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White House to Japan: Cool It!

The Obama administration is letting Shinzo Abe know it isn’t too keen on his plans to change the profile of Japan’s military. The Japan Times has more:

Washington has told Tokyo that if Obama openly welcomes Abe’s drive to allow Self-Defense Forces troops to engage in collective self-defense—the right to come to the defense of an ally under armed attack—it risks upsetting Beijing, which might interpret the gesture as an attempt by Japan and the U.S. to increase pressure on China, according to the sources.

U.S. officials also said during preparatory talks for the summit, set to be held Feb. 21 or 22, that heightening Sino-Japanese tensions with Washington’s close involvement could damage regional stability and harm the interests of Japan and the U.S., they said.

The U.S. and Japan are in a delicate position here. Both have an interest in seeing regional powers balance out China, but the U.S., at least, has no desire to see the tensions in the South and East China Seas explode into open conflict. Japan seems to understand this at times, yet at other times it appears unable to resist the urge to antagonize its neighbor.

Right now, the U.S. is telling Japan that it’s tilting too far toward confrontation. The U.S. may be right, but Japan doesn’t always react well to being told what to do, even when that helpful advice comes from a close ally. We’ll be watching to see how Japan responds.

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