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Japan Steps Up

America’s Pacific ally displays confidence – and makes a needless slip.

11:33 AM, Jan 21, 2014 • By JOSEPH A. BOSCO
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For less sinister reasons, South Korea also maintains its deep-seated sense of grievance against Japan which it feels, with substantial justification, has not sufficiently acknowledged or atoned for its sexual exploitation of Korean "comfort women."  America’s democratic allies might take a page from the late Nelson Mandela’s book on unifying former enemies.  East Asian security could use a little more truth from Japan and a measure of reconciliation from South Korea.

While Abe alone bears responsibility for the Shrine visit and its regional political consequences, U.S. leaders are not above displaying a cavalier attitude to Japanese sensitivities and interests, as they demonstrated twice in recent weeks.

Given Japan’s critical importance to U.S. security interests in Asia, the administration's failure to appoint an experienced foreign policy heavyweight as ambassador was a significant, and even reckless, slight to the Japanese government and people.

Further, when China announced its ADIZ, Tokyo instructed Japan’s civilian airlines to ignore it and continue normal commercial operations.  Washington acted at cross-purposes with its leading ally.  While sending B-52s through China’s declared zone to assert legitimate military prerogatives, U.S. officials advised American carriers to honor China’s new air rules. That decision gave Beijing’s action the patina of legitimacy and had the effect of suggesting cool U.S. restraint by contrast to Tokyo’s “belligerent” defiance.

None of that justifies or excuses Abe’s Yasukuni blunder. The Philippines, which suffered grievously under Japanese occupation, has moved on.  The U.S. has its own bitter memories--Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March come to mind—and reading the account of history at the Shrine brings them back. Americans and most of the world are glad to distinguish between Japan’s democratic and imperial generations, if only its leaders would stop linking them.

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