany one hundred years earlier.[113] Here Abe intended to make a veiled equation of China with Wilhelm II’s Germany, a revisionist and autocratic continental power, pitted against the United Kingdom, a maritime power that upheld the pre-World War I international order. Chinese delegates responded in kind with their own historical analogies: they lamented Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine that hosted the spirits of 14 Class-A war criminals alongside those of about 2.5 million war dead, and lamented Japan’s history of imperialist aggressions against China.[114]Notably, Chinese participants in the 2014 Davos Summit outnumbered Japanese panelists and discussants two to one, and included heavyweights such as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, whereas hitherto Chinese government officials and representatives had tended to shun the winter Davos for China’s own Boao Forum and the summer Davos.[115] Sino-Japanese propaganda wars were on full display from the very beginning of 2014 and messages conveyed in prestigious international venues, such as Davos, had both international and domestic resonance. Exactly the same dynamics were at play five months later at the premier Asian security summit, the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue. According to IISS Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risks Nigel Inkster, China-Japan (and U.S.) finger-pointing replaced diplomatic speak for the first time in the Dialogue’s history.[116] In other words, the «propaganda dilemma» was a clear expression of the bilateral standoff.

In addition to a more declarative stance that defended Japan’s position, I note that the Abe administration oversaw the inauguration of novel institutions, budget provisions and legislation tailored explicitly at reinforcing Tokyo’s communication efforts on the questions of disputed territories, China’s aggressive behavior and the history issue. The existent academic literature fails to analyze the politics, intricate institutional webs and decision-making structures behind discourse-making in Japan, with the partial exception of textbook politics.[117] This essay aims to fill this important gap in the academic literature by highlighting the interplay between the international power politics of the Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma» and, in particular, Japan’s domestic politics.

Most importantly, Japan’s public relations’ efforts certainly benefitted from a massive budget allocation. In March 2014, the budget allocation for the sole Cabinet office with responsibility for the central government’s «public relations, public hearing activities and international PR» increased more than 50% from the previous year: from 4.4 to 6.5 billion yen. Moreover, the Cabinet office requested a 20% increase of its budget allocation for the new fiscal year.[118] In the same month the LDP established a Committee for the Assessment of International Information (kokusai jōhō kentō iinkai), and submitted a final report on June 17 with a rather eloquent title: «Information Dissemination on the Offensive!».[119] Finally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) inaugurated a new budget allocation, a new voice for «strategic information dissemination» which for the 2015 fiscal year amounted to a significant sum of 50 billion yen ‒ the equivalent of 421 million dollars (as per January 2014). To be sure, the money will be spent on new institutions devoted to cultural diplomacy, apart from explaining Japan’s positions on wartime history and its territorial disputes. At the same time, while the overall budget allocation grew by a meager 2,9%, resources devoted to MOFA-led cultural and public diplomacy more than tripled.[120] Five billion yen will be devoted to the establishment of «Japan Houses» in key cities with the aim of countering the rising tide of its neighbors’ initiatives, such as China’s «Confucius Institutes».[121] Japan Houses will first be established in São Paulo, London and Los Angeles, given their global reach, especially in content creation industries. Yet, this new initiative may suffer from elephantiasis and possibly politicization, since Japan already enjoyed massive firepower through pre-existing private Japanese foundations and governmental organs devoted to public diplomacy. For instance, London already hosted a small Japan Foundation office, and the successful and rich Daiwa Anglo-Japanese and Great Britain Sasakawa Foundations; the latter two institutions were all generous supporters of a variety of research projects and activities related to Japan and Asia in and outside academia. The key difference was that the new mega-institutions would have likely followed a centralized government-centered political agenda that risked excessive politicization.

In fact, similarly to other initiatives, the «Japan Houses» aimed at reinforcing the role of the Prime Minister’s office, in the diffusion of Japan’s public diplomacy. The decision to open six new embassies and two consulates abroad, the «most overseas facilities ever approved at one time» according to Foreign Minister Kishida, provided further evidence of the centrality of politics.[122]  In addition, the Prime Minister’s office was in the driver’s seat of external communication efforts, again in line with provisions contained in the National Security Strategy: «The Prime Minister’s office serving as the control tower, Japan will enhance its public relations in an integrated and strategic manner through a government-wide approach».[123] Specific to the afore-mentioned budget allocation to MOFA, a source close to the Prime Minister stated as follows to The Oriental Economist:  «This money is first and foremost for MOFA, but since the Prime Minister’s office is very interested in this topic, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will closely watch how this money is spent».[124] In fact, I find that lack of specifications of the type of activities to which the new Japan Houses will be devoted suggested not only the hastiness in establishing the new PR machine in 2014, but also the likelihood that the Prime Minister’s office will enjoy considerable freedom in deciding the content of the activities. The risk of excessive politicization of public diplomacy – an emphasis on defensive-revisionist campaigns in line with Abe’s thinking – was immediately proved by MOFA’s direct calls in early 2015 to the publishing company McGraw-Hill requesting revision of a U.S. history textbook   that briefly mentioned the so-called «comfort-women» issue.[125] This episode is strong evidence of the changed domestic balance of power on management of the history issue tilting in favor of Kantei. Only two years earlier, MOFA officials were quietly sabotaging revisionist policymakers visiting Washington by asking key U.S. handlers of the U.S.-Japan alliance to lecture their Japanese guests on the dos and don’ts of history.[126] Since then the evident outreach of the Prime Minister also in Japan’s communication campaigns has clearly been strengthened.

Further evidence of Abe’s proactive engagement in the Cabinet Secretariat was the establishment of a specific advisory group within the Cabinet Secretariat shortly after taking office, in March 2013. The so-called Advisory Panel on Communications Concerning Territorial Integrity aimed at strengthening the Japanese government’s domestic and overseas communication strategies over territorial disputes by offering key suggestions to improve outreach to domestic and international audiences through the diffusion of updated information on internet sites.[127] Interestingly, the panel included reference to the Takeshima Islands (disputed between Japan and the ROK) but avoided any mention of the Northern Territories/Southern Kuriles dispute between Japan and Russia, indicating a desire to enhance Tokyo’s flexibility at the negotiation table with Moscow in the talks about a possible Peace Treaty. Politics were clearly in command.

Japan’s active governmental public relations engagement was also discernable in the international academic and public policy worlds, not only at the domestic level. Firstly, the activities of major international, especially U.S., think-tanks were encouraged to reflect Tokyo’s messages, in return for donations, according to a Japanese diplomat.[128] Similarly, the Japanese government decided to endow three chairs in Contemporary Japanese Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown and Columbia Universities, in an attempt at fostering a new generation of Japan specialists within its strategic ally. Both initiatives aimed at countering the alarming decrease in international interest for Japan, compared with international interest for China and, to a lesser extent, South Korea. In fact, Obama’s National Security Council listed no «Japan hands» among its directorate. Finally, governmental efforts also aimed directly at the message. As soon as Abe rose to power the Kantei pushed for English translations of scholarly articles sympathetic to the official government’s line to boost Japan’s PR strategy.[129] One such case was the newly-established «Tōsho Kenkyū Jānaru» (The Journal of Island Studies), a selection of whose articles is also available in the sleek Japanese website and in its English equivalent: «Review of Island Studies». [130] The government-backed Ocean Policy Research Foundation started this publication in June 2013, as a result of the newly inaugurated Basic Plan of Ocean Policy, and its articles emphasized the leitmotivs enunciated earlier. At the time of writing the Japanese and English websites exclusively carried essays that reflected Japanese territorial claims against China, Taiwan and the ROK but, interestingly, with only passing reference to the Southern Kuriles/Northern Territories dispute with Russia. Politics were also in command of this scholarly initiative.

Finally, government officials legitimized the PR campaigns as necessary to catch-up with and respond to China’s massive firepower, thus highlighting the anxieties embedded in the Japan-China «propaganda dilemma». According to MOFA leaks to the conservative Sankei Shinbun, the Japanese PR machine was inadequate compared to its neighboring rival, since propaganda there rested on a rare synergy between the state-run media, academics and experts within the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.[131] In addition, interviews with U.S. and Japanese government officials confirm the newly intensified attention given to improving the appeal, and deepening the reach, of Japan’s public English-language broadcast channel, NHK World. In future it will be infused with a considerable amount of public funding to boost its programming in 2015. Both interviewees specifically pointed to the need to balance the global reach of the (unfortunately-called) CCTV News’ around-the-clock English broadcasting. An increased Japanese media presence was necessary.[132]

Again, these dynamics underscore the very nature of the «propaganda dilemma»:  the perception of Japan’s weakness vis-à-vis China’s communication strategy fed these public outcries for greater PR efforts. China witnessed highly similar wake-up calls, urging the merits of a more aggressive public opinion warfare – urgings based on the same feelings of inadequacy, and perceived weakness compared with its neighbor’s powerful machine.[133] As the above cases have demonstrated, 2014 saw the full-fledged ignition of the Japan-China «propaganda race», confirming the underlying power politics behind it.

