Clash of the Dreams, or a misunderstanding in the making?

by Chris Zappone

New Chinese leader Xi Jinping laid out a vision for a Chinese dream of renewal on a visit to naval facilities, including on the South China Sea. He has said that a strong military is part of the dream of a revival of China.

“This dream can be said to be the dream of a strong nation; and for the military, it is the dream of a strong military,” said Xi. “We must achieve the great revival of the Chinese nation, and we must ensure there is unison between a prosperous country and a strong military.”

The optics outside of China look threatening of course, given that the Chinese military has stepped up tension with the Japanese over the Senkaku Islands. But there is also the possibility that Xi’s message was aimed as reassuring the Chinese public about the broader direction of the country, while building a bridge with the military, whose leadership often runs parallel and independent to the China’s civilian leadership. Still the timing couldn’t be worse.

Just across the East China Sea, Japan is poised to reelect a politician with nationalist meanings Shinzo Abe.  The latest polls suggest Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito will win on Sunday December 16. You can almost feel the angst about China in Japan from here. Abe infuriated the Chinese by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine war dead in April and dismissing war crimes by the Japanese. So, even though it’s hard to argue that Japanese are wild about Abe, he represents the stiffening of the spine. For Abe, the root cause of Japan’s woes is the escaping the post-WWII regime which has robbed the country of its pride. The fact there is isn’t a viable alternative says a lot about the location of Japan’s political imagination today.abe