Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe’s Provocation

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is making predictable waves with his provocative visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead–including a number of war criminals from World War II. He is trying, half-heartedly, to pass this off as a normal visit akin to a U.S. president visiting Arlington National Cemetery, but anyone who has ever been to Yasukuni knows that’s not the case. Right next to the shrine is a museum commemorating Japan’s 20th-century wars, which are presented from an imperialistic and militaristic slant in which the Rape of Nanking is not mentioned, the U.S. is blamed for provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the kamikaze pilots are glorified for their devotion to the nation.

Abe knows all of this, and he knows how Japan’s neighbors perceive high-level visits to the Shrine–about the same way as a bull perceives a waving red cape. So what is he up to? The obvious explanation is that he is enhancing his domestic popularity, already high, by catering to his right-wing supporters. He may also feel that China and South Korea have shown little interest in rapprochement with Japan so he has nothing to lose by doing what he has wanted to do all along.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is making predictable waves with his provocative visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead–including a number of war criminals from World War II. He is trying, half-heartedly, to pass this off as a normal visit akin to a U.S. president visiting Arlington National Cemetery, but anyone who has ever been to Yasukuni knows that’s not the case. Right next to the shrine is a museum commemorating Japan’s 20th-century wars, which are presented from an imperialistic and militaristic slant in which the Rape of Nanking is not mentioned, the U.S. is blamed for provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the kamikaze pilots are glorified for their devotion to the nation.

Abe knows all of this, and he knows how Japan’s neighbors perceive high-level visits to the Shrine–about the same way as a bull perceives a waving red cape. So what is he up to? The obvious explanation is that he is enhancing his domestic popularity, already high, by catering to his right-wing supporters. He may also feel that China and South Korea have shown little interest in rapprochement with Japan so he has nothing to lose by doing what he has wanted to do all along.

Some Japan watchers posit a more conspiratorial explanation for his provocation: By visiting Yasukuni, Abe will enrage China, North Korea, and South Korea, among others, possibly prompting symbolic Chinese retaliation, thereby making the Japanese people feel threatened and making them more receptive to his agenda of rearming Japan and adopting a more aggressive posture in foreign and defense policy.

This sounds plausible to me, but it is also short-sighted on Abe’s part, because he is simply feeding Chinese nationalism and xenophobia–the greatest threats to East Asian security today. He is also making it harder, indeed nearly impossible, for Japan to work together more closely with South Korea on issues of mutual concern, such as the threat from North Korea. Japan and South Korea–both democracies closely aligned with the U.S.–ought to be natural allies, but for that to occur South Korea would have to overcome decades of bitterness over Japan’s imperialistic exploitation of their country. Abe’s visit to Yasukuni makes that nearly impossible.

Abe has the potential to be one of Japan’s greatest prime ministers. He has already achieved a great deal by turning around the Japanese economy, which is emerging from years of stagnation. He will also do much good if he succeeds in expanding Japan’s capacity and scope for military action. Japan is America’s closest ally in Northeast Asia and one that can do a good deal of good by checking the rise of Chinese power. The just-concluded agreement to keep a U.S. marine base on Okinawa by relocating it to a remote part of the island is an example of Abe at his best. The visit to Yasukuni, unfortunately, undermines this achievement and creates needless antagonism toward Japanese rearmament.

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Kidnap Victims & Nukes

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

At this moment, the monstrous state run by Kim Jong Il is holding over a thousand South Koreans against their will. Approximately 540 of them are Korean War prisoners who, in violation of the 1953 armistice, were never repatriated to the South. Another 490 or so, according to conservative accountings, have been abducted by Pyongyang’s agents since the end of that terrible conflict. Some estimate the number of kidnapped individuals is in the thousands.