4.3.           Toward a Patriotic Education

Finally, a moment needs to be spent on educational efforts. Abe’s educational and domestic agenda was primarily aimed at reviving Japanese citizens’ interest over disputed territories and awakening their lukewarm interest in national security, and gaining support for a more muscular security policy. Indeed, Japanese citizens consistently ranked national security legislation as of lesser importance than economic policy throughout the troubled period under review and viewed Abe’s security legislation with suspicion. Meager support for the July 1, 2014 Cabinet reinterpretation and a 10% decrease in the number of applicants to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, as a result of increased sensibility to risk, were clear indicators of that trend.[134] This implied that diffuse popular wariness of China did not coincide with popular approval of Abe’s security agenda. Higher popular sensibility towards China did not necessarily imply an embrace of Abe’s security policy, since Japanese citizens kept prioritizing bread-and-butter issues over an unpalatable security agenda. For these reasons, the Abe administration spent energy and resources on strengthening domestic resolve, a factor seen as equally important as other hard capabilities. It did so also by making full use of new institutional leverage for idiosyncratic policies.

Thus, for instance, with regard to messages tailored at domestic audiences, in March 2013 the Japanese government established a new five-year Basic Plan of Ocean Policy through a Cabinet decision. According to one of the main authors, Terashima Hiroshi, the new Basic Plan enshrines «increased education on maritime issues» as a founding principle essential in the formation of human resources. This would entail: «complementing elementary to high school curricula with education on maritime issues, promoting interdisciplinary and specialized training in tertiary education, strengthening the development of basic and state-of-the-art research, and developing tripartite cooperation among state, academia and industry».[135] Secondly, in January 2014, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), revised the guidelines for middle and high-school classes on geography, history and social sciences. Specific to the Senkaku, excerpts of revised guidelines for various classes state the government’s afore-mentioned rock-solid stance: «the fact that these are an inherent part of Japan which are under its valid control, and there exists no issue of territorial sovereignty to be resolved have to be understood»; «the facts that Japan lawfully incorporated (…) the Senkaku Islands based on the international law should be touched upon», and the like.[136] The islands were Japan’s. Period.

Education reforms were also part of Abe’s own blueprint to instill patriotic feelings in Japanese schoolchildren, consistent with similar efforts during his first premiership and his efforts at turning Japan into a Great Power. After all, conservative ideational goals also dictated the agenda in favor of a more patriotic education, and these goals reflected Abe’s personal political philosophy, according to which individual rights rested on the primacy of a strong nation-state capable of safeguarding them. Thus, for the purpose of building a resilient Japan, state education had to awaken citizens’ social consciousness and pride in their «beautiful country» – an ill-defined concept that provided the title and leitmotiv of Abe’s 2006 manifesto, his book, Toward a Beautiful Country.[137] A «beautiful Japan» however implied a revaluation of the country’s historical and geographical contours in line with the Prime Minister’s brand of nationalism. Moreover, Abe’s notoriously revisionist personal views on Japan’s Imperial experience remained controversial and constituted an additional driver to the administration’s education policy changes.

4.4.Japan’s Mass Media: Reproducing the China Obsession

After detailing the Japanese government’s own international and domestic communication efforts and the newly-inaugurated institutions devoted to these purposes, I address the role of the country’s major media outlets, of some importance, given the record-high consumption of news media in Japan. The country presents the world’s highest per capita circulation of newspapers, and is one of the top-performing OECD countries in reading literacy.[138] The media consumption market is dominated by five big news media groups, the so-called «Big Five». Through share cross-ownership each of the biggest newspapers is affiliated with a particular broadcasting channel and, although direct control is prevented due to domestic regulations, there are strong financial, personnel and news reporting ties between the five national newspapers and their national broadcast stations, all based in Tokyo.[139] Recent studies have shown that the role played by the mass media in heated security issues is increasingly important in Japan, firstly in being more closely reflective of public opinion and secondly in pursuing more defiant and independent editorial stances away from the official governmental line.[140] Finally, as it is clear from the variety of editorial and critical articles, editorial boards have become more active since the late ‘80s, also as a response to the growing influence of television media’s more sensationalistic and «infotainment» style of reporting and political debate.[141] In other words, the state of affairs of the Japanese media is not very different from other developed countries.

Notwithstanding the variegated media landscape, I posit that major newspaper companies have echoed the Japanese government’s stance over the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute and Japanese discourses vis-à-vis China, as part of a «governmental-institutional-media» complex that fanned Japanese references to a rising and bullying China. As noted already by Suzuki Shogo, major newspapers from opposing political spectrums have coalesced in denouncing an aggressive and autocratic China that acts in disrespect of international norms.[142] One reason must be found in the economics of traditional media. For instance, faced with the rise of free digital media, Japan’s major newspapers have suffered a steep decline in sales. Between November 2013 and May 2014 Japan’s biggest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun, lost about 7% of its market (i.e. minus 659,291 copies sold).[143] Thus, fiercer competition drove editors’ appetite for a more sensationalistic tone that was better attuned to growingly incensed general readership. The popularity of anti-China publications during the year under review confirmed the popular sentiment;[144] in fact, Japanese citizens’ impressions of China reached rock-bottom in the same year, as 93% of respondents to the yearly Genron NPO opinion poll reported unfavorable views of China, an all-time low.[145]While major Japanese dailies usually abstained from a sensationalistic tone more commonly found in their Western equivalents, the coalescence of the Japanese print media in focusing on a negative China image contributed to these dismal ratings: reinforcing a sense of contrast between a virtuous «Self» pitted against a hostile «Other».

Moreover, the year under review witnessed a major blow to the credibility of Japan’s main progressive news outlet, the Asahi Shinbun. The editorial stances of Asahi Shinbun were traditionally the most sympathetic to China’s positions and the most critical of historical revisionism among the five national dailies, drawing criticism from conservative and nationalistic circles. Prime Minister Abe had long considered Asahi his personal bête noire, and repeatedly attacked its former editor-in-chief Wakamiya Yoshibumi for his alleged «anti-Japanese writings», especially on the so-called «comfort-women» issue.[146] In the later summer of 2014 the newspaper admitted misreporting on two major stories – one related to wartime sex workers and the other on the behavior of Tokyo Electric Power Company in March 2011. These admissions invited fierce criticism not only from its competitors but also from the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister. The brouhaha caused by these retractions somewhat weakened the authority of those usually labelled as holders of shinpoteki, «progressive» views of history. It led to the resignation of the President of Asahi Newspaper, and to a surprising media campaign by the revisionist news outlet Sankei Shinbun, which had consistently claimed there never was coercion involved in wartime prostitution. In later September 2014, it appealed to new readers with a publicity stunt titled: «Sankei Shinbun: Reporting Based on Historical Facts» (Shijitsu ni motozuki hōdō).[147] Reflecting the blowing revisionist wind, in November the Yomiuri Shinbun apologized and retracted earlier articles that incorrectly used the term «sex slaves» for its English language newspaper.[148] Thus, evidence indicates that the Asahi blow fortified the revisionist camp, although decline in subscriptions to the Asahi Shinbun as at the time of writing was in line with general market trends.

Perhaps in response to the afore-mentioned market difficulties, evidence shows that the news media had closely reflected the broader structural trends of Sino-Japanese confrontation. For instance, in the early 2010s they all fell into line by always referring to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as «the Senkaku Islands, in Ishigaki City, Okinawa-Prefecture», underlining the «inherently Japanese» nature of the disputed territories. A personal e-mail exchange with an editorial writer at Kyodo News details Japanese media’s reacting to Chinese bullying and how they correlate with popular sensibilities, transmitted to evermore self-conscious Japanese news producers through online criticism via Twitter and 2Channel. Thus, in late September 2010 Asia’s biggest newswire service sent an internal notice to its reporters days after a Chinese fishing boat rammed Japanese Coast Guard ships on September 7, 2010.[149] It demanded that they should no longer write «Senkaku Islands (Chinese name: Diaoyu Dao)» but simply «Senkaku Islands». These minor changes in appellation in newswires and articles are significant because they a priori negate the existence of a territorial dispute, and by implicitly ignoring Beijing’s position they render China’s assertive behavior totally gratuitous. Interestingly, these changes have reverberated in Xi Jinping’s China, where mention of «Senkaku» on national broadcasting channels would have led to immediate termination of employment. [150] At any rate, Chinese media traditionally never mentioned the Japanese name along the Chinese one.

