STOP CRITICIZING ABE AND START LEARNING FROM HIS LEGACY
An elaborate state funeral was held in Tokyo for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 27. More than 4,000 guests attended the service at the famed Nippon Budokan arena. Among the 700 foreign dignitaries present were US Vice President Kamala Harris, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, former British Prime Theresa May, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At home, Abe tirelessly inspired us Japanese to strive to carve out a brighter future for our country while in international relations he took the lead in suggesting new global initiatives, and strategies to achieve them. He was gunned down in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, western Japan, during a campaign speech on July 8.
Especially notable among Abe’s many accomplishments is the role he
played in rectifying the illusions the world in general harbored about China, exposing its true colors. Abe’s understanding of China grew out of Japan’s close relationship with China, which dates back more than 2,000 years, and gave him a much deeper and broader grasp of the Middle Kingdom than that held by the US or Europe. That made his assertions all the more convincing. Unfortunately, as concerns China, we now appear headed in the direction Abe feared most.
During the September 15-16 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, capital of Uzbekistan, the relationship between the two monstrous autocracies—China and Russia—turned in favor of the former in a manner that could hardly have been more apparent in the eyes of the world. En route to Samarkand, Xi Jinping stopped by at Nursultan, capital of Kazakhstan, and declared to his counterpart: “China strongly opposes any attempt to interfere with your nation’s internal affairs.” Clearly, it was a message aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened militarily in a series of mass protests that began on January 2 over a sudden sharp increase in liquefied gas prices. International political scientist Walter Russel Mead interpreted Xi’s remarks then as a warning to Putin to keep hands off. Moscow has thus completely subordinated itself to Beijing.
Shortly after the SCO summit, on September 21, Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 of Russia’s allegedly 2,000,000-strong reservists. But Russia looks incapable of significantly replenishing troops at this stage of its invasion of Ukraine—not even 300,000, let alone 2,000,000. Putin’s order has faced strong criticism from the Russian people, who have daily taken to the streets in major Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. As of this writing (September 26), more than 1,300 protesters have been arrested.
Akio Yaita, Taipei bureau chief of the conservative Sankei Shimbun, made an intriguing observation of Putin’s mobilization plan. Quoting his sources in the self-governing island, Yaita referred to the possibility of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops being dispatched to Ukraine disguised as Russian reservists, explaining:
“PLA troops in the guise of North Korean soldiers may be called to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Xi allegedly wishes to take this opportunity to train PLA soldiers to prepare them for a possible invasion of Taiwan.”
Prediction from 80 Years Ago
Putin is obviously flustered after a series of strategic failures in Ukraine, but he won’t give up his war efforts, Yaita observed. Along with the mobilization, Putin reportedly is planning to buy a good number of rocket guns and several million shells from North Korea. The US has released detailed intelligence on that matter, which has been denied by North Korea, as expected.
Yaita further observed:
“I seriously question whether North Korea can afford to provide Russia so large a number of weapons and ammunition. And I also think it reasonable to presume that China is standing ready to give Russia a helping hand this time, too. China and North Korea bought those arms and ammunition from Russia in the first place. Besides, the North Koreans aren’t afraid of further sanctions because they are already subject to UN sanctions. China is plotting to take advantage of this North Korean situation, with Kim Jong-un hoping his hermit kingdom will be safe as long as China and Russia guarantee its security.”
Given the high level of intelligence-gathering the US and its European allies are known for, there is no reason this sort of Chinese plot can remain unexposed for long. And China will be subject to more stringent economic sanctions, making its already hard-pressed economic management more difficult. Will China still be willing to take that risk just to help Putin?
“No matter what intelligence pertaining to its secret plans China may be confronted with, I am pretty sure the Chinese will not admit to anything,” Yaita continued. “The US government reminded Beijing in 2018 that Huawei, China’s multi-national technology corporation, had deceived a major US bank and the US authorities in slipping through the net of sanctions to do business with Iran, but Beijing refused to admit to any wrongdoing. They did not admit any wrongdoing, either, when the daughter of Huawei’s founder and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada that same year for extradition to the US. In retaliation for her arrest, China threatened to execute a Canadian arrested for drug smuggling in 2014. The Canadian government buckled under and released Meng in September 2021.”
Putin, who launched a war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24, has consumed much of Russian national power and significantly weakened its international clout. There will most likely be no possibility of Russia bouncing back as a major world power for centuries to come. In fact, the geopolitical scholar Nicholas John Spykman predicted, as early as 80 years ago, where China would be standing today, growing stronger while leaving Russia sinking into a deep quagmire.
Spykman, who hailed from the Netherlands, emigrated to the US and became a professor of political science at Yale University in 1928 at age 35. He pondered how the US should face off against China (i.e., Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party) and the Soviet Union (i.e., Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime) on the Eurasian continent. His conclusion: after the war, the US should form an alliance with Japan in Asia and with Germany in Europe, replacing Britain which had lost much of its power.
Most Americans reacted angrily to Spykman’s position especially because it was expressed right after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. But he steadfastly insisted that, from a geopolitical point of view, America’s major problem after the end of World War II would be China, not Japan.
Harsh Criticism of Abe
Spykman argued that when the potential power of China and Japan was compared, China had a much greater advantage thanks to its vast land, population, and natural resources. When China transformed its potential power into military power, the position of Japan—an island nation that would inevitably be defeated—would become extremely precarious. China would control the Eurasian continent, which would mean a whole string of nations around the continent—not only Japan but European and Mediterranean nations, India, Southeast Asian nations, and the Korean Peninsula—would be strongly influenced by China.
Meanwhile, Spykman argued that China’s ability to cope with the US would significantly improve thanks to the expected modernization of its weapons and equipment. The US had until then been protected by two big oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, but China would manage to bolster the ability of its fighter planes to attack the US by developing technology that would enable Chinese aircraft to easily fly over the Pacific. As a result, America would be faced with a serious danger. (America’s Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power by Nicholas John Spykman, 1942: republished by Routledge Publishing, Oxfordshire, UK; 2007)
Viewed geopolitically, it was inescapable that the world would evolve in this way, maintained Spykman. Therefore, he emphasized, US-China relations inevitably would have to change dramatically after World War II, compelling the US to ally itself with Japan. The author asserted that, just as the US would have to protect Britain against the threat from the Soviet Union, so must it lend its support to Japan faced with a threat from China.
Spykman died in 1943 without seeing the end of the bitterly fought war in the Pacific. But through perceptive analysis, he managed to quite accurately predict the world situation unfolding today. What I believe Abe was habitually studying was in fact a strategic map on a grand scale similar to Spykman’s.
Abe’s predictions—that China would establish superiority over Russia; that China would stand up against the free bloc in the international community, including Japan; and that Japan and the rest of the world’s democracies must earnestly prepare for that situation—have all proved true. I am inclined to suggest to the opposition politicians and the small number of members of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party who continue to harshly criticize Abe that they refrain from doing so, and instead start learning from him the value of working for Japan’s national interests.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,018 in the September 29, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)