Is help on the way for Asia’s most undeserving victims? As Michael Auslin noted in this forum, Lee Myung-bak scored a landslide win in yesterday’s presidential contest in South Korea. Among other things, the conservative victor has promised a tougher policy toward Kim’s regime. “I assure you that there will be a change from the past government’s practice of avoiding criticism of North Korea and unilaterally flattering it,” the president-elect said at his post-victory news conference. “The North’s human rights issue is something we cannot avoid in this regard, and North Korea should know it.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Lee’s brand of “pragmatic diplomacy” will free South Koreans trapped in the North, yet it’s a safe bet that he will end his country’s unconscionable silence on the issue. Moreover, it’s unlikely that South Korean diplomats, especially those stationed in China, will continue to resist helping South Koreans who have escaped from the North. A state’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, and now Seoul will live up to that for the first time in a decade.

Agents of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il abducted Japanese as well. Tokyo says that North Korea snatched 17 of its citizens from 1977 to 1983, but some believe the real number is over a hundred and others claim 400. Kim has admitted that rogue agents employed by his father—did his dad have any other kind?—abducted only thirteen Japanese citizens. In 2002, he returned five of them and claimed that the others had died. Kim also maintains that any South Koreans in the North are there of their own free will.

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister, made the return of the Japanese abductees one of his highest priorities, but the nation’s current leader, Yasuo Fukuda, is wavering on this matter. Fukuda is wavering in large part because the Bush administration, in a mad dash to convince the North to give up its nuclear weapons, has made it clear that it considers the abductions unimportant and will not permit them to complicate the disarmament process.

Yet the abduction and nuke issues should be considered one and the same for America’s purposes. If Kim Jong Il is not prepared to make an honest accounting of the South Koreans and Japanese his government forcibly took or detained, how can we ever expect him to come clean on a matter of far greater importance to him? Sometimes, complex matters of diplomacy boil down to simple questions like this one.

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Jabbing Japan

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

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Two Collapses

Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

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Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

The Chinese, in comparison, look full of vim and vigor. They are also heading to a political transition. The so-called Fourth Generation leadership, led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, is beginning to select the Fifth. The Communist Party will hold its elaborately staged 17th Congress next month. When the last speech is finished to great applause—as such speeches inevitably are—we will know the lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee and thus be able to guess who is in the running to succeed the inscrutable Hu at the 18th Congress, scheduled for five years from now.

Although their governments are completely different in structure, both Japan and China will pick their next leaders in backroom deals arranged by heads of factions wielding immense power. Both governing systems are rotten in their own ways, and both are fragile. The only difference is that the breakdown of Japan’s “1955 System”—yes, it’s that old—is taking place in public view and change will eventually come at the ballot box. In China, the Communist Party will not give up power without the loss of even more life.

So Japan only looks like it’s failing. We are seeing the regeneration of politics in Japanese society as the old is reluctantly making way for the new. In China, the transition to the next form of governance—coming soon—will not be as smooth.

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Balancing Act

On Saturday, the leaders of the United States, Australia, and Japan met in Sydney to discuss security policy. President Bush, Prime Minster John Howard, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were careful in their first trilateral meeting not to rile Beijing. “As far as China is concerned, the three leaders shared the same recognition that it’s important to have a positive engagement with China,” said Mitsuo Sakaba, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman. Added Charles Morrison of the East-West Center in Honolulu, “They have bent over backwards to try to make sure that starting up their own dialogue does not upset China.”

Why should these nations be so apologetic? The Chinese, after all, do not hesitate to stand up for themselves. Beijing, in the last few months, sent diplomatic protests to the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, asking each of them for an explanation of their growing cooperation. The four participants in the new “quadrilateral dialogue” met in May to discuss strengthening their relationship. Last week, the navies of these four nations (plus Singapore) conducted five days of exercises in the Bay of Bengal—the first such joint exercise in the history of the five nations. The Chinese look south and east and see their neighbors trying to contain them.

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On Saturday, the leaders of the United States, Australia, and Japan met in Sydney to discuss security policy. President Bush, Prime Minster John Howard, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were careful in their first trilateral meeting not to rile Beijing. “As far as China is concerned, the three leaders shared the same recognition that it’s important to have a positive engagement with China,” said Mitsuo Sakaba, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman. Added Charles Morrison of the East-West Center in Honolulu, “They have bent over backwards to try to make sure that starting up their own dialogue does not upset China.”