Heavyweights such as Niwa Uichirō, the moderate former Ambassador to China under the government of the Democratic Party of Japan, also disclosed personal disappointment with Japanese media’s China bashing. He deserves to be cited in full: «All Japanese media share a bias: they over-report news that portrays China negatively, pandering to the general public. Articles detrimental to China are extensive and given high visibility. Articles that convey a positive image are short and have low visibility».[151] Counter-intuitively, in view of gross generalizations that depict the internet as a panacea empowering individuals and citizens’ journalism, Japan’s web negotiated with pre-existing structures of power and privilege, [152] only to inflame Japan’s sense of insecurity and obsession vis-à-vis China.  Thus, for instance, under the Abe administration governmental agencies have devoted a larger chunk of resources to publicity via social media and official internet websites, thus allowing them to directly reach their intended audience. In 2014, one only needed to navigate the sleek official webpage of the Prime Minister’s Office to appreciate the Japanese government’s publicity efforts. Moreover, whereas four of the five major Japanese dailies had set up paywalls for their content, the notoriously conservative and China-bashing Sankei Shinbun remains, as of writing, the only free online news provider. The lower number of sold paper copies masks the popularity of the Sankei Shinbun on the internet, where its news feeds are provided to the popular MSN portal. While beyond the scope of this brief account, it is worth noting that news carried by highly popular weekly magazines (shūkanshi) have also increasingly gravitated towards China-bashing.  See, for instance, the right-leaning SAPIO’s September 2014 cover story, entitled «The nasty things China does in Japan». [153]

Was the conservative Abe government, then, merely reflecting wider popular and media refrains on China? In my view, the Japanese government was acting in tandem with popular anxieties, but often had the upper hand in framing the public discourse. Government agencies and the Prime Minister’s office made full use of a savvy media strategy premised on direct influence, as well as carrots and sticks. The Prime Minister’s dominant intervention was particularly evident in the case of NHK. Abandoning the traditional practice of appointment by diffuse LDP-business-bureaucratic decision-making, [154]  the Prime Minister and his entourage were directly responsible for the December 2013 appointment of NHK’s new Chairman and of four new members of the board, whose stance strongly reflected Abe’s revisionist agenda. The new NHK Chairman Momii Katsuto confirmed publicly and privately his allegiance to Abe’s historically revisionist agenda and, if there ever was doubt of the influence he wielded within the company, a veteran NHK journalist testified to the Chairman’s enormous influence on broadcast content and internal appointments.[155]  Abe also wielded indirect leverage: the Kantei granted one-to-one interviews with the Prime Minister and powerbrokers from the Abe administration to newspapers in line with the government’s stance, such as the Sankei Shinbun and the Yomiuri Shinbun, while shunning others.[156] In addition, the Prime Minister’s office provided scoops to loyal reporters covering the Kantei, while keeping out of the loop those from antagonistic newspapers, such as the liberal Tōkyō/Chūnichi Shinbun. An LDP lawmaker provides evidence of this mechanism with reference to scoops about the new Cabinet team, during the September 2014 reshuffle.[157] Moreover, Abe himself often met with prominent media figures in an attempt to domesticate the media watchdog, with clear implications for the conduct of Sino-Japanese relations. For instance, Abe’s informal dinner meeting with major political editors and writers on the same day as his controversial Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage successfully toned down Japan’s major news media’s criticism of Abe’s move.[158] Finally, the Abe government media strategy also targeted foreign journalists and news outlets. The last-minute cancellation of Abe’s press conference during to the 2014 ASEM summit in Milan due to the presence of one unsympathetic local journalist provides further evidence of the Kantei’s sensitive and successful media strategy. Confirming this trend, a well-respected foreign journalist noted that the LDP under the Abe government was particularly shy of press conferences at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, since «questions are entirely unscripted, and evasions can be challenged».[159]

Finally, it should be noted that Japanese news media has traditionally relied on official sources because of the so-called «press clubs» (kisha kurabu). These are reporters’ offices set up within major government, political and business organizations for member media to gain access to information. Access is usually limited to journalists from major local media organizations. Since reporters are stationed in the premises throughout the working-day, the press clubs arguably constitute an institutionalized form of «embedded journalism»: they tend to feed bias to pack journalism, reporters’ self-censorship and, more importantly, an osmosis between official sources and reporters. Critics contend that Japanese press clubs differ from the few Western equivalents because of the greater proximity reporters enjoy with their sources and the consequent higher reliance on the same. While much of the criticism rings true, it should be noted that earlier studies have found that as much as 80% of reporting in Western media is dependent on government sources, thanks to the governments’ need for the media’s capacity to spin and set the media agenda, while in Japan the figure has gravitated around a slightly higher percentage.[160]  At any rate, reliance on official sources is ever more inevitable for sensitive information, such as the presence of Japanese and Chinese military and constabulary forces in the East China Sea. In fact, research on Japanese media reporting of the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Seoul has found that major newspapers reported almost identical content, likely coming from the same official sources.[161] In sum, the media were also acting as a sounding board for government-sponsored messages at a time of undeniable Chinese assertiveness.

All things considered, it did not matter that both the Chinese and Japanese governments fired up PR efforts mostly out of defensive instincts: the «game of chicken» over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the renewed attention to the history issue unleashed, if not quite yet an arms race, a Sino-Japanese «propaganda race». Japan’s tactics in that race were characterized by its own set of discursive insecurities, by the creation of new institutions preoccupied with the righteousness of Japan’s territorial claims and with campaigns against China. These developments resulted in a budding «governmental-institutional-media complex» that had slowly hardened Japan’s discourses over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and crystallized around a China obsession. It remains to be seen whether that complex can be disentangled or disbanded following an eventual Sino-Japanese détente. In the author’s view, this complex maze of initiatives and institutions may obstruct the restoration of serious political trust or, at the very least, the resumption of a meaningful «Sino-Japanese Strategic, Mutually Beneficial Relationship».

  1. The Road to the APEC Summit and the Sino-Japanese «Cold Peace

As highlighted above, the Sino-Japanese standoff rose to new heights in the year under review. Quiet but steady escalation in the diplomatic, economic and communication arenas was paralleled by dangerously close encounters between the two countries’ military and constabulary forces. For instance, Chinese fighter jets flew within tens of meters of Japanese surveillance planes in the East China Sea twice in mid-2014.[162] Hardened popular animosity and the lack of a crisis communication mechanism, such as a bilateral hotline, amplified the risks that possible casualties might have led to serious confrontation. In addition, the standoff impacted on both the Japanese and Chinese economies: notwithstanding monetary easing and generous fiscal stimuli, a meager 3% increase of the consumption tax plunged Japan into a technical recession in the last two quarters of 2014. The resumption of a working relationship with China would have certainly favored Japanese exporters and multinationals. On the other side, Japanese investment to China shrank from $ 13.5 billion dollars in 2012 to $ 9 billion dollars in 2014. According to JETRO statistics, the final figure for 2014 investment would have entailed a further decrease of 40% from the previous year,[163] at a time of Chinese economic distress. For these reasons, the two governments sought ways to curtail further negative spillover effects and a possibly explosive incident in the high seas, leading to a set of joint, parallel statements and a frosty handshake between Abe and Xi on the fringes of the November APEC summit.

Quiet diplomacy paved the way for a compromise solution that saved face for both Abe and Xi. Two meetings, in particular, highlighted both governments’ efforts. The Chinese side communicated its willingness to halt the simmering escalation with Xi’s dispatch in April 2014 of Hu Deping, son of the former PRC’s former General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, a leader known for holding views sympathetic to Japan. The Japanese side responded in kind by sending the moderate former Prime Minister, Fukuda Yasuo, who in 2008 oversaw the public announcement of the key China-Japan joint statement and the agreement in principle on joint development of gas fields in the East China Sea. Later, articles revealed that Abe’s diplomatic brain and head of the National Security Council, Yachi Shōtarō also took part in meetings with CCP leaders, including the July meeting between Fukuda and Xi Jinping.[164] Thus, quiet Sino-Japanese diplomacy eventually paved the way to joint bilateral statements.

For resuming political dialogue with Japan, China required Tokyo’s recognition that a territorial dispute existed, and an assurance that Prime Minister Abe would not make another visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.[165] The two statements were a masterpiece of diplomatic finesse aimed at saving the face of both governments, since they constituted a set of joint parallel statements with different wording and nuances in the respective languages (and English translations). Adam Liff’s extensive and detailed analysis of the wording of the statements reveals that major differences on the most important issues persisted: most importantly, China would have not stopped sending its forces to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Japan would have not backed down.[166]

