Japan's PM Abe begins weeklong visit to US today, to address a joint session of Congress Wednesday

As China moves forward with a massive military buildup and challenges Japanese territorial claims to islands between the two countries, a set of newly revised and strengthened security guidelines for the US and Japan is to be signed by lower level officials, while Japan’s leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, visits the US on an extended itinerary.  Kirk Spitzer of USA Today writes:

U.S. and Japanese defense and foreign ministers plan to sign a new version of the U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation on Monday. It will be the first update in how the two countries divide roles and missions since 1997, when China's military spending, capabilities and assertiveness were far less than today.

Abe has boosted defense spending and sought to ease constitutional restraints on offensive missions by Japan's military. A key goal of the guidelines is to broaden the circumstances under which Japan's armed services — officially known as self-defense forces — can aid U.S. forces in contingencies where Japan itself is not under immediate threat.

This will be seen by China as very provocative, echoing their contention that Japan is preparing to resume its old imperialistic ways in Asia, this time under US tutelage. It is a staple of Chinese politics and propaganda to demonize Japan as means of uniting Chinese in hatred over past wrongs. (The same is true of South Korea, but that nation is a genuine democracy and is not building up military fortifications to back up expansive territorial claims. That distinction belongs solely to China.)

The strengthening of ties to Japan is a notable and unusual diplomatic success for President Obama.  Unlike Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Japan’s Prime Minister will face no flak from President Obama when he addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday. He will be the first Japanese Prime Minister to be so honored, and admits to a bit of nervousness over his English ability.  Mari Yamaguchi of AP writes:

In his address, Abe is expected to touch on historical issues before highlighting Japan's contributions to relations with the U.S. since its postwar occupation ended in 1952.

Abe said Sunday that he will focus on the future of Japan and the world. "I plan to show my vision about the future of Japan as we work with the United States, and about the world we want to achieve," he said.

The speech "is basically evolving around the Japan-U.S. relationship, how we have come a long way in 70 years," Japan's ambassador to the U.S., Kenichiro Sasae, told a recent seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "What are the challenges we are heading for? What will be the best thing for the leaders to recognize and build together?"

Abe is on a US itinerary that begins in Boston, with dinner at the Beacon Hill mansion of Secretary of State Kerry, a lecture at Harvard, and a visit to MIT -- intended to help burnish his image at home as a worldly leader, After his visit to DC and his historic address to Congress, he will end up in Silicon Valley, meeting with business leaders and further burnishing his domestic image of promoting Japan’s high technology sector.

Abe has equivocated on Japan’s war guilt, enraging Koreans and Chinese, but building support among those Japanese who are tired of what they see as Japan’s excessive obsequiousness. Unlike Germany, Japan has never forthrightly confronted the full evil it inflicted upon the rest of Asia, and school textbooks downplay the story. This is continuing to cost Japan dearly in its relations with the rest of Asia.  

Abe is notably conservative, but that hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from cozying up.