Who are the new Japanese?

Updated: 2014-06-09 07:41

By Eric X.Li (China Daily)

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Abe's speech at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue suggesting they will be the stewards of peace in Asia was simply self-serving hypocrisy

Last month, President Barack Obama sought to define a new foreign policy doctrine for the United States. In his much anticipated Commencement Address at the West Point Military Academy, he set a bar for American military intervention abroad that is the highest in recent memory - when the US' interests are directly threatened. Perhaps the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are beginning to sink in and be structurally reflected in US foreign policy. Perhaps the demands of the American people for a "pivot" to Ohio, rather than the far-flung oceans of Asia, are finally being heard.

Many worry that a self-reflective and retrenching US is leaving a void in the world's balance of power. But hold your breath, here is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the rescue. In his keynote address at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Abe proposed a groundbreaking new concept: The New Japanese. A new breed of international and peace-loving Japanese that is going to confidently step forward and safeguard the world order, at least in Asia.

There was only one theme to Abe's speech and it can be summarized as follows: China is the enemy (without naming it, of course). Japan is the new steward of peace and stability in Asia on the basis of rule of law. Japan will support whichever countries decide to oppose China. (Here he did name some, Vietnam and the Philippines.) Japan will back them politically, economically, and, yes, militarily. Japanese naval hardware is to be made available to China's adversaries.

Abe rightly pointed out that Asia is synonymous with growth. In the past few decades, perhaps no region has benefited more from the current global order than here. Asia's prosperity is nothing short of a miracle of the modern era.

This amazing achievement has been built on two pillars. First, the global economic and security architecture designed, built, and sustained by the US, which has served as the guarantor of regional peace upon which economic development has depended. And a post-World War II legally pacifist Japan is a key component of that architecture. Second, China, the largest nation in Asia, has been the single most important engine of growth, serving as the locomotive in good times and the growth of last resort in bad times.

At the moment, these twin foundations of the Asian miracle are in trouble. The US is suffering from an acute case of imperial overreach. Its military involvements around the world have drained its resources. Its leadership of the globalization project has caused deep and structural imbalances in its own economy. Its social contract, the bedrock of US success for a century and a half, is seriously threatened. The US has now found that the costs of sustaining the global order far exceed the benefits.

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