I posit that only one of the two conditions spelled out by the Chinese government was met: an understanding that Abe would not visit Yasukuni, possibly until the last days of his mandate. Employing as diplomatic envoy the milder Fukuda, whose public image as a pro-China statesman is untarnished, is evidence of such an agreement. In fact, Abe and Fukuda reportedly do not see each-other on favorable terms at a personal level, as evidenced by Fukuda’s antipathy for Abe’s maximalist stances on history and security. By going the extra mile to reset Sino-Japanese relations, I speculate that Fukuda should have received assurances from Abe that he will not lose face vis-à-vis the Chinese counterpart as a result of a sudden Abe pilgrimage to Yasukuni.  In fact, Fukuda maintained and likely wanted to hold considerable ties with the continent, including chairmanship of China’s Boao Forum. The presence of Abe’s diplomatic brain, National Security Advisor Yachi Shōtarō, to the July meeting with Xi likely reassured the Chinese leadership that the message came from Abe. Again, recent history between Japan and China aids the careful observer towards these conclusions. Through the so-called 2005-2006 «Japan-China General Policy Dialogue» (Nicchū sōgō seisaku taiwa), Yachi and his counterparts were able to defuse the Yasukuni issue by reaching a compromise solution, and, in exchange for what turned into a seven year-long quiet Yasukuni moratorium by sitting Prime Ministers, Chinese leaders conceded a public appreciation of Japan’s post-war path as a pacifist state. Interestingly, the wording of Xi’s statements during the informal bilateral summit implied recognition of the above, «I hope that Japan will squarely face the history issue and continue [emphasis added] to follow the path of a peaceful nation».[167] In other words, the two governments gave timid signs of reciprocity over the history issue, which was the premise to the 2006 post-Yasukuni détente.[168]

That said, the Abe government partially won this round of the Sino-Chinese «game of chicken». In the author’s view a Yasukuni visit would have been off limits in any case, given international condemnation in 2013 that included official U.S. «disappointment (shitsubō)» and because of the upcoming anniversary of the end of World War II. In fact, a prime ministerial visit to Yasukuni, at least around 2015, would seriously undermine Abe’s plans for a forward-oriented «Abe statement (Abe danwa)». The lack of clear Japanese concessions on the disputed territories, and concomitant signs of China’s decision to pull back from rows with its neighbors, indicated that President Xi partly followed in the footsteps of the Hu administration in the mid-2000s: it pursued a tactical decision to defuse confrontations in the face of a more ominous security environment, evidence of which has been provided throughout this essay. The lack of domestic political alternatives to the Abe administration –a conclusion reached also by Chinese Japan watchers seven years earlier–[169] convinced China of the need to compromise with its ever-more forceful neighbor. I stress this factor over other concomitant aspects that were likely at play. Certainly, after consolidating power within the CCP and the PLA President Xi enjoyed a freer hand for compromises on the international front, not unlike Hu’s more confident overtures to Japan back in 2006.[170] Yet, the proxemics and frosty atmosphere of APEC’s only «informal» bilateral summit, hinted at Xi’s concerns for playing down the event. After all, Abe was the political leader Chinese officials had previously labelled as persona non grata. At the same time, China’s apprehensive concern with the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, and the November vote of protest in local Taiwanese elections against the China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou administration, fuelled Beijing’s quest for a «cold peace» with its powerful neighbor. Abe and Yachi’s decision to go «all in» in their poker match with China paid off with a summit, where Abe conceded little. The two governments decided to circumscribe the standoff, but it remains to be seen how tenable will the budding «cold peace» be.

  1. Conclusion

This essay has underlined the Abe administration’s idiosyncratic responses to the China challenge and the broader changes in the international structure. Abe’s quest for a strong Japan showed his recognition of the precarious position of the country. Japan was caught between the Scylla of a rising China and the Charybdis of a declining U.S., whose commitment to its ally’s security could not be taken for granted indefinitely. Through an original historical reinterpretation of events in the mid-2000s, this essay has made the claim that previous personal interaction with Beijing informed the rationale of the policy stances of the second Abe administration’s strategy vis-à-vis China. Abe learnt from his previous government experience that he needed to focus on bread-and-butter issues to gain popular support at home, particularly given general antipathy for his security agenda. This essay has highlighted how the firm security agenda of Abe and Yachi –Japan’s equivalents of Nixon and Kissinger– premised not only on their worldview (the subject of last year’s essay), but on earlier personal interaction with Beijing. Since Beijing’s softened position in the mid-2000s was a result of Japan’s hardened stance, the more sensitive issue of disputed national territory required an ever more forceful reprise of earlier balancing strategies. Strong of its new-found leverage, China steadily raised its already high bets this time around.

As a consequence, the bilateral standoff spilled over also into the communication realm, with the Japanese government’s active engagement of the counterpart in what I have labelled a Sino-Japanese «propaganda dilemma»: acting on perceived weakness relative to the counterpart’s international and domestic public opinion warfare, both Chinese and Japanese governments upped the ante of negative campaigns and, in turn, fostered a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing antagonistic discourses. This section has pointed out the interplay between the broader international undercurrents of power politics and the forceful pro-activism of the Prime Minister’s office in promoting Japan’s domestic and international communication activities. The progressive formation of a Japanese domestic «governmental-institutional-media» complex, another original claim of this essay, contributed to the diffusion of negative narratives on Japan’s neighbor, also as an effect of growingly rock-solid stances in the public discourse over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

The November Abe-Xi summit and set of statements hinted at China’s somewhat softened stance vis-à-vis its prosperous, powerful and increasingly assertive neighbor under Abe’s stable leadership. Thus, a strong sense of déjà-vu permeated Abe’s China policy and Sino-Japanese interaction as a whole. However, Chinese intrusions in the waters around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands continued, and Tokyo continued to refuse to recognize the existence of a dispute. While bilateral accusations toned down from the early 2014 peak, public discourses were still heated at the time of writing. Furthermore, the tenuous understanding over history and Yasukuni, which facilitated the realization of the Xi-Abe summit, will be under stress in 2015. This will be the year of history, and among its many anniversaries, it is worth remembering the 70th anniversary from the end of WWII, and the 120th anniversary, that is two full Chinese sexagenary cycles, from the end of the first Sino-Japanese war, the war that de facto allowed Japan’s annexation of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Is a timid working agreement on history possible, given the new status quo of turbulent Senkaku/Diaoyu waters? In light of the afore-mentioned analyses, of the growing Japanese ressentiment and of the mutually reinforcing Sino-Japanese «propaganda wars», bilateral stability in this field can be successful only through reciprocity, timid signs of which were on display at the APEC summit. After all, China likely understood that Abe’s popularity depended primarily on lack of opposition and on his economic agenda, but also that reactive nationalistic ressentiment against China risked spilling over to the wider portions of society, thus crystallizing enmity. For these reasons, the broader international and domestic political underpinnings, and the reactive nationalisms underlying the history issue mandated active restraint and a temporary moratorium on official displays of history-related tensions, waiting for timid efforts at reconciliation in better times, once the dust had settled.

L’articolo si concentra sull’evoluzione delle relazioni nippo-cinesi in merito alla disputa territoriale delle isole Senkaku/Diaoyu, ripercorrendone la lenta escalation diplomatica e verbale, quindi la gelida stretta di mano tra Abe e Xi al summit APEC. Il capitolo, inoltre, ascrive il raggiungimento di una tenue «pace fredda» con Pechino alle strategie di Realpolitik perseguite dal Primo Ministro Abe Shinzō e dalla sua «task force» di politica estera, nell’ambito della quale un ruolo di primo piano è stato giocato da Yachi Shōtarō.

Sulla base di nuova evidenza documentale e di molteplici testimonianze orali, si dimostra come i precedenti successi della Realpolitik di Tokyo nel raggiungimento di un’autentica détente nel 2006 abbiano cementato l’ideologia di stampo marcatamente realista di Abe e Yachi, confermandoli nella convinzione che fosse necessario ammorbidire Pechino attraverso una decisa politica di potenza. Il saggio ascrive ad Abe un ruolo di primo piano nel determinare le riforme di sicurezza e le aperture diplomatiche del Giappone, pur se all’interno di una cornice strutturale basata non solo sull’ascesa della potenza cinese, ma anche sul malcelato incitamento di Washington affinché Tokyo ricoprisse un ruolo militare crescente.

Nel sottolineare l’inasprirsi dell’escalation verbale e propagandistica tra Cina e Giappone, ben visibile nel corso del 2014, si formula la tesi che questa possa essere letta come una «corsa alla propaganda», sostitutiva di una corsa agli armamenti. Si è trattato di una corsa che il governo Abe ha dimostrato di volere correre a perdifiato, con evidenti ricadute sul fronte interno. Sulla base delle suddette analisi, si prende infine in considerazione la tenuta della «pace fredda» sino-giapponese.


[1] This research has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the unwavering hospitality of Prof. Kitaoka Shinichi. I also wish to thank Akita Hiroyuki, Christian Wirth, Niall Coen, Matsubara Jikichirō, Maddalena Poli, Ronald Dore, Maria Paisley, Alessio Patalano, Sebastian Maslow and Karl Gustafsson for their valuable comments and support. All errors are my own.

[2] Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’ (Japan: Abe’s Comeback), in Asia Maior 2013, pp.409-444.

[3] ‘Shinzo Abe talks to The Economist’, The Economist, 5 December 2014.

[4] Reinhard Drifte, ‘The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands territorial dispute between Japan and China: between the materialization of the «China threat» and Japan «reversing the outcome of World War II»?’, UNISCI Discussion Papers n. 32, May 2013, pp. 12-13.

[5] ‘Experts: Treaties Complicate US Position in China-Japan Islands Dispute’, Voice of America, 5 September 2012.

