JIM MIDDLETON: We've just seen this recent quote from Shinzo Abe: “History is something that should not develop into a political or diplomatic issue” – quote, unquote. But isn't that in fact the fundamental issue that Japan, China and Korea cannot establish a mature relationship until and unless the unresolved issues from World War II and beyond are settled to everyone's satisfaction?
MIKE MOCHIZUKI: You're exactly right. Of course Mr Abe thinks that Japan should have a future oriented relationship with South Korea or China. But because both of these countries were victims of Japanese colonisation or aggression, they feel that Japan needs to come to terms with its historical past.
And during the 1990s, Japanese official, leader, diplomats, thought it was very important for Japan to move forward on the process of reconciliation. But the problem is that under Mr Abe, he has some questions about the apologies that Japan issued during the 1990s. And there is a concern in South Korea and in China that Mr Abe wants to retreat from those apologies.
JIM MIDDLETON: To what extent, then, are the various territorial disputes in north Asia a function of that unfinished business? Or are they, as some analysts argue, a demonstration by Beijing that it is now strong enough to contest US naval power in the region?
MIKE MOCHIZUKI: The territorial disputes between Japan and South Korea over what the Japanese call Takeshima and what the South Korean's call Dokdo, this is primarily an issue about history. The South Koreans have administrative control over Dokdo/Takeshima but they still protest when Japanese make claims to those islands, even though the South Koreans control those islands.
In terms of the territorial dispute between Japan and China, what the Chinese called Diaoyu Islands and the Japanese Senkaku. It's the reverse. The Japanese have administrative protocol and the Chinese claim they should have sovereignty over the islands. But in this case, this has not so far been an issue about history. It's been an issue about economic resources near the islands. It's been an issue about the possibility of military competition in the East China Sea, but not about history
JIM MIDDLETON: But is it also by surrogate a challenge to US naval power? Is that what was meant, for example, by a recent Carnegie endowment report, to which you contributed, which said that the likeliest challenge to the US Japan alliance comes from Beijing's growing coercive power in the immediate region rather than direct military attack?
MIKE MOCHIZUKI: We're not claiming that now China is superior, it's just that the United States relative to China has been eroding in terms of its military capabilities.
So US naval power still has access to the Western Pacific and to areas like the East China Sea. But in the future we think that if the United States approaches those areas they would be put at risk because of the growing capabilities of the Chinese military.
JIM MIDDLETON: One final question: I've been wondering whether there's something exceptional about the way in which nationalism is expressing itself in Japan, China and Korea at the moment. Given that all three of those countries new leaders have relatives, indeed, two of them have parents who were active in politics in the Cold War shadows of World War II?
MIKE MOCHIZUKI: For Mr Abe, he is the grandson of Mr Nobusuke Kishi, who was minister of munitions in the Tojo cabinet during World War II, was a suspected class A war criminal and then in 1957 became prime minister. And, therefore, when he's asked in parliament about Japanese aggression, he has a difficult time saying in a straight forward manner that Japan was an aggressor.
Ms Park, the president of South Korea, she's constrained because her father was in a sense a Japanophile, had graduated from a Japanese military academy; he was someone that wanted to normalise relations with Japan, despite intense domestic opposition in South Korea. And so Ms Park is vulnerable to attacks within her own country that she might be too soft on Japan.
And so, therefore, when Mr Abe or his colleagues in government make provocative statements about the past, then Ms Park has no choice but then to come down hard on the Japanese.
JIM MIDDLETON: Mike Mochizuki, thank you very much indeed.
MIKE MOCHIZUKI: Thank you very much Jim.