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Japanese nationalism raises regional concern
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been heralded for the economic plan that's restored confidence to his country, but a surge in displays of Japanese nationalism is raising concern in the region.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been heralded for the economic plan that's restored confidence to his country, but a surge in displays of Japanese nationalism is raising concern in the region.

Mr Abe's conservative government's nationalistic agenda has made Japan's delicate ties with China and South Korea even more tenuous as Beijing's influence grows and grows.

Kate Arnott reports.
KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has never hidden his nationalistic tendencies.

PROFESSOR KOICHI NAKANO, SOPHIA UNIVERSITY: He is a nationalist by conviction and this is probably the biggest reason why he's in politics in the first place.

KATE ARNOTT: In a big show of national pride at the end of April, Mr Abe led a ceremony for a new national day. He established Sovereignty Day, to mark the end of the allied occupation of Japan after its defeat in World War II.

SHINZO ABE, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (translation): We have responsibility to make our precious Japan a better and beautiful country. We all have the responsibility to make Japan a proud nation where we can make progressive contributions to make the world a better place.

KATE ARNOTT: The ceremony made an already wary China and South Korea even more suspicious.

PROFESSOR RIKKI KERSTEN, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSTY: If Japan continues to provoke mistrust in its agenda, and if its nationalism continues to offend, Japan cannot hope to act effectively either economically, diplomatically, or in security terms. Itís that simple.

KATE ARNOTT: This is the entrance to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Recently a long line of politician, including three cabinet minister, visited the shrine which honours 14 war criminals alongside fallen soldiers.

As victims of Japan's war time aggression, China and South Korea were outraged.

(Footage of protests in Seoul plays)

Their anger only grew when the mayor of Osaka defended the use of military brothels by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

TORU HASHIMOTO, MAYOR OF OSAKA (May 13, 2013) (translation): When they're out running around and risking their lives with their emotional state all strung out, they're looking for something like relaxation, Then anyone can understand it's necessary to have something like the comfort women system.

KATE ARNOTT: Toru Hashimoto continues to stand by those comments while the prime minister has tried to distance himself from them. But he's made it clear heís not interested in opening historical wounds.

(Footage of Shinzo Abe speaking in parliament)

SHINZO ABE (translation): I have never denied Japan's aggressions or colonial past and I also believe that history is something that should be left to the historians and should not develop into a political or diplomatic issue.

PROFESSOR KOICHI NAKANO: His grand plan to is to put an end to what he called post war regime. And he wants a Japan that is proud of itself and that stops apologising to the neighbours and asserts its strength more fully in the region and beyond.

KATE ARNOTT: Political analysts say thereís no doubt Japan is becoming increasingly alarmed by the so called rise of China. And territorial disputes that have flared up between China, Japan and South Korea have fuelled nationalism on all sides.

While Shinzo Abe and some in his Liberal Democratic Party have gladly taken up the nationalistic cause, itís not necessarily what the people want.

PROFESSOR RIKKI KERSTEN: They're not voting for him because of his nationalistic agenda, or with the way he's conducting territorial disputes with China, Korea and Russia.

Only 6 per cent of people in a recent poll nominated nationalistic issues as a reason to vote for Abe.

DR BRAD WILLIAMS, DEPARTMENT OF ASIAN STUDIES, CITY UNIVERSITY, HONG KONG: There is a perception amongst Japanese politicians that they can gain votes by engaging in acts of nationalist politics.

KATE ARNOTT: The Abe government is undertaking bold reforms to revitalise a long, stagnant economy. However, commentators say the prime minister's nationalistic streak is threatening to undermine Japan's economic interests.

Damage has already been done.

(Footage of protests in Beijing plays)

When Japan purchased a group of disputed islands last year, angry mobs targeted Japanese companies in China, and Chinese consumers boycotted Japanese products.

Increasing displays of nationalism may be putting regional security at risk as well.

DR BRAD WILLIAMS: It makes coordination, trilateral coordination between South Korea, China and the US more problematic particularly when it comes to dealing with the important North Korean nuclear issue.

KOICHI NAKANO: The United States government is looking at the Abe government with a certain degree of suspicion and trying to caution it from getting too much more into this nationalistic agenda.

KATE ARNOTT: The US will be closely watching Japan's upper house election in July. If the Abe government manages to gain control of the upper house, it plans to revise the country's pacifist constitution. The aim would be to strengthen the military to better combat the territorial conflict and threats from North Korea.

It's a move that will almost certainly un settle the region even more.
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