Abe compares Japan-China tension to Britain, Germany before World War I

January 24, 2014


The Japanese government said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks in Switzerland were intended to stress the need to avoid repeating the past mistakes of Britain and Germany, which fought in World War I despite strong economic ties.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Jan. 23 that Abe’s comments should by no means be interpreted to mean that war between Japan and China was possible, noting that Abe had said dialogue and the rule of law, not armed forces and threats, were needed for peace and prosperity in Asia.

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Abe took questions from about 30 senior representatives of major media organizations on Jan. 22. An interpreter translated the prime minister’s responses into English.

When discussing Japan’s strained ties with China, Abe mentioned how Britain and Germany fought in World War I despite their strong economic relations.

However, the interpreter, externally hired by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, added, “I think we are in the similar situation,” apparently to clarify the context of Abe’s remark.

Abe did not say that in Japanese, according to an audio recording of his briefing.

The Financial Times reported that Abe had told reporters that China and Japan were in a “similar situation” to Britain and Germany before 1914. Abe also said China’s steady rise in military spending was a major source of regional instability, the newspaper reported.


“What I would call a military encounter between Japan and China would deal great damage to both countries. Its regional and global impact would be extremely large. Both Chinese and Japanese leaders understand that.

“For China, economic growth is an absolute requisite for the Communist Party to govern China, to keep China under control. I believe it is well understood that a military clash with Japan would wipe that requisite away.

“But I believe the important thing is to make sure that no accidental military encounter would take place despite that understanding.

“This year marks the centenary of World War I. Britain and Germany were highly (inter)dependent economically. They were the largest trade partners (to each other), but the war did break out.

“The essential thing is to keep (the situation) under control. I have proposed setting up channels of communication between our armed forces and our trade authorities so as to prevent accidents.”


Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by what Beijing sees as Japan’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China in the 1930s and 1940s, have worsened recently due to a territorial row, Tokyo’s mistrust of Beijing’s military buildup and Abe’s December visit to a shrine that critics say glorifies Japan’s wartime past.

China and Japan, the world’s second- and third-largest economies respectively, have deep business ties and bilateral trade that was worth nearly $334 billion in 2012, according to Japanese figures.

China criticized Abe’s historical reference.

“It would be better to face up to what Japan did to China before the war and in recent history than to say stuff about pre-World War I British-German relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference in Beijing.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, on a visit to Beijing this week, stressed that all sides should avoid unilateral action to assert maritime claims, and that China should work with its neighbors to reduce tension in the East and South China seas.

China’s Defense Ministry said an air force patrol in the East China Sea air defense identification zone, set up by Beijing late last year despite protests from Japan, South Korea, the United States and others, had recently encountered several “foreign” military aircraft and given them verbal warnings.

It did not say which country the aircraft were from, but added that China had “investigated their identity.”


In a message on Jan. 23 to local Chinese-language papers ahead of the lunar new year, Abe said Japan had “built a free and democratic country and taken the path of peace” since the end of World War II.

“Nothing has been changed in the policy of continuing to uphold this position,” he said, according to a Japanese version provided by the prime minister’s office. “I believe you, who live in Japan, can understand this fundamental stance of ours.”

In his keynote address at the Davos forum, Abe called for military restraint in the region and took a veiled swipe at China’s military buildup.

“We must ... restrain military expansion in Asia, which could otherwise go unchecked,” Abe said.

“Military budgets should be made completely transparent and there should be public disclosure in a form that can be verified,” Abe said, adding that disputes should be resolved through dialogue and the rule of law, and not through force and coercion. He did not single out China by name.

He also defended his visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by critics as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism because it honors leaders convicted as war criminals along with those killed in battle.

China’s state Xinhua news agency blasted the Yasukuni visit again on Jan. 23, saying it was “taken by all peace-loving nations as a despicable kowtow to Fascism” and accusing Abe of pushing “regional tensions precariously close to boiling.”

Xinhua added: “While frozen ties with neighboring countries can never make Japan a reliable and constructive player in regional and global issues, sincere repentance over its war past can.”

Abe’s Dec. 26 pilgrimage prompted a rare statement of disappointment from Tokyo’s ally Washington, which is worried about rising regional tensions and fears entanglement in any conflict over tiny, uninhabited isles in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.

  • 1
submit to reddit
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, speaks to the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. (AP Photo)

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, speaks to the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. (AP Photo)

  • Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, speaks to the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. (AP Photo)

More AJW