Tag Archives: Abe Shinzo

Statements in the evolving US rhetoric on the Chinese ADIZ

This post contains raw text of policy-relevant statements by the U.S. government about the Chinese air defense identification zone announcement in late November. The statements are edited excerpted by me and have been compiled from numerous sources.

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What kind of 'hawk' is Japan's Shinzo Abe? Probably not the kind you think

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, photographed in 2012, from Wikimedia.

Shinzo Abe became prime minister of Japan in December, more than six years after he first took the job, succeeding long-serving Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006. In the U.S. press especially, Abe is often termed a “nationalist” or “hawk” for supporting expanded military activities and a potential revision of the Japanese constitution.

Crystal Pryor, a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center and a Ph.D. student in political science at University of Washington (and my former office-mate), released a very useful brief pushing back on U.S. coverage of the new prime minister in Japan.

To keep things in perspective, it’s worth reviewing the actual text of Article 9 of the constitution, which I will render verbatim but in outline form. And it’s worth remembering that advocates of change are pushing for revision, not repeal.

Article 9.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce
• war as a sovereign right of the nation and
• the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph,
• land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.
• The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Pryor writes:

As the Japanese constitution is currently interpreted, Japan cannot take military action if an ally, the United States, is attacked because Japan does not have the constitutional authority to engage in collective self-defense. Even activities such as sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces on UN PKOs in the 1990s or on refueling missions in the Indian Ocean after 9/11 in support of the US-led operation in Afghanistan faced major domestic hurdles. Japanese politicians calling for Japan to shoulder its half of the security alliance or to send troops on PKO missions can hardly be considered “hawkish” by American standards.

On the constitutional question, one can immediately see that revision of Article 9 need not completely erase restrictions on warmaking in order to carve out the right for Japan to “pull its weight” in the U.S.–Japan alliance or in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Pryor also argues that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not beat the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) because of its “nationalist” character. On this point, few would disagree: Analysts almost universally characterized the LDP electoral victory as a rebuke of the flagging DPJ leadership and economic policies. Pryor also notes that low youth voter turnout undermined the DPJ.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

So what of the emphasis on nationalism and hawkishness? Five years ago, the connection between Abe’s name and the word “nationalist” was already a point of discussion. In the midst of a conversation between the blogger Ampontan (who recently passed away, and whose voice is missed despite differences of opinion) and Tobias Harris at Observing Japan, I compared Abe’s reputed nationalism to that of Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine drew loud opposition from leaders in China and South Korea:

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, for all the fear about a potential Japanese remilitarization, Abe has not been a particularly extreme voice in Japan. Though it may not repair perceptions of his orientation among others in the region, Abe is not the biggest “hawk” in the Japanese political sphere.

As Pryor notes, some real hawkishness comes with the emergence of a “third force” in Japanese party politics.  “[Shintaro] Ishihara, who gave up his position as governor of Tokyo for this election, is a hawk even by American standards. Most recently, he played a central role in reigniting the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute by declaring that Tokyo would purchase and develop the islands. Ishihara has also called for Japan to revise its current constitution and develop nuclear weapons.” It was Ishihara’s provocation that led the Japanese national government to take legal control of the islands. Though that move was blasted by many in China, the islands likely would be even more of a sticking point if Ishihara controlled them.

So Japan’s political stage is, unsurprisingly, more complicated than portrayals in U.S. news stories. But the perception of an agressive, nationalist, or unrepentant Japan is real among some in China. Every day in Beijing, I still see bumper stickers declaring “钓鱼岛 中国的” (“The Diaoyu Islands are China’s”)—or, more aggressively, “打倒小日本!” (roughly, “Take Down Little Japan!”). The Wall Street Journal writes from Tokyo that “while [Abe] seeks a more assertive Japanese presence in the region, he isn’t about to provoke China or risk worsening already strained relations between Tokyo and Beijing.” I’m just not sure Chinese media and official voices, let alone those mobilized in the 2012 anti-Japan protests, are on the same page.