[6] ‘Kuriyama Takakazu: Genjō iji – sōhō ga doryoku wo’ (Kuriyama Takakazu: Efforts from Both Parties in Preserving the Status Quo), Asahi Shinbun, 31 October 2012.

[7] Susumu Yabuki, ‘Senkaku «tana-age» Sacchā-Suzuki kaidan no kiroku ni tsuite’ (On the Minutes of the Thatcher-Suzuki Talks), 3 January 2015 (

[8] Giulio Pugliese, ‘The Resurgence of Nationalism in China and Japan: A Comparative Analysis’, in Orientalia Parthenopea, vol. X, Orientalia Editrice, Napoli, pp. 209-222.

[9] James Manicom, Bridging Troubled Waters: China, Japan, and Maritime Order in the East China Sea, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014, pp. 121-165.

[10] David Lampton, The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, pp. 8-36; 14-15.

[11] The full, official name is even more cumbersome: Japan-China Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests (nicchū kyotsu no senryakuteki rieki ni rikkyaku shita gokei kankei).

[12] Mitoji Yabunaka, Kokka no meiun (The Fate of the Nation), Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 2010, pp. 148-149.

[13] Eiji Ōshita, Kōmura Masahiko: ‘Shin no kokueki wo’ (Kōmura Masahiko: For the Sake of the Real National Interest), Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten, 2010, pp. 251-255; 157-159.

[14] Yoshikazu Shimizu, ‘Taigai kyōkō shisei no kokunai seiji’ (The Domestic Politics of a Hard-line Foreign Policy), Kokubun Ryōsei (ed.), Chūgoku wa, ima (China, at Present),  Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 2011, pp. 11-16.

[15] An authoritative and detailed account on the 2010 incident that does not spare criticism to both sides is: Akio Takahara, ‘The Senkaku fishing trawler collision incident, September 2010’, Akikazu Hashimoto, Mike Mochizuki and Kurayoshi Takara (Eds.), The Okinawa Question: Futenma, the U.S.-Japan Alliance and Regional Security, Okinawa: Nansei Shoto Industrial Advancement Center, 2013, pp. 91-102.

[16] Gō Itō and Akio Takahara, ‘Minshutō seiken tanjō ikō no nicchū kankei 2009-2012’ (Japan-China Relations After the Inauguration of the DPJ Government; 2009-2012), ed. by Akio Takahara and Ryūji Hattori Nicchū kankei-shi 1972-2012: I Seiji (History of Japan-China Relations 1972-2012: Politics), Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, pp. 488-489. Jeffrey Bader, Obama and China’s Rise, Washington DC: Brookings Institution, pp. 69-82. For a provocative, albeit fallacious, alternative point of view: Björn Jérden, ‘The Assertive China Narrative: Why It Is Wrong and How So Many Still Bought into It’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, (Spring 2014) 7 (1): 47-88.

[17] Foreign Minister Asō was in the driver’s seat of many diplomatic initiatives during Abe’s tenure as CCS, but Abe showcased active engagement in a variety of diplomatic initiatives, such as Japan’s deepened overtures to India ‘SECRET, U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, «The Ambassador’s lunch with Administrative Vice-Minister Yachi»’, May 26, 2006 (

[18] For details on Abe’s foreign policy executive, which includes Yachi’s right-hand man Nobukatsu Kanehara, please refer to: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409-444.

[19] For a brief and updated biographical sketch of the Nixon-Kissinger partnership, please refer to: Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: partners in power, New York: Harper Collins, 2007, especially pp. 89-103. Historical research has demonstrated that Nixon was on an equal, if not higher, footing with his National Security Advisor, for instance, on Kissinger’s much-vaunted decision to open up relations with China in order to provide Washington with greater flexibility in the conduct of U.S.-Soviet relations. Margaret MacMillan, Nixon and Mao: the week that changed the world, New York: Random House, 2007, pp. 3-18.

[20] See for example: Shōtarō Yachi (Ed.), Nippon no anzen hoshō to bōei seisaku (Japan’s Defense and Security Policy), Tokyo: Wedge, 2013. Shinzō Abe and Hisahiko Okazaki, Kono kuni wo mamoru ketsui (Resolute in Defending this Country), Tokyo: Fusōsha, 2009. Shōtarō Yachi and Tomohiko Taniguchi, ‘Sōgōteki nichibei anzen hoshō kyōryoku ni mukete’ (Towards Comprehensive Japan-U.S. Security Cooperation), Aratana kokusai junjo ni okeru sōgōteki nichibei anzen hoshō taisei kōchiku no kanōsei (The Possibility of Constructing Comprehensive Japan-U.S. Security Cooperation in a New International Order), Waseda Daigaku nichibei kenkyū kikō, Tokyo: 2010, pp. 109-135.

[21] Interview with late Ambassador Okazaki Hisahiko, August 20, 2013, Tokyo.

[22] Yūsuke Anami, ‘Senryakuteki gokei kankei no mosaku to Higashi Shina Kai mondai: 2006-2008’ (Groping for a Strategic Mutually Beneficial Relation and the East China Sea Issue: 2006-2008), Akio Takahara and Ryūji Hattori (Eds.) Nicchū kankei-shi 1972-2012: I Seiji (History of Japan-China Relations 1972-2012: Politics), Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Shuppankai, pp. 443-485.

[23] Interview with MOD official, who took part in MOFA-JSDF Agency/DoS-DoD, April 2005 2+2 negotiations, 6 April 2014, Tokyo.

[24] Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Joint Statement U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, 19 February 2005, Washington DC. (

[25] Interview with former U.S. State Department official, 15 September 2013, Tokyo.

[26] Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense in 2006, Beijing: 2006 (

[27] For evidence please refer to this brilliant journalistic account of the period: Hiroyuki Akita, Anryū : Bei-Chū-Nichi gaikō sangokushi (Undercurrents: U.S.-China-Japan Records of the Three Kingdoms’ Diplomacy), 1-han. ed. Tōkyō: Nihon Keizai Shinbun Shuppansha, 2008, pp.1-6, 48, 232.

[28] U.S. Embassy Tokyo, ‘CONFIDENTIAL: Ambassador Schieffer Discusses Yasukuni, Japan-China Relations with China’s Ambassador Wang Yi’, June 15, 2006 (

[29] On background interview with a former U.S. senior foreign policy official, Tokyo, July 1, 2013. The general thrust of the message was two-fold: it underlined the President’s uneasiness about the history issue, and the possible criticism from high-ranking officers of the second Bush administration, de facto qualifying as a threat.

[30] Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, pp.417-418.

[31] Giulio Pugliese, Neo-classical Realism and the Japanese government’s China Policy, Ph.D. thesis in progress; Specific to the gas deal announcement: Interview with a high-ranking diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 13 September 2013.

[32] Yuka Hayashi, ‘Strategic Patience the New Mantra for Abe’s China Policy’, The Wall Street Journal – Japan Real Time, 13 November 2013.

[33] Interview with a high-ranking Australian diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 12 September 2013.

[34] Personal Interview with current National Security Advisor, Yachi Shōtarō, Tokyo, 22 November 2013, and 22 July 2013. Shōtarō Yachi and Tomohiko Taniguchi, ‘Sōgōteki nichibei anzen hoshō kyōryoku ni mukete’, pp. 109-135.

[35] Tomohito Shinoda, Koizumi diplomacy : Japan’s kantei approach to foreign and defense affairs, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007. It is worth mentioning that Shinoda’s exclusive Kantei-led model refers, in the end, to three pieces of legislation: the Anti-Terrorism Legislation, the Contingency Law qualifying its specifics, and the Iraq Special Measures Law, cfr. Shinoda, pp. 86-132. These were enacted at times of major U.S. pressure and with an important precedent example, the Iraqi War of 1990-1991, which facilitated swift passage later on.

[36] U.S. Embassy Tokyo, ‘SECRET: Abe’s Report Card: Unprecedented Progress on the Security and Defense Agenda’, April 30 2007 (

[37] Personal Interview with Ambassador Richard Armitage, Tokyo, 1 August, 2014.

[38] Tomohito Shinoda, Seiji shudō vs. kanryō shihai (Political Leadership vs. Bureaucratic Rule), Tokyo: Asahi Shinbun Shuppan, 2013, pp. 174-176. A detailed account of the traditional decision-making process is: Takao Sebata, Japan’s Defense Policy and Bureaucratic Politics, 1976-2007, Maryland: University Press of America, 2010, pp. 50-91.

[39] For details on these two pieces of legislation: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409-444. Sebastian Maslow, ‘A blueprint for a strong Japan? – Abe Shinzo and Japan’s evolving security system’, Asian Survey, forthcoming.

[40] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, Tokyo: December 2013, pp.35-36. (

[41] Interview with member of the NSS commission, 10 January 2014.

