By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
In only three weeks since taking office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his new administration has been fast at work to improve Japan's relations with Southeast Asia and push the sale of Japanese values in the region.
Before Mr. Abe's visit to Hanoi, Finance Minister Taro Aso visited Myanmar this month while Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Australia over the last week, demonstrating Tokyo's renewed economic and strategic interest in the region.
Mr. Abe was in Hanoi Wednesday on the first leg of his four-day trip to Southeast Asia which will also see him travel to Thailand and Indonesia. The region has become a point of focus for Mr. Abe's new administration as it aims to boost Japan's economic presence while strengthening maritime security ties to counter China's increasing military and commercial clout in the region.
The seemingly disparate comments from Japan's new PM and his top diplomat underscore the complexities of the challenges facing Tokyo in a region rife with competing territorial claims, and where Japan seems to have much catching-up to compete China.
With the visit to Washington postponed, Southeast Asia has became Abe’s second best choice as he is also seeking to strengthen diplomatic relations with nations at the forefront of Asian economic growth.
China, on the other hand, has cast a watchful eye on Japan’s shuttle diplomacy circumventing China, and meanwhile, when facing Japan’s hawkish rhetoric and constant provocations targeting the Diaoyu Islands, China, in a bid to scale up battle readiness, has ordered its armed helicopters to shift focus from logistic missions and gear up to combat operations.
On January 15, General Staff Headquarters of the PLA had asked commanders and soldiers to strengthen their readiness for possible war with a directive to stage more exercises.
"The General Staff Headquarters of PLA has pledged to stage more military drills that simulate real combat, urging commanders and soldiers to strengthen their readiness for possible war", the PLA daily reported.
In a directive on military training in 2013, the headquarters said the PLA is determined to improve its combat capability by holding more military exercises to mock real situations on the battlefield, according to the report.
All servicemen and servicewomen should always bear in mind the awareness of war and the sense of crisis, the directive said.
On top of that, The People's Liberation Army (PLA) planned to change the training strategy of its army aviation unit as more armed helicopters joined the service, PLA Daily, the official newspaper of the military, quoted an army aviation unit as saying.
The focus of army aviation unit will be shifted from logistics missions to combat ones, from building the capacity for non-war military actions to core military actions, Xinhua news agency quoted the daily as saying.
The unit will work on major missions such as long-distance tasks, large scale offshore operations, attack coordination with other units and large scale airborne operations, it said, adding that the unit will also aim to improve its operation capability based on IT technologies.
Both China and Japan have scaled up military operations as a result of Japan’s provocations both in word and deed and the escalation seen in the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.
The PLA move comes also in the backdrop of recent military drills conducted by the Japanese army helicopters to “retake the islands” as it blared.
China has long nurtured and cherished its good-neighborly diplomacy in the region.
China's good-neighborly diplomacy upholds three principles. Firstly, it includes all neighboring countries far and near, even those once cherishing old grudge, on the basis of burying the hatchet and inaugurating the future.
Secondly, it seeks all-round development and mutual promotion of political, economic, cultural and security relations. In this regard the comprehensive advance of the China-ASEAN relations is just exemplary.
Thirdly, it is based on the five principles of mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence, seeking mutual benefit and win-win result.
On this basis, China has no intention to trigger any dispute with its neighbors, although it has to prepare for the worst at times. Japan is also one of China’s neighbors separated with China by a narrow strip of water, rather than a strip of blood.
The linchpin lies in the fact whether the Japanese rightist politicians could keep cool-headed to wipe out the likelihood: Strain would further ratchet up and, snap.