Mere days before President Obama is due to visit on his Asia tour, Japan is making some rather uncomfortable 'diplomatic' moves. First, a senior Japanese cabinet official - Keiji Furuya - visited the highly controversial Yasukuni shrine (which is where "Class A" war criminals are enshrined alongside other war dead). And second, and perhaps even more concerning, is, as Reuters reports, Japan began its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan. Both moves risk angering China at a time when non-Chinese Asia is looking for reassurance from Obama on his willingness to suport them.
The controversial Yasukuni shrine is back in the news...
A Japanese Cabinet minister on Sunday visited a Tokyo shrine that honors the dead including war criminals, in what has repeatedly caused friction with Japan's neighbors.
Lawmaker Keiji Furuya, who chairs the National Public Safety Commission, said on his website that he paid respects Sunday morning at the Yasukuni shrine ahead of a festival that starts Monday.
I believe that to honor those dead who gave up their lives for our country is the right thing for a Japanese to do," he said.
Officials' visits to Yasukuni have infuriated China and both Koreas. The 2.5 million Japanese war dead enshrined there include 14 class A war criminals from World War II — national leaders who were either executed, died in prison or during their trials.
But it is the actual expansion of Japan's military that is most concerning... (as Reuters reports)
Japan began its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan's main islands.
"This is the first deployment since the U.S. returned Okinawa (1972) and calls for us to be more on guard are growing," Onodera told reporters. "I want to build an operation able to properly defend islands that are part of Japan's territory."
The military radar station on Yonaguni, part of a longstanding plan to improve defense and surveillance, gives Japan a lookout just 150 km (93 miles) from the Japanese-held islands claimed by China.
The new base "should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland," said Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the Defense Ministry's National Institute for Defense Studies.
"It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements."
Many of the islanders on nearby Yonaguni are looking forward to hosting the radar base and the 100 troops who will man it because of the economic boost it will bring.
Others on the island, however, fear becoming a target should Japan end up in a fight.
"Becoming a target is frightening, they won't talk to us about it, we haven't discussed it," a protestor, who declined to be identified said.
Onodera's groundbreaking ceremony on Yonaguni took place s four days before President Barack Obama lands in Tokyo for a summit with Abe, the first state visit by a U.S. president in 18 years.
The United States, which under its security pact with Tokyo has pledged to defend Japanese territory, has warned China about taking any action over the disputed islets, but has not formally recognized Japan's claim of sovereignty over the territory.
Each of the four countries on Obama's itinerary -- Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines -- has a dispute with Beijing over islands in the South and East China Seas. Their leaders will be weighing Obama's willingness to support them if those conflicts boil over.
Seems like Japan just keeps wanting to test those red lines... but one wonders just how far all these Asian nations are willing to push...