[42] ‘Buki yūshutsu, hadan ni Chūgoku no kage Toruko maboroshi no ichigō anken’ (Arms Exports: Collapse of a Deal with Turkey, the Shadow of China), Nihon Keizai Shinbun, 30 July 2014. Government of Japan, Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, 1 April, 2014 (

[43] Interview with Dr. Bernard Moltmann, Visiting Fellow, Peace Research Institut Frankfurt/Hessische Stiftung Friedens und Konfliktforschung, 26 November 2013, Frankfurt am Main. Interview with Dr. Michael Ashkenazi (Senior Researcher), Dr. Marc von Bömcken (Senior Researcher and Project Leader), and Jan Grebe (Researcher and Project Leader), Bonn International Center for Conversion, 27 November 2013, Bonn.

[44] ‘Kakugi no gijiroku, hajimete kōkai – NSC ni mo sakusei gimu wo’ (First-Ever Disclosure of Cabinet Minutes – Make the NSC Prepare Minutes Too), Nihon Keizai Shinbun, 22 April 2014.

[45] Mitsubishi Research Institute, Heisei 25nendo anzen hoshō bōeki kanri taisaku jigyō, Hōkokusho (Report on Security Export Controls Measures), Mitsubishi Research Institute, Tokyo: March 2014. The author contributed to compiling the report as a free-lance researcher.

[46] Andrew Oros, Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity and the Evolution of Security Practice, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

[47] Presidenza della Repubblica, The Constitution of the Italian Republic, official English translation, (

[48] Government of Japan, Cabinet Decision on Development of Seamless Security Legislation to Ensure Japan’s Survival and Protect its People, 1 July 2014 (

[49] Interview with former Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary for Crisis Management Yanagisawa Kyōji, Tokyo, 18 September 2014.

[50] Matteo Dian, The Evolution of the US-Japan Alliance. The Eagle and the Chrysanthemum, Chandos Asia Studies Series, Oxford: Chandos Books 2014.

[51] Yomiuri Shinbun Shinnenkai, (New Year Party), Tokyo, 17 January  2013.

[52] Interview with Komeito MP, August 1, 2014.

[53] Richard Armitage, Joseph Nye (Eds.), U.S.-Japan Alliance, Anchoring Stability in Asia, CSIS, Washington 2012 (

[54] Personal Interview with Ambassador Richard Armitage, Tokyo, 1 August 2014.

[55] Personal Interview with Prof. Joseph Nye, Tokyo, 1 August 2014.

[56] Tsuyoshi Sunohara, Japan Hando (Japan Hands), Bunshun Shinsho: Tokyo, 2006, pp. 13-14.

[57] Interview with former assistant chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management Yanagisawa Kyōji, Tokyo, 18 September 2014.

[58] Interview with former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, Tokyo, 1 July 2013; Interview with Ambassador Okazaki Hisahiko, Tokyo, 30 August 2013.

[59] The Japanese word mokusatsu, literally translated as «to silently kill», conveys the contrast between a seemingly passive stance that in fact constitutes resolute action.

[60] ‘The incredible shrinking country’, The Economist, 31 May 2014.

[61] Michael T. Cucek, ‘Trends In The Numbers Of Japan’s Foreign Residents’, Shisaku BLOG, 31 May 2014 (

[62] Jonathan Soble, ‘Japan stands by immigration controls despite shrinking population’, Financial Times, 2 June 2014.

[63] Atsushi Seike, (translation by Giulio Pugliese) ‘Demographic Collapse and Vanishing Provinces’, Barak Kushner and Yōichi Funabashi, Examining Japan’s Lost Decades, ed. by, London: Routledge, 2015.

[64] On the concept: Franco Mazzei, Japanese Particularism and the Crisis of Western Modernity, Venezia: Ca’ Foscari, 1999.

[65] ‘Kokuseki-Chiiki betsu zairyū gaikokujinsū no suii’ (Estimates on the Number of Foreign Residents, Varied per Nationality and Region), Ministry of Justice, June 2014 (

[66] Yachi Shōtarō, ‘Behind the New Abe Diplomacy: An Interview with Cabinet Advisor Yachi Shōtarō (Part One)’,, 8 August 2013 (

[67] ‘Abe Shushō 49kaKoku hōmon rekidai saita’ (P.M. Abe visited 29 Countries, Historical Record), Asahi Shinbun, 6 September 2014.

[68] ‘Japan Imposes New Sanctions on Russia but Keeps a Diplomatic Door Open’, The New York Times, 5 August 2014.

[69] ‘Obama Daitōryō, kōkyū sushi hanbun shika tabezu?’ (Did President Obama Eat Only Half of His High Quality Sushi Dinner?), AFP News, 24 April 2014.

[70] Uichirō Niwa, Chūgoku no Dai-mondai (China’s Big Problems), Tokyo: PHP Shinsho, 2014, p. 7.

[71] In 2013 a thorough study on China’s structural malaises written by a former METI cadre, proficient in Chinese macroeconomics became a national best-seller: Toshiya Tsugami, Chūgoku taitō no shūen (The End of China’s Rise), Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbun Shuppan-sha, 2013. For details on Abe’s economic statecraft please refer to: Giulio Pugliese, ‘Giappone: il ritorno di Abe’, Asia Maior 2013, pp. 409-444.

[72] ‘Japan to Provide Vietnam Patrol Boats Next Year’, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 31 March 2014; ‘Japan to Provide Vietnam Patrol Boats Next Year’, USNI, 2 June 2014. On Japan’s strategic ODA policy: Bart Gaens, ‘Teaching How to Fish? The Transformation of Japan’’s Development Agenda’, EAJS Presentation, 28 August 2014.

[73] The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Joint Press Conference with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan, 24 April 2014 (

[74] ‘Exclusive: Japan, U.S. discussing offensive military capability for Tokyo-Japan officials’, Reuters, 10 September 2014.

[75] ‘Tōha koete Sekkyokuteki heiwa-shugi, jūsōtekina giin gaikō de dōmei kyōka’ (Proactive Contribution of Peace Beyond Intra-Party Factions, Strengthening the Alliance through Multi-layered MP-Diplomacy), Sankei Shinbun, 22 August 2014.

[76] Interview with former high-ranking U.S. government official, Tokyo, 22 July 2013.

[77] Tarō Akasaka, ‘Yasukuni sanpai, shirarezaru Kantei no antō’ (The Yasukuni Pilgrimage, the Tacit Kantei Feud), Bungei Shunjū, vol. 92 (4), March 2014, pp. 224-228.

[78] ‘U.S. could change military posture if China expands air defense zone’, Kyodo News, 31 January 2014.

[79] ‘5 in China Army Face U.S. Charges of Cyberattacks’, New York Times, 19 May 2014.

[80] Kōsuke Takahashi, ‘Taichū kyōko-saku Minami Shina Kai Nichi-Bei kyōdo kanshi fujō’ (Hard Line Policy against China, Possibility of Joint U.S.-Japan Patrols over the South China Sea), Jane’s Defence Weekly (Japan), 31 July 2014.

[81] Interview with Former Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the NSC, Michael Green, Tokyo, 9 July 2013.

[82] Interview with a high-ranking Australian diplomat under the condition of anonymity, 12 September 2013.

[83] Hisahiko Okazaki, ‘Southeast Asia in Japan’s National Strategy’, Japan Echo, 20, 1993, p. 61, cited in Kenneth Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose, New York: Public Affairs, 2007.

[84] MOFA, Joint Press Release on Japan-Australia Summit Meeting, 7 April 2014. ( ).

[85] Malcolm Cook, ‘Aligned Allies: The Australia-Japan Strategic Partnership’, The Tokyo Foundation, 24 December 2014 ( -allies).

[86] Government of Japan, ‘Remarks By Prime Minister Abe to the Australian Parliament’, 8 July 2014 (

[87] Ibid.

[88] Ibid.

[89] On the concept of ressentiment and its interplay please refer to Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Geneaology of Morals’ (1887), in the Philosophy of Nietzsche, The Modern Library: New York, 1927, pp. 617-809; also Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism – Five Roads to Modernity, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, pp. 15-17.

[90] Giulio Pugliese and Aurelio Insisa, ‘The Propaganda Dilemma: the International Politics of Sino-Japanese Mutually Antagonistic Discourses’, Work in Progress.

[91] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan’s Position on the United Nations Security Council for the 21st Century, Tokyo: 2013 (

[92] Shinichi Kitaoka, Nihon seiji no hōkai (The Collapse of Japanese Politics), Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 2012, pp. 18-20.

[93] ‘Abe’s Homage’, Fiji Sun, 16 January 2014; ‘Need for dialogue between leaders’, The Fiji Times, 31 January 2014; ‘The Chinese Love Peace’, The Fiji Times, 7 February 2014. Figure on Chinese ambassadors from: ‘Seiji no genba – nicchū reisen (1) yoronsen Nihon mo chikuichi hanron’ (The political battlefield – the Nippo-Chinese Cold War (1) Japan makes thorough rebuttals in the public opinion war), Yomiuri Shinbun, 4 February 2014.