Five Years of Transpacifica: Five New Japanese Prime Ministers

I’m in transit these days, moving for the time being from Seattle to New York. This is a perfect opportunity to look back on what I’ve written in this space since I started here just over five years ago, on Aug. 18, 2006. Looking back, I found some early speculation about what Aso Taro, then foreign minister, would do if he became prime minister of Japan.

This blog began as “Transpacific Triangle,” focusing specifically on the relations among the three largest Pacific powers: the United States, Japan, and China. In 2006, I had studied Japanese in college and in Japan, and I had just spent a ton of energy understanding the April 2005 anti-Japan protests in China for my undergraduate thesis.

Since then, we have seen five Japanese prime ministers, and a sixth is on deck: Noda Yoshihiko.

Aso Taro didn’t become prime minister back when he was running for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2006. As expected, Abe Shinzō took over in Sept. 2006 after Koizumi Jun’ichirō’s long term. Aso did have his turn, however, two leaders later in 2008.

What’s striking looking back is how little anyone talks about the Yasukuni Shrine issue anymore. Sino-Japanese nationalism is more pronounced these days over issues like the supply of rare earth elements—though a Xinhua report did strike a relatively stern note instructing the incoming Prime Minister Noda on how to act.

Take a look at what we used to be worried about (from my post of Aug. 21, 2006):

The same day that he declared his candidacy for LDP president (and presumably prime minister) Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro said he would work to improve ties with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister. Aso is viewed as a long-shot candidate in the Sept. 20 election, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo the presumptive winner.

“Having no meetings between leaders at all is a distorted form of diplomacy and we must correct this,” Aso said, according to Reuters. Aso has been more flexible than Abe on the Yasukuni Shrine question. He has even proposed that the shrine be re-nationalized as a secular war memorial. Some have remarked that the proposal is insane, but to my mind, Aso has apparently been relatively shrewd in his handling of the Yasukuni issue. By renationalizing the shrine, the government would wrest control of the symbolic site from the private Shinto authorities who enshrined the war criminals in the first place and currently administer the controversial Yushukan war museum.

Meanwhile, Aso struck a familiar nationalist note when announcing his proposal, saying “the tens of thousands of soldiers who died crying ‘Long Life to the Emperor’ filled those words with deep emotion, so I strongly pray that the emperor can visit Yasukuni.” This last statement is no personal sentiment. The special status of Yasukuni Shrine as the place where the emperor, who was at the time considered holy, prayed for war dead was fundamental to its rise in importance during what Japan called the Greater East Asian War. When the Meiji authorities built the shrine on Kudan Hill, across the street from the imperial palace grounds, proximity to the emperor was key.

By taking control away from the Shinto authorities and at the same time encouraging an emperor’s visit, Aso might be appealing to both sides of the Yasukuni debate. Abe appeals only to the nationalists on the issue.
But there is still no indication that disenshrining the war criminals is possible, and even before he introduced this new plan, Aso was agitating for Emperor Akihito to visit the shrine. If Hirohito stopped visiting the shrine after it was tarnished by the war criminals (as was recently confirmed by newly available documents), why would Akihito reverse this decision?

Over the next few days, I’ll cue up some other past posts, not necessarily this old. Much has changed in five years, but much has remained the same. If I have some peace and quiet, I might even do a “why I blog” post like Climate Progress has for its fifth year.

 

Japan's New Foreign Policy: Step Back and Focus on Asia

Fukuda tells the Washington Post that Asia is Japan’s top responsibility, sending a signal to the United States on Japan’s expired Afghanistan refueling mission. This is also a departure from Abe and Aso’s aspiration to “Eurasian” reach.

It wasn’t too long ago that then-Foreign Minister Aso Taro declared that Japan would work for an “arc of freedom and prosperity” (自由と繁栄の弧) reaching across the Eurasian landmass. Aso’s rhetoric, which was to set out a foreign policy framework for the newly minted premiership of Abe Shinzo, made some people uncomfortable because of its echoes of history—no doubt partially because of Abe and Aso’s general hawkishness.