Why should these nations be so apologetic? The Chinese, after all, do not hesitate to stand up for themselves. Beijing, in the last few months, sent diplomatic protests to the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, asking each of them for an explanation of their growing cooperation. The four participants in the new “quadrilateral dialogue” met in May to discuss strengthening their relationship. Last week, the navies of these four nations (plus Singapore) conducted five days of exercises in the Bay of Bengal—the first such joint exercise in the history of the five nations. The Chinese look south and east and see their neighbors trying to contain them.

Yet Beijing is in no position to complain that the democracies of Asia are drawing together in an arc that sweeps from India to Japan. This loose arrangement—it’s much too early to call it an alliance—was formed largely in reaction to China itself. Beijing is building up its armed forces rapidly and non-transparently. It’s been conducting joint military exercises with Russia since 2005 (including the large one last month), and slowly turning the Shanghai Cooperation Organization—a grouping of China, Russia, and four Central Asian “stans”—into a true alliance with an overtly anti-American cast.

The big trend in Asia is that nations on the periphery of China are banding together to match the continental alliance of the SCO and the growing relationship of Beijing and Moscow. The democracies of the Pacific need to acknowledge in public what they are thinking in private. They need to start defending themselves—and to stop being so solicitous of Beijing’s feelings.

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Abe’s Hard Road

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

The result of this would be at best muddling through and at worst a rudderless leadership, at a time when Japan is facing serious domestic and foreign problems. Abe’s first major test is renewal of the special law permitting Japanese naval ships to refuel coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. Failure to secure the extension would further complicate relations with the United States, which are already under strain due to the Bush Administration’s continued negotiations with North Korea through the Six Party Talks. Tokyo has so far stuck fast to its refusal to participate further in the talks until North Korea releases the numerous Japanese citizens it has kidnapped.

Abe has to start showing results. The Japan-ASEAN free-trade agreement reached two weeks ago is an important and laudable achievement; it goes a long way toward maintaining Japan’s presence in Asia. But more needs to be done. Abe’s call for a partnership of democracies or his “arc of freedom and prosperity” is still just rhetoric. Abe’s values-based diplomacy has yet to move beyond mere words—what kinds of partnerships, organizations, or policies is he imagining? How will he move toward them? Will he embrace all democracies in the regions, including South Korea and Taiwan, or is he aiming at strategic partnerships with India and Australia? Just as important is the question of how well, if at all, Abe can balance his desire to engage China with his apparent strategy of countering its rise by promoting the partnership of democracies.

Abe’s refusal to scale back his ambitious vision for Japanese diplomacy is perhaps his one salient similarity to Koizumi, who was famous for doggedly sticking to a goal once he had pledged himself to it. Whether he can match Mr. Koizumi’s longevity in office, however, is another thing entirely.

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(New) Leader of the Free World

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament, proposed the formation of a partnership of democracies in Asia. The grouping, an “arc of freedom and prosperity,” would include, in addition to India and Japan, Australia and the United States. “This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy, and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests,” Abe said.

Is Tokyo becoming the leading proponent of a free world? Since July of last year, Japan, among the democracies ringing the Pacific Ocean, has adopted the most resolute foreign policy positions on Asia. For instance, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs were unsatisfactory, but they would have been weaker still if Tokyo had not persuaded Washington to adopt a stiffer attitude. Now, Abe is pushing a grand coalition that Washington should have proposed.

President Bush likes to talk about “ending tyranny in our world,” but he’s not been very good at it. And no wonder—he’s been too busy trying to cooperate with Russia and China, nations with dangerous ambitions and the ruthlessness to pursue them. Abe does not have the diplomatic clout to put together his proposed “broader Asia” partnership of democracies, but the United States does. Obviously, Abe won’t be running in next year’s American presidential election, but those who will should be talking to him, the most interesting leader in the free world.

