PM Abe of Japan: US Realism and Political Confidence in Tokyo

PM Abe of Japan: US Realism and Political Confidence in Tokyo

Hiroshi Saito and Lee Jay Walker 

Modern Tokyo Times


It appears that aspects of the media in Japan are beset by Western “gilt trips” and the trappings of “multi-cultural apologetics.” This certainly applies to the English speaking media on a whole in Japan. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is highlighting a growing confidence within the body politic of Japan. Therefore, if nationalism follows this within the Japanese framework then this should help the nation emerge from several decades of self-defeatism.

China, India and other nations in Asia are continuing to focus on military modernization. At the same time, the United States is faced with a growing debt issue and military cutbacks. Indeed, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq highlight the limited power of America on the ground even when many nations supported the policies of Washington. The Libya debacle was prompted by France and the United Kingdom and increasingly it looks like America relies on many players in order to approach serious foreign policy issues. This reality means that Japan needs to focus on exporting both soft power and in the long-term being able to provide hard power during times of crisis.

America and the European Union don’t have a mighty China in their respective backyard but for Japan the nation of China is a reality. It is therefore essential that political elites in Tokyo focus on building greater bridges with Beijing but not from weakness – but from being equals. If China did lock-on to Japanese vessels in the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) area then no country can tolerate such provocations indefinitely. After all, if China is so concerned about the rights and wrongs of disputed areas then surely this nation should focus on the Tibetan issue and other areas of this country.

It is not in the interest of China and Japan to be at loggerheads because both nations need to focus on stability and strengthening past cultural realities. In history scholars from China and Japan visited each other in order to obtain greater knowledge and understanding. Nobody doubts the influence of Confucianism, Daoism and other ideas emanating from China which influenced Japanese culture. Similarly, Buddhism entered China and the Korean peninsula first before penetrating Japan. Therefore, regional nations need to move on in order to create a powerful economic bloc in Northeast Asia which is based on favorable trade agreements.

Nationalist tendencies within the Abe government don’t have to be destructive. On the contrary, it means that Japan is joining the club because nobody doubts the nationalistic tendencies of China, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan within Northeast Asia. Indeed, for far too many decades the nation of Japan remained hidden by the American umbrella and the constraints of the constitution. However, America now needs greater input from allies because of internal economic weakness and because of past military debacles. Nobody can claim that America’s military defeated Vietnam in the distant past and more recently Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have led to even greater instability after the intrigues of Washington. Afghanistan and Iraq are now blighted by terrorism, Islamist militancy, sectarianism and other negative forces. Likewise, Libya is now a failed state and all these realities highlight the limitedness of America and other major powers like France and the United Kingdom. This reality means that Japan needs to share the burden of America in Northeast Asia by playing a more active geopolitical and military role because the power of Washington is on the wane. Of course, America is still blessed with many aces but clearly the Cold War era is dead and regional players throughout the globe have their own geopolitical agendas therefore greater mutual understanding is needed between powerful nations in the modern world.

Kumi Yokoe, a senior visiting fellow of the Heritage Foundation, comments that “With amazing consistency, U.S. media have portrayed Abe as a fringe character — typically, as a “hawk” unsuited to pacifist Japan. Yet this supposedly “out-of-step” politician won an electoral landslide in December and enjoys a 71 percent approval rating today.”

Kumi Yokoe continues by stating that “Abe’s views differ sharply from those of the earlier generation. He wants to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and enhance his country’s military capabilities. This arises not from “hawkishness,” but from the great sense of confidence that characterizes the generation of Japanese forty – and fifty somethings now taking the reins of power.”

“…Prime Minister Abe is the voice of this generation. That is why he so roundly condemned the successful nuclear test by North Korea last week. That is why he insisted that China apologize for locking weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese warship and promise that it would not do so again. Politicians of the Dankai generation would have eschewed such responses as too “hawkish.” But for Abe’s generation, confrontation is not synonymous with belligerence. Rather, it is a sign of confidence and realism.”

Abe is also progressive when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the current leader in Washington supports. The growing power of China is a reality and the Russian Federation can play many strings in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia. Therefore, it is time for Japan to play a more constructive role and broaden relations with all regional powers based on “normality” and not being “subservient” to the whims of any one single nation. Indeed, with the Obama administration implementing defense cutbacks then it makes sense for Japan to play a more powerful role within the geopolitical interest of both Washington and Tokyo. At the same time, Abe and future Japanese governments need to make increasing overtures to China and the Russian Federation based on mutual interests.


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