To contain China, Japan has been keen, along with Australia and the US, to develop the Quad, a defence relationship or alliance with India. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a particular reason to include India. It would burnish his ultra-nationalist credentials and win support for his anti-Chinese posturing.
Shinzo Abe has deep and long-lasting ultra-nationalist roots. He draws increasingly and deeply on his association with Nobusuke Kishi, his grandfather who was the WWII Munitions Minister in Japan,suspected of war crimes and imprisoned for a period by the US occupation forces. Doing full circle, Kishi then became a great supporter of the US when he became Japanese Prime Minister in the late 1950s. He threw himself into the domestic fight in Japan against the Communist Party and the Socialist Party and provided maximum Japanese support for the US military campaign in Korea.
In his statements and actions, Shinzo Abe shows the same ultra-nationalist inclinations. He speaks often about escaping the shackles of the US imposed peace constitution. To minimise or expunge Japan’s actions in WWII on matters such as ‘comfort women’ and the Nanking massacre, he seeks a more ‘patriotic’ education system. He supports visits to Yasukuni Shrine which includes the remains of convicted Japanese war criminals.
But what has this got to do with the Quad, where India would be an important player?
In the New York Review of Books on March 8, 2018, Glen Fukushima points to Shinzo Abe’s nostalgic look back to India and the support by some Indians for Japan’s war time activities and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial
Under Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Obama-era concept of the “Asia-Pacific” has been replaced by that of the “Indo-Pacific.” What this term means is so far unclear, but Abe welcomes its use. For years he and his deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, have advocated engaging India in a “diamond” or “arc” of security and trade that would also include Japan, the US, and Australia—with the unstated but obvious intent to contain China.
Abe may see India as a foil against China, but his affinity for the country also has deep historical and ideological roots. During a visit to India in August 2007, near the end of his first term as prime minister, Abe visited Kolkata to meet relatives of Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian nationalist who during World War II tried to rid India of British rule with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. He also met with the son of Radhabinod Pal, the sole judge who dissented at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, arguing that the Japanese defendants should all be acquitted because the legitimacy of the tribunal was questionable and the verdicts represented victor’s justice. “Many Japanese have been moved deeply by such persons of strong will and action of the independence of India like Subhas Chandra Bose,” Abe said. “Even to this day, many Japanese revere Radhabinod Pal.”
Glen Fukushima is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for American Progress. He served as Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for Japan and China in the 1980s and was President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan in the 1990s.
So Shinzo Abe’s interest in the Quad is not just about containing China. It is also his way of acknowledging past support by some Indians for Japan’s unfortunate war history.