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Japan’s Bad Memories

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

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Goodbye, Abe

Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

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Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

The Japanese economy has done relatively well under Abe’s short tenure, with growth up and unemployment down. Yet Japan is facing the same problems seen in the West, especially widening income disparity. Most Japanese think that unchecked globalization is not beneficial for them. Abe, the youngest prime minister in post-war Japan, seemed indifferent to their plight. Instead of paying attention to bread-and-butter issues and dealing forcefully with scandals in his cabinet, he spoke abstractly of building a “beautiful Japan.” That’s largely why Japanese voters hammered Mr. Abe’s party yesterday.

Hidenao Nakagawa resigned as the secretary general of the LDP, taking public responsibility for what Abe called an “utter defeat.” It seems as though the prime minister will be the next high-level casualty of yesterday’s debacle. Abe thinks a mere reshuffling of his cabinet will satisfy the electorate, but others are demanding he step down, or call immediate lower-house elections.

The Bush administration will not want to see a staunch friend like Abe leave office. Ichiro Ozawa, the head of the victorious Democratic Party, would be far less accommodating to America. But there’s nothing that Washington can do to save the now-embattled Abe. All politics in Japan these days is domestic.

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Raptors to Japan

On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

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On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the F-22 issue with President Bush during their summit this April. Japan would like to buy or build them under license from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s prime contractor. U.S. law prohibits the sale or license of America’s most capable fighter, and a recent attempt to end the ban failed earlier this year. Nonetheless, talk of Raptor sales just won’t go away.

Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them. The Air Force has scaled back substantially its plans to acquire F-22’s, in part because of their cost—about $130 million per plane. The cutback not only threatens the Raptor program and jobs in Georgia, Texas, and California, but also undermines our industrial base. Selling F-22’s to Japan today preserves our capacity to build even more sophisticated fighters tomorrow.

Japan is just about the only suitable purchaser. Its wallet is large enough; it’s an ally that can be counted on to keep the plane’s secrets safe. We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely, despite what the Times may think. America needs Raptors, and we need Japan to have them, too.

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The Dangers of Patience

On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

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On Tuesday, referring to North Korea’s failure to live up to its pledge to shut down and seal the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 14, Condoleezza Rice remarked that “we don’t have endless patience.” North Korea made its promise to shut down the reactor in February at six-party disarmament talks as a part of a two-step plan to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program. The talks were sponsored by Kim Jong Il’s only ally, China, which pressured the United States to accept the deal.

Secretary Rice was repeating comments made last Friday by President Bush, who declared that “Our patience is not unlimited” as he stood next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Camp David. (To their credit, Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, have been pushing the United States to adopt a stiffer policy toward Kim Jong Il.)

These latest statements add to the collection of similar warnings that Kim has collected over the past two weeks. “Our patience is not infinite,” Reuters reported a senior U.S. official as saying on April 14. On that day the State Department’s Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator at the talks, said, “We are not indifferent to missing a deadline.”

Maybe the Bush administration is not indifferent, but it has been very tolerant. The same unidentified American official said that Washington was willing to give Pyongyang “a few more days.” In fact, the U.S. has given the North Koreans a few more weeks.

What’s next? Well, American policymakers will undoubtedly confront Kim Jong Il with . . . more patience. For his part, Kim seems to have a more robust strategy for dealing with us. Last week, for the first time in fifteen years, he showed off missile systems in a military parade. There were three new systems, but what caught analysts’ attention was a new intermediate-range ballistic missile with a maximum range of 4,000 kilometers. It can reach the American territory of Guam. Kim’s Taepodong-2 missile—though not yet deployed—will be able to reach America’s West Coast with a nuclear payload.

So perhaps it would be a good time to start paying attention to Pyongyang’s leader. As Kim Myong Chol, often described as North Korea’s “unofficial spokesman,” wrote at the beginning of this year, “Kim is now one click away from torching the skyscrapers of New York.” This is an exaggeration: at this particular moment, the worst the North Korean leader could do is to incinerate Anchorage or Honolulu. But if North Korea’s arms development continues at this pace, in five to seven years, Kim’s technicians will be able to miniaturize nuclear weapons, mate them to missiles, and deploy them in a launch vehicle that can reach any point in North America.

Perhaps we should move the White House to Bermuda.

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