Thursday, 10 July 2014

Australia and Japan: Scrum-halves

Nguồn tin:

THE prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, flew to the Australian outback’s red desert on July 9th to inspect the commodity that once defined his country’s relations with Australia: iron ore. He left behind policy wonks in Canberra, the capital, digesting his blunt call a day earlier for a “truly new base” for the relationship between the two countries. After acknowledging the second world war, in which Australia and Japan were mortal enemies, Mr Abe told Parliament that Australia and Japan must now “join up in a scrum, just like in rugby” to nurture regional peace. Many Australians read his remarks as recruiting Australia as an ally in Japan’s disputes with China, creating a growing dilemma for some in the host country.

Mr Abe had arrived from New Zealand, where John Key, the prime minister, opposed any attempt by Japan to resume whaling in the Antarctic Ocean following the International Court of Justice’s ruling against Japan’s “scientific” whale hunts in April. In Canberra, however, Mr Abe’s sights were fixed more on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Mr Abe’s speech made no mention of China, yet it was all about that country, its growing military posturing and its challenges to neighbours’ maritime claims. Mr Abe called on Australia to join Japan in keeping the Asia-Pacific region’s “vast seas” and its skies “open and free”.

Mr Abe played on historical resonance in a visit that could go down as a key moment in the two countries’ relations. In 1957 Mr Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, became Japan’s first post-war prime minister to visit Australia, signing a commerce treaty. Yet Japan’s attacks in 1942 on northern Australia and Sydney, and the brutal treatment of Australian prisoners-of-war in New Guinea, Borneo and elsewhere, overshadowed relations for decades.

As the first Japanese prime minister to address Parliament, Kishi’s grandson “humbly” offered his “most sincere condolences” to those who lost their lives. Mr Abe’s reference to the “evils and horrors of history” was the most expansive such acknowledgment by a Japanese leader on Australian soil. The speech was intended to sound frank and open-minded—though not for the first time in the history of Japanese apologetics, it amounted neither to full-blown acceptance of Japanese war guilt nor a clear apology.

But Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, was not going to let that get in the way. He approved heartily when Mr Abe pronounced that the two countries had cast off “one old layer” to form a new “special relationship”. The two leaders signed a free-trade agreement, and another pact to share defence equipment and technology. Australia needs to replace ageing submarines, and Japan has world-beating engine technology.

More closely than anyone, China is watching this cosying up between two of America’s key Pacific allies, and it does not approve. That unsettles a number of Australians who worry about the growing dilemma of relying on China for prosperity and the United States for security. Ever since China displaced Japan as Australia’s biggest trading partner seven years ago, debate in Australia has focused on how the country should balance its relations with China, America and Japan. Mr Abbott unsettled some last October when he (accurately) called Japan Australia’s “best friend in Asia”. He supports Japan’s decision earlier this month to ditch a ban on coming to the military aid of allies if Japan itself is also under threat. Mr Abbott welcomes Japan’s becoming a “more capable strategic partner in our region”.

Mr Abbott claims that “ours is not a partnership against anyone”. But that is precisely where doubts remain in the wake of the Abe visit. China’s bullying of neighbours over maritime claims is behind much anxiety in Asia, and a chief reason why Japan wants to bolster its own security and recruit friends. Yet Japan’s poor relations with neighbours, mainly over wartime history, allows China to tout the myth that Japanese militarism is on the prowl once more. Australians care more than most when China chooses to be angry.

In the nearly six decades since Mr Kishi’s visit, Australia’s relations with Japan have spun peaceably around strong trade ties and a mutual alliance with America. China’s rise has complicated that. Hugh White at the Australian National University argues that Australia has never had to face a country in its region that is positioning itself as a strategic rival to both Japan and America. For Australia to assume that its interests can be comfortably yoked to Japan’s, he says, would be a “very big risk”. The problem is, to yoke Australia’s interests with China’s would be an even bigger one.

Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh



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