[94] ‘Liu Xiaoming: China and Britain won the war together: Japan’s refusal to face up to its aggressive past is posing a serious threat to global peace’, The Telegraph, 1 January 2014;

‘China risks becoming Asia’s Voldemort: Japan is committed to peace and democracy and a visit to a shrine will not change that’, The Telegraph, 5 January 2014; ‘Japan and China are in a fierce conflict over a group of uninhabited islands in the Pacific’, BBC Newsnight, 8 January 2014. Video excerpt available from: (

[95] Karl Gustafsson, ‘Identity and recognition: remembering and forgetting the post-war in Sino-Japanese relations’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015).

[96] Karl Gustafsson, Narratives and Bilateral Relations: Rethinking the ‘History Issue’ in Sino-Japanese Relations, Ph.D. thesis, Stockholm: 2011.

[97] Shogo Suzuki, ‘The rise of the Chinese ‘Other’ in Japan’s construction of identity: Is China a focal point of Japanese nationalism?’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015); and Takeshi Suzuki and Shusuke Murai, ‘How the Japanese Legacy Media Covered the Senkaku Controversy’, Thomas A. Hollihan (Ed.), The Dispute Over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: how media narratives shape public opinion and challenge the global order, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 141-168.

[98] Chris Wirth, ‘Japan, China and East Asian Regional Cooperation: The Views of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ from Tokyo and Beijing’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, vol. 9, n. 3, 2009, pp. 469-496, and Linus Hagström and Jerdén Björn, ‘Understanding Fluctuations in Sino-Japanese Relations: To Politicize or to De-politicize the China Issue in the Japanese Diet’, Pacific Affairs, vol. 83, n. 4, 2010, pp. 719-739.

[99] For a different, albeit premature view: Christopher W. Hughes, Japan’s remilitarization, Oxon, U.K., New York: Routledge for International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009, pp. 67-78.

[100] Linus Hagström and Karl Gustafsson, ‘Japan and identity change: why it matters in international relations’, The Pacific Review, (Forthcoming 2015).

[101] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, Tokyo: December 2013, pp. 35-36.

[102] Junichi Fukuda, ‘Chūgoku no «sansen» ni tachimukau hōhō – «tatakawazu shite katsu» senpō wo fūjikomeru tame no 37 no teigen’ (Ways to Confront China’s «Three Warfares» – 37 proposals to contain war strategies based on «Winning without Fighting»), JB Press, 24 October 2014 (

[103] A condensed example from 2014 is PM Abe’s well-crafted speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue: Shangri-La Dialogue 2014 Keynote Address Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister, Japan, 30 May 2014 (

[104] For an overview of Chinese discourses with specific regard to the first Sino-Japanese War and World War I: Aki Mōri, ‘Kindai sensō no nagai kage – dai ikkai Dai ichiji sekai taisen anarojī to Chūgoku’ (The long shadow of modern wars – the First World War analogy and China), Tokyo Foundation: Views on China, 19 August 2014 (; Aki Mōri, ‘Kindai sensō no nagai kage – dai ni-kai Nisshin sensō boppatsu 120 shūnen wo meguru Chūgoku no shogensetsu’ (The long shadow of modern wars – Chinese discourses on the 120th anniversary from the outbreak of the Japan-Qing war), Tokyo Foundation: Views on China, 14 October 2014 (

[105] For an up-to-date historical account of this conflict: Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

[106] ‘Chūgoku «rekishi kādo» no hitotsu ni kyūfūjō shita «ianfu»’ (The Sudden Rise of China’s «Comfort Women» as One of its «History Cards»), Sankei Shinbun, 4 April 2014.

[107] On a rigorous academic distinction between sex-slaves and comfort women: Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, ‘Comfort Women: Beyond Litigious Feminism’, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 58, No. 2, Summer, 2003, pp. 223-258.

[108] ‘Rinjin: nicchūkan koritsu suru Nihon /2 hannichi nomi icchi no kyōtō’ (Neighboring States: Japan, China and South Korea: Japan’s Isolation – second article of two – common front on anti-Japanese activities), Mainichi Shinbun, 4 April 2014.

[109] ‘Obama brings U.S. allies South Korea and Japan together for talks’, Reuters, March 25, 2014.

[110] ‘Germany refuses Xi Jinping’s request to visit Holocaust memorial sites during tour of Europe’, South China Morning Post, 5 March 2014.

[111] An excellent example that illustrates the cross fertilization between the international and domestic spheres is: Chinese Embassy in Berlin, ‘Zhu Deguo Dashi Shi Mingde fu Munihei zuo baogao zaici chanshu duiri guanxi lichang’ (Chinese Ambassador to Germany Shi Mingde went to Munich to Make an Additional Report on Relations with Japan), 17 January 2014, (; ‘Chūgoku media – Doitsu de Nihon ga Chūgoku ni ‘ronpa’ to no dame-nagashita’ (Chinese Media: Fake Accounts on Japan Losing Public Debates to China), News Post Seven, 28 January 2014 (; ‘Tokyo lodges complaint against Xi Jinping over war-related speech in Germany’, South China Morning Post, 31 March 2014.

[112] The Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, ‘A New Vision from a New Japan’, 22 January 2014 (

[113] ‘Abe compares Japan-China tension to Britain, Germany before World War I’, Asahi Shinbun, 24 January 2014.

[114] ‘Abe’s dastardly antics backfired at Davos’, The China Daily, 29 January 2014.

[115] Yomiuri Shinbun Seijibu, ‘Nicchūkan gaikō sensō: Nihon ga chokumen suru ima soko ni aru kiki’ (Diplomatic wars among Japan, China and South Korea: the immediate crises Japan confronts), Shinchō-sha: Tokyo, 2014, pp. 22-23; ‘Davos Weighs New Forum to Boost China’s Presence’, The Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2006.

[116] Nigel Inkster, ‘SLD 2014 – the gloves come off’, 2 June 2014 (—the-gloves-come-off-0387).

[117] On text-book politics, please refer to: Caroline Rose, Interpreting history in Sino-Japanese relations: a case study in political decision-making, New York; London: Routledge, 1998.

[118] Cabinet Office of Japan, Heisei 26nendo yosan (an) gaiyō – Naikaku-fu (Cabinet Summary of the Budget Allocation for the 2014 Fiscal Year -Draft-) (; Cabinet Office of Japan, Heisei 27nendo yosan gaisan yōkyū no gaiyō – Naikaku-fu (Summary of the Estimates for Budget Allocation Requests for the 2015 Fiscal Year) (

[119] ‘Seme no jōhō hasshin wo – Jimintō teigen’ (LDP proposal – Realizing an Information Dissemination on the Offensive!), Jiji Tsūshin, 17 June 2014.

[120] ‘U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on ‘Comfort Women’ Revision’, The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2014.

[121] ‘Shasetsu – Kōhō gaikō senryaku: tadashii Nihon no sugata wo hasshin shitai’ (Editorial – A public diplomacy strategy: disseminating the proper Japan’, Yomiuri Shinbun, 6 September 2014; ‘Japan Hausu: Ei-Bei-Burajiru no 3 toshi ni sōsetsu he’ (Towards the Establishment of Japan Houses in three cities in the UK, the U.S. and Brazil), Mainichi Shinbun, 11 January 2015.

[122] ‘Kishida wins funding for six new embassies, two new consulates’, The Japan Times, 12 January 2015.

[123] Government of Japan, National Security Strategy, December 2013, p. 36.

[124] Regis Arnaud, ‘Small Talk’, The Oriental Economist, Vol. 82, No 12, p. 12.

[125] ‘U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on ‘Comfort Women’ Revision’, The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2014.

[126] Interview with former high-ranking official from the U.S. State Department, 22 July 2013.

[127] Cabinet Secretariat, ‘The Advisory Panel on Communications Concerning Territorial Integrity’, July 2013 (

[128] Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams and Nicholas Confessore, ‘Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks’, The New York Times, 6 September 2014.

[129] Interview with the editor of a major Japanese translation and publishing company, Tokyo, 26 September 2014.

[130] Review of Island Studies (

[131] ‘Rekishi-sen: puropaganda wo bunseki – Gaimushō naibu bunsho: Chūgoku ha media Kankoku wa chihō kara’ (Wars over history: internal MOFA documents detail propaganda analyses – China makes use of media, ROK of local communities), Sankei Shinbun, 4 May 2014.

[132] Interview with Abe administration government official in charge of communication strategies, Tokyo 6 June 2014; Interview with former U.S. Embassy official confirming active interest of the Prime Minister’s Office for bolstering Japan’s media strategies, Tokyo, 20 March 2014.

[133] I owe these references to Aurelio Insisa: ‘Yulun jiawu haizhan zhenghan Ri zaixian jiaokeshu zhi zhan’ (Public Opinion and Naval War of the Jiawu year – i.e. 2014 with veiled reference to 1894 – in full swing: Japan resuscitates the battle over textbooks), News Sina, 13 January 2014; ‘Ri Hua mei: Riben dui Diaoyu Dao «Yulu-zhan» burong hushi’ (Japan and China’s Media: We Cannot Ignore Japan’s «Public Opinion War» concerning the Diaoyu Dao), Zhongguo Xinwen Wang, 25 November 2013.

