Gavan McCormack Disturbing trends in Japan (Part 1 of 4)

Sep 13, 2014

These posts (published over 4 days) are extracts from an article by Gavan McCormack, entitled ‘Partnership 135 Degrees East’ which will be published in 


Our best friend

The current Japanese and Australian governments came into being in December 2012 and September 2013 respectively. Both are headed by conservative, neoliberal, climate-denialist, pro-American leaders, of similar age, who quickly established a close rapport. Following their first meeting, at an ASEAN summit in October 2013, Abbott declared Abe Australia’s ‘best friend in Asia’. In meetings that followed, in Tokyo in April and Canberra in July 2014, they resolved to transform the ‘strategic partnership’ into a new ‘special relationship.’ Both made unprecedented invited appearances at the highest-level national-security-council meeting of their counterpart country, and signed agreements for free trade and defence cooperation (including ‘trilateral security cooperation with the United States’) and closer scientific and academic links.

Before the national parliament, Prime Minister Abbott delighted his guest and astonished many Australians by referring to the ‘skill and sense of honour’ of the imperial Japanese soldiers of seventy years ago. For his part, Abe resolved to ‘stay humble against the evils and horrors of history’, offering ‘sincere condolences towards the many who lost their lives’ and expressing his determination to do more to enhance peace.

The Murdoch press waxed hot with excitement. The Australian’s Greg Sheridan declared the Abe performance ‘masterful … as intricate as a fine Noritake pottery work, with as many moving parts seamlessly working together as the robotics of a Nagoya car plant’, signifying ‘nothing less than the birth of a new Japan’.

Abe’s expression of ‘condolences’ and his resolve to further the cause of peace were widely praised. Yet his ‘condolences’ were calibrated to convey sympathy while avoiding responsibility, and the greatest Japanese crimes—of Nanjing, Unit 731, and the sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of women across Asia—went unmentioned. It was as if those who ‘lost’ their lives at Kokoda and Sandakan had fallen victim to some mysterious ailment. Furthermore, by his references to peace, Abe plainly meant shedding the shackles of post-war constitutional pacifism and joining the United States in future wars because he sees it as heading the cause of global peace. Peace, in short, calls for war. It is a proposition worthy of Orwell.

As for his professed commitment to settling disputes by dialogue and the rule of law, Abe in fact has ruled out discussion with China on the territorial issue that China sees as critical (contested sovereignty over the uninhabited islets known in China as Diaoyu and in Japan as Senkaku). There is, he insists, no dispute, no room for discussion or negotiation. What is called for is ‘not negotiation but physical force incapable of being misunderstood’ (brute force, in other words).

Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor of the Australian National University, coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (, and author of many books and articles on modern and contemporary Japan and East Asia.

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