Excerpted from an article by Jeffrey Gedmin, Blue Star Senior Advisor, Co-Director of the Transatlantic Renewal Project at the World Affairs Institute, and Chairman, global politics and security, at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Washington. We should listen carefully to what he says.

I had a chance to get a feel for Abe’s challenge on a recent visit to Tokyo and Okinawa as part of a delegation of policy experts and former senior U.S. officials (the trip was sponsored by the Japanese foreign ministry)…

What I heard in Japan was almost identical to what one hears in Eastern Europe these days. In a world where Kantian idealism clashes ever increasingly with Hobbesian brute force—as Leon Aron puts it in the case of Ukraine, a situation where the West wants peace, and Putin wants victory—the West would do well do take seriously the challenges that are the true drivers of Japan’s new realism under Shinzo Abe. As one influential Japanese analyst told me and colleagues: “What Vladimir Putin is doing on the ground, the Chinese are now doing in this part of the world by sea.”

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Washington. We should listen carefully to what he says.

The Japanese fought to the bitter end in 1945 and surrendered in August of that year after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. General Douglas MacArthur’s postwar occupation brought reconstruction and the beginnings of reconciliation with the United States, a new constitution, democracy—and the seeds of modern-day Japanese pacifism. Now, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Japan’s conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—who is scheduled to meet with President Obama next week and address a joint session of Congress on April 29—is working to alter Japan’s pacifist course and turn the island nation of 127 million into a normal country. It’s time.

I had a chance to get a feel for Abe’s challenge on a recent visit to Tokyo and Okinawa as part of a delegation of policy experts and former senior U.S. officials (the trip was sponsored by the Japanese foreign ministry)…

What I heard in Japan was almost identical to what one hears in Eastern Europe these days. In a world where Kantian idealism clashes ever increasingly with Hobbesian brute force—as Leon Aron puts it in the case of Ukraine, a situation where the West wants peace, and Putin wants victory—the West would do well do take seriously the challenges that are the true drivers of Japan’s new realism under Shinzo Abe. As one influential Japanese analyst told me and colleagues: “What Vladimir Putin is doing on the ground, the Chinese are now doing in this part of the world by sea.”

The current matter at hand? China has its eye on the Senkaku, a small chain of eight uninhibited islands (and rocks) in the East China Sea controlled by Japan. The Chinese want the Senkaku because of their proximity to key shipping lanes and to potential oil and gas reserves. Chinese control of the islands would also crucially offer a choke point for U.S. naval forces, should Beijing decide to invade Taiwan. A Chinese government sponsored website, www.diaoyudao.org.cn, asserts Beijing’s claim to the islands by going back to the 15th century (the Chinese call the islands Diaoyu). To make the point another way, China now regularly sends its naval vessels and coast guard ships into Tokyo’s territorial waters. In fact, in November 2013, the Chinese established the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone” which happens to include the Senkaku Islands, announcing that henceforth aircraft entering the zone would be required to submit a flight plan and radio frequency information.

Beijing’s brazenness doesn’t end there. On a visit to a Japanese airbase in Okinawa, we watched as a half-dozen F-15s scrambled to intercept an incursion into Japanese airspace. It’s a daily occurrence. Last week, Japan’s air force announced that jet fighter scrambles have now reached Cold War levels. In the 12 months preceding March 31, Japanese fighters scrambled 944 times. That’s the second highest number recorded over a 12-month period since records started being kept in 1958. That’s compared to 500 times three years ago (Most of the activity comes from Chinese aircraft operating in the South and East China Seas, but the Russians are doing their part to surveil and intimidate on Japan’s northern flank as well).

Japan is trying to step up. A year and a half ago, Abe’s administration approved, and not without considerable criticism and controversy at home, a reinterpretation of Article 9 that would permit Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to fight with Tokyo’s allies in case of war. At the beginning of this year, Japan also announced its largest ever defense budget. At 4.98 trillion yen (U.S. $42 billion), the amount is still dwarfed by what China spends (currently north of $112 billion) and Beijing is surpassing the rate of Japanese increases by at least three times officially (and probably five or six times in fact).

When I asked a Japanese Air Force General what China ultimately wants of Japan, he smiled and said, “It’s about you. The larger objective is to push the United States out of the Pacific and the Chinese will take two or three decades to accomplish this if they need to.”

They may not have to wait that long. Our fecklessness in Ukraine and our inability to bring terrorists in the Middle East to heel have almost certainly encouraged China to test limits in East Asia.

Last week, the Philippines and Vietnam expressed alarm about China’s creation of artificial islands for military purpose in the South China Sea. This prompted President Obama to weigh in, saying: “Just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside.”

Is that so?

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe is likely to share another view of sharp Chinese elbows when he’s in Washington next week. We would do well to listen.

Excerpted from an article by Jeffrey Gedmin, Blue Star Senior Advisor, Co-Director of the Transatlantic Renewal Project at the World Affairs Institute, and Chairman, global politics and security, at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Read the full article at: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/04/21/pivot-to-japan/