[134] Reiji Yoshida, ‘Polling shows voters unclear about Article 9 reinterpretation: expert’, The Japan Times, 11 July 2014; ‘Jieikan ōbo: nokinami genshō bōeishō «shūdanteki jiei-ken’ hitei»’ (Decrease Across the Board for Applications to the JSDF, Ministry of Defense: «Unrelated to Dislike of Collective Self-Defense»), Mainichi Shinbun, 20 November 2014.

[135] Hiroshi Terashima, ‘Nihon no aratana kaiyō kokka rikkoku to kaiyō kihon hō’(The Basic Act on Ocean Policy and Japan as a new kind of maritime power), Tōsho kenkyū jānaru, vol. 3, n. 1, October 2013: 76-88. Citations: pp. 85, 83.

[136] Cabinet Secretariat, ‘(Ref.) Example of the Commentaries on the Courses of Study’, January 2014 ( I am indebted to Kamila Szczepanska for pointing me to these details: Kamila Szczepanska, ‘Towards a Beautiful Country Version 2.0: The second Abe Cabinet and educational reforms’, Presentation given at the 14th International Conference of EAJS University of Ljubljana, 30 August 2014.

[137] Abe Shinzō, Utsukushii kuni e (Toward a Beautiful Country), Bungei Shunjū, Tokyo, 2006. Republished in 2013 with minor additions in 2013 as Atarashii kuni e (Toward a New Country)Bungei Shunjū, Tokyo.

[138] The 2014 World Press Trends report that Japanese newspapers have consistently outranked their foreign equivalents in terms of copies sold: Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi Shinbun have topped the global ranking of press circulation with a total of about 20 million copies sold daily. Cfr. Magda Abu-Fadil, ‘World Press Trends 2014 ‘Debunks Newspapers’ Deaths’, 12 December 2014 ( death_b_6279960.html). Although outdated, the 2007 World Press Trends on circulation provides a poignant picture of the distribution of Japanese newspapers compared to other developed economies. The 2007 report details that Japanese newspapers sold an average of 69.7 million copies daily in 2007. Newspaper circulation among 1000 persons was around 665 copies, while in Germany the rate was 344, and in Italy 180. Television consumption in Japan rated at 185 minutes per day. World Association of Newspapers, World Press Trends 2007, Paris: Wan, 2007. For education statistics, please refer to: OECD Better Life Index, January 2014 (

[139] Laurie Ann Freeman, Closing the Shop: Information Cartels and Japan’s Mass Media.Princeton, New Jersey, 2000, pp. 153-157.

[140] Tomohito Shinoda, ‘Becoming More Realistic in the Post-Cold War: Japan’s Changing Media and Public Opinion on National Security’, Japanese Journal of Political Science 8, no. 02 (2007): 171-190; Masayuki Tadokoro, ‘The Media in US-Japan Relations: National Media in Transnational Relations’, Gerald Curtis (ed.), New Perspectives on US-Japan Relations, Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 2000, pp. 175- 212.

[141] Ellis Krauss and Robert J. Pekkannen, The Rise and Fall of Japan’s LDP: Political Party Organizations as Historical Institutions, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011, pp. 225-246.

[142] Shogo Suzuki, ‘The rise of the Chinese ‘Other’ in Japan’s construction of identity: Is China a focal point of Japanese nationalism?’, passim.

[143] Tetsuya Kuroyabu, ‘Yomiuri no hanbai busū ga hantoshi de 66manbu gen’ (Yomiuri sales drop by 660 thousand in half a year), My News Japan, 25 June 2014 (

[144] ‘Publishers cash in on anti-China, anti-S. Korea sentiment’, The Japan Times, 8 July 2014.

[145] Genron NPO, The 10th Japan-China Public Opinion Poll: Analysis Report on the Comparative Data, 9 September 2014 (

[146] Shinzō Abe and Naoki Hyakuta, Nippon yo, sekai no mannaka de sakihokore (English title provided: Japan! Be proud of yourself in the «center of the world»), Tokyo: Wakku, 2013, pp. 129-133. Especially p. 133. Eitarō Ogawa, Yakusoku no hi: Abe Shinzō Shiron (The Promised Day: An Essay on Abe Shinzō), Tokyo: Gentōsha, 2012, pp. 3-4.

[147] Leaflet distributed inside magazine and newspapers, September 2014.

[148] ‘Honsha eiji-shi de futekisetsuna hyōgen: ianfu hōdō de owabi’ (Apologies for Reporting on the Comfort Women: Inappropriate Expression Used in Our English-Language Newspaper), Yomiuri Shinbun, 28 November 2014.

[149] The internal notice is dated 28 September 2010. E-mail exchange with a Kyodo News editorial writer, Heidelberg, 26 November 2014.

[150] Participant’s testimony at conference: ‘The Media and How it Shapes History in East Asia’ (Chatham House rules), University of Cambridge, Jan.30-Feb.1 2015.

[151] Uichirō Niwa, Chūgoku no Dai-mondai (China’s Big Problems), Tokyo: PHP Shinsho, 2014, pp. 148-149.

[152] David McNeill, ‘The Great Equalizer? The Internet and Progressive Activism in Japan’ in Japanese Cyberculturesed. by Nanette Gottlieb and Mark McLelland, Oxon: Routledge, 2003, pp.159-173.

[153] Title story: ‘Chūgoku ga Nippon de shite iru iyarashii koto’ (The Nasty Things China Does in Japan), SAPIO, September Issue, Tokyo: Shōgakukan, August 2014.

[154] Ellis Krauss, Broadcasting Politics in Japan: NHK and Television News, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000, pp. 123-150, esp. 148-150; ‘My country, right or righter’, The Economist, 8 February 2014.

[155] Participant testimony at conference ‘The Media and How it Shapes History in East Asia’ (Chatham House rules), University of Cambridge, Jan.30-Feb.1 2015. Interview with NHK Journalist, Tokyo, 2 July  2014.

[156] A research on Electronic Databases shows that Sankei Shinbun had six one-to-one interviews with the Prime Minister, the Yomiuri Shinbun had four interviews, and the Asahi Shinbun none. Sources: Yomidasu Rekishikan (; Kikuzō II Visual (; Global Factiva: (

[157] Tarō Kōno, ‘Masukomi no kyōji’ (The Self-Respect of the Media), Kono Taro Official Website, 11 September 2014 (

[158] Norihiro Kato, ‘Abe and the Fourth Estate’, The New York Times, 12 June 2014.

[159] David McNeill, LDP vs. FCCJ: Behind the Barricades, N.1 Shinbun, 28 December 2014 (

[160] Laurie Ann Freeman, Closing the Shop: Information Cartels and Japan’s Mass Media, Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 63.

[161] Jun Oguro, ‘Nihon no jānarizumu no konpon mondai wa nani ka?’ (What is the Fundamental Problem of Japanese Journalism?), Sōtetsu Ri (Ed.), Nicchūkan no sengo media-shi (The Post-war History of Japan, China and South Korea’s Media), Tokyo: Fujiwara Shoten, 2012, p. 125.

[162] ‘Japan Lodges ‘Strong’ Protest on China Fighter Jet Incident’, Bloomberg News, 12 June 2014.

[163] Japan External Trade Organization, Japanese Trade and Investment Statistics(

[164] ‘Abe dispatched senior bureaucrat Yachi to Fukuda-Xi meet in Beijing’, Japan Times, 12 October 2014; ‘Confidant of Xi met with Abe in Tokyo to smooth bilateral relations’, Asahi Shinbun, 15 April 2014.

[165] Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell, ‘Xi and Abe hold landmark summit’, Financial Times, 10 November 2014.

[166] Adam P. Liff, ‘Principles Without Consensus: Setting the Record Straight on the 2014 Sino-Japanese Agreement to Improve Bilateral Relations’, Working Paper, November 8 2014 (http:/

[167] For directing me to this important detail, I am indebted to Dr. Akihiro Magara, Director of Asia Forum Japan’s Center for Politics and Economic Strategy. MOFA, Japan-China Summit Meeting, November 10, 2014, (

[168] U.S. Embassy Beijing, ‘CONFIDENTIAL, China-Japan: Beijing Awaits Abe’s Remarks Before Considering Summit Meeting’, 15 September 2006 (

[169] U.S. Embassy Beijing, ‘CONFIDENTIAL, ‘Analyst Discusses Anti-Japanese Sentiment, Regional (sic) Integration With Chinese Scholars’, 10 May 2007 (

[170] Christopher R. Hughes, ‘Japan in the politics of Chinese leadership legitimacy: recent developments in historical perspective’, Japan forum, Vol. 20, n. 2: pp. 245-266.


Giorgio Borsa

The Founder of Asia Maior

Università di Pavia

The "Cesare Bonacossa" Centre for the Study of Extra-European Peoples


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