Oh yeah, he just went there


Shinzo Abe said in a speech Oct. 15 China's military ambitions were akin to the Nazi idea of "lebensraum." Franck Robichon / EPA

In contemporary rhetoric, one popular way to demonize political adversaries is to compare them to Hitler. That’s just what conservative former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did at a speech at the Hudson Institute think tank on Capitol Hill last Friday. Relations between China and Japan have been rather tense of late, and the war of words seems to be heating up.

Abe likened China’s naval expansion to Hitler’s idea of “lebensraum” or “living space.” It was Hitler’s belief that Germany needed and, by their superior nature, deserved space in which to grow and settle. According to Abe’s remarks:

Since the 1980s, China’s military strategy has rested on the concept of a “strategic frontier.” In a nutshell, this very dangerous idea posits that borders and exclusive economic zones are determined by national power, and that as long as China’s economy continues to grow, its sphere of influence will continue to expand. Some might associate this with the German concept of “lebensraum.”

There has been speculation that the impetus for China’s naval buildup was the 1996 crisis in the Strait of Taiwan. Whenever I think back on this incident, I recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and the path that the Soviet Union took in its wake. The Soviet Union in 1962 and China in 1996 both suffered the indignity of capitulation in the face of the overwhelming naval power of the United States, and both countries threw themselves into building up their navies. We all know how well that worked out for the Soviet Union.

I have no way of knowing how the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party would view this analogy. Perhaps the party’s leaders, despite their fear of meeting the same fate as the Soviet Union, are unable to resist the call of the People’s Liberation Army for a military buildup. In any case, we can state with conviction that China has nothing to gain from an excessive expansion of its military.

If you are rusty on your mid-90s history, you can read up on the Taiwan Strait crisis here.

You can read Abe’s full remarks here.


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  1. A veritable minefield of a remark given Japan’s own imperialistic ambitions in World War II. Abe’s speechwriter will not be getting roses me thinks. Granted; at some point Japan should not be automatically bashed for identfying the obvious – China is pushing out it’s sphere of influence and the PLAAN’s build-up is simply one reflection of that strategic goal. It’s also surprising – usually Japanese leaders are not that blunt – the culture requires a bit of reading between the lines to get the real gist of the message.

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