Now, after the implosion of the Abe government and the rocky start for Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, a man who was initially seen as an agent for stability, Japan is changing its foreign policy footing. Ahead of Fukuda’s first visit to the United States as prime minister, he gave an interview to the Washington Post. “I believe the heaviest responsibility for Japan is to see to it that there is stability and prosperity in Asia,” Fukuda said, while also calling the U.S.–Japan alliance the “very foundation” of his foreign policy.

Japanese-U.S. ties have been destabilized (if only slightly) recently by the refusal of the Japanese legislature, where the upper house is controlled by Japan’s opposition, to renew Japan’s refueling mission in support of a primarily U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Predictably, this drew attention from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his trip to Asia last week. But as Tobias Harris writes, changes in China loom large in the U.S.–Japan alliance. Here’s Tobias, quoting Gates’ speech last week at Sofia University in Tokyo:

Most pressingly, the alliance has yet to coordinate an approach to China. To some, it is a bulwark against China. To others—and I think it’s safe to include Mr. Gates in this category—the stronger the U.S.–Japan alliance, the better able it will be to reach out to China and work on incorporating China into the regional security architecture. As Mr. Gates says of China, “I do not see China as a strategic adversary. It is a competitor in some respects and partner in others. While we candidly acknowledge our differences, it is important to strengthen communications and to engage the Chinese on all facets of our relationship to build mutual understanding and confidence.”

Fukuda’s emphasis on Asia, if not an isolated statement, could represent at least an orientation toward improving its relations with regional powers. It certainly would seem to reflect the reality of Japanese politics over involvement with U.S. military action.

Footnote: Gates’ not-adversary-but-competitor line also reminds me of Obama, for what it’s worth.

Who's the Bigger Nationalist: Abe or Koizumi?

Ampontan criticizes English-language media for their “[m]indlessly parroted assumptions based on conventional wisdom” that lead to their labeling Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as a “nationalist.” The entry notes Abe’s hands-off approach thus far on the disputed island situations with Korea and Russia as evidence that he is no “hawkish nationalist.” Observing Japan, on the other hand, argues that, for a variety of reasons, Abe can reasonably be called a nationalist:

What makes Abe a nationalist has little if anything to do with his ideas about Japan’s place in the world and more to do with his vision of Japanese society. In short, Abe and his allies in the LDP want to use the state to recreate a more unified Japan as a means of coping with the problems Japan will face in the twenty-first century. What makes Abe a nationalist is his desire to forge (or re-forge) a kind of dynamic unity among the Japanese people, under the rule of the emperor, of course. As he said in his debate with Ozawa Ichiro this week, “If Japan’s long history, traditions and cultures can be likened to a tapestry that the Japanese people have been weaving, the emperor is the warp.”

An interesting question if we’re talking about Japanese nationalism in a historical sense is whether Abe or Koizumi is indeed the bigger nationalist. The nation-building (i.e. unifying) efforts by the Meiji government prominently featured the symbolism of the Yasukuni Shrine, and they used Yasukuni as a place to show off Japan’s new pride in regarding itself as a modern nation. The shrine was strategically located on a Kudan Hill, which then separated upper- and lower-class areas of Tokyo, with the idea of symbolizing unity. Kudan Hill is also conveniently right across the street from the Imperial Palace Grounds, lest you would forget how important the emperor was to the emerging Japanese nation-state. (An excellent source for the early history of the shrine is Akiko Takenaka’s dissertation on Meiji nationalist architecture: Takenaka-O’Brien, Akiko. “The Aesthetics of Mass Persuasion: War and Architectural Sites in Tokyo, 1868-1945.” Yale University, 2004.)

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, as currently constituted, Japan lacks one of the main characteristics of an independent sovereign state: the ability to use force or the threat of force as an instrument of foreign policy. The result is a relationship with the United States that puts its status somewhere in the area between protectorate and strategic ally. Though Japan could theoretically cast off U.S. ties without changing its constitution, the security environment makes this highly unlikely. Changing the constitution would, for better or for worse, strengthen Japan’s independence as a state.

So my verdict: People like Abe who favor constitutional revision are “practical nationalists,” whereas people like Koizumi who pay tribute to late 19th century nationalist traditions are “sentimental nationalists.”