Current US-China Relations

Henry C.K. Liu

Part 1:   The lame duck and the greenhorn
Part 2:   The challenge of unilateralism
Part 3:   Dynamics of the Korea crisis
Part 4:   Proliferation, imperialism - and the 'China threat'
Part 5:   Kim Il-sung and China
Part 6:   Korea under Park Chung-hee
Part 7:   Clinton's belated path to peace
Part 8:   Bush's bellicose policy on N Korea
Part 9:   The North Korean perspective
Part 10: The Changing South Korea Position


Part 11: Japanese Strategy to become a “Beautiful Nation”

This article appeared in AToL on March 3, 2007

While Japan had been keenly aware of the need to maintain harmonious relations with its Asian neighbors by keeping the ugly head of militarism below radar range all through the Cold War, a persistent push for a revival of militarism has steadily emerged since the end of the Cold War in 1991.  Japan’s ruling circles have since concluded that Japan must aggressively protect and enhance its national interests with re-militarization amid a rapidly changing post Cold War international environment in which force is routinely preferred by the sole remaining superpower to implement its global policy of transformation. To be an ally of consequence, Japan needs to remilitarize when the sole remaining superpower has selected force as the solution of choice in international disputes while diplomacy has been sidelined to only as a means of last resort. The US-led global War on Terrorism is a shoot-first, ask-questions-later operation in which multilateral diplomacy begins only when war fails, as the current situation in Iraq demonstrates. Japan’s aspiration to be again a player of consequence in international affair requires her to develop credible force projection capability. As Japan moves to imitate US neo-liberalism in economics, it moves also to echo US militarism in international relations.

Despite Japan’s close post-WWII relations to the US as a deferential ally, the 1970s were times of antagonistic US anxiety over an alleged “Japanese threat” as the defeated nation reemerged as a rising economic power through its opportunistic exploitation of US overseas spending in the Cold War and US preferential treatment for Japanese exports to US markets. All through the Cold War, security alliance with the US had been an economic benefit to Japan. As the Cold War settled down to Détente and the need for Japan as a US captured ally against Communism in East Asia subsided, anti-Japanese feeling grew from what US companies viewed as Japanese predatory trading practices in key sectors in the US economy such as steel, ship building, auto manufacturing, electronics and real estate. The contrast between Japanese industrial policy and US market fundamentalism led to US demand for “a level playing field” in bilateral trade with Japan, in effect demanding Japan to shoulder an increasing share of the cost of the security alliance.

China Replaces Japan as US Trade Target

Beginning around the 1980’s, China gradually emerged as the new target of US concern over outsourcing of US jobs, taking Japan off the crosshair of US animosity over trade. The new economic hostility towards China is different than that toward Japan on several levels. Geopolitically, China is still a communist nation and not a subservient US ally like Japan. However, Chinese export to US markets is largely financed by US investment, unlike the situation in Japan where US capital faced an uphill struggle trying to break through entrenched Japanese protectionism left untouched by US Cold-War era tolerance. As a result, anti-Japan noises of the 1980s came from US big business while anti-China noises now come from US populist sentiments and dismissed by big business.

US Exchange Rate Warfare

Unable to break down intractable Japanese protectionism, the US resorted to exchange rate warfare and succeeded in defeating the Japanese threat. Now the same exchange rate was is being launched against China.

has been on a high-growth path in the past two decades, albeit from a dismally low base, while Japan fell into protracted economic stagnation off high plateau as a result of the US strong-arming the Plaza Accord in 1985 to force a sudden, sharp rise in the exchange value of the freely convertible yen. The yen eventually stabilized only after rising more than 51% against the dollar, forcing the Japanese economy on a downward path for more than two decades with no end yet in sight. The yen rose from 360 to the dollar in 1971 to top out at less than 80 to the dollar in April 1995. The Japanese economy has yet to fully recover from the meltdown of its financial sector brought on by financial globalization through dollar hegemony, even though it remains an unmatched industrial competitor. The dark experience of Japan and to a lesser degree South Korea leaves China justifiably apprehensive about making its own currency fully convertible with floating rates and opening its financial markets.

War Reignited Japanese Militarism

Besides economics, the negative impact of the first Gulf War in 1990-91 on Japanese foreign relations came as a surprised shock to Tokyo. Within the limits of its pacifist constitution, Japan backed the US fully as a dutiful ally. However, being prevented by its pacifist constitution from sending combat troops overseas, Japan ended up paying heavily for the financial cost of the war while gaining little diplomatic benefits.

Militarism as an Option to Revitalize the Japanese Economic Miracle

The 1990s proved to be a decade of self doubt for the Japanese ruling elite. The post-war Japanese economic miracle and resultant prosperity were abruptly interrupted by the catastrophic collapse of Japan’s property and stock market bubbles in the late 1980s, resulting in devastating price deflation and persistent economic stagnation. Keeping yen interest rates low for extended periods failed to revive the Japanese economy due to what Keynes identified as a liquidity trap in which banks are unable to find willing or credit- worthy borrowers in a dire market of shrinking demand. All low yen interest rate did was to allow international currency speculators to profit from yen “carry trade” by borrowing low-interest yen to lend overseas in high-interest dollar, while hedging exchange rate risks with derivatives. Japan fell into a deepening debt spiral domestically while it emerged as the world biggest creditor nation overseas with the largest foreign exchange reserves.

To this day Japan, despite facing a crisis at home of excessive domestic debt, continues to own huge amount of dollars that cannot be spent at home and that have to be loaned back to the US at terms dictated by the US Federal Reserve, which set dollar interest rates by fiat, in defiance of global market forces. Japan’s long-term gross national debt of $7.4 trillion amounted to 160% of its GDP of $4.6 trillion in 2006. It was the highest of any G7 nation and more than twice that of the US which was at 67%. Japan has been unable to utilize sovereign credit to effectively meet the investment needs of its private sector. As a result, Japan looks to international capital (mostly from the US), money (more than $2 trillion) that really belongs to Japan, having earned it from export. Despite residual protectionism, Japan has been selling increasingly larger stakes in its supposedly successful industrial enterprises to US transnational corporations and financial institutions while it holds around $1 trillion foreign reserves denominated in paper dollars.

Among the First Victims of Dollar Hegemony

Despite its industrial prowess, the Japanese economy was among the first of many victims of dollar hegemony, a monetary virus created by the dollar, a fiat currency since President Nixon took it off gold in 1971, continuing to assume the status of the key reserve currency for international trade while falling over 50% against the yen through the 1970s. US-Japan trade became a game where the US produced fiat dollars at will while the Japanese produced real goods that dollars could buy at a dysfunctional exchange rate. The more Japan earns in trade surplus with the US, the more real wealth leaves Japan for the US through dollar hegemony.

LDP Suffers Conceptual Menopause and Policy Paralysis

The Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) of Japan, formed in 1955 to “unite conservative forces and stabilize politics” to solidify the purge of the left in Japanese politics by US occupation. The LDP is a political monopoly that had ruled successfully on a strict regime of industrial policy designed to facilitate post-war economic reconstruction. The Party characterizes itself constitutionally as “(1) a national party, (2) a pacifist party, (3) a genuinely democratic party, (4) a parliamentary party, (5) a progressive party, and (6) a party committed to creating a welfare state.” On these principles, the LDP has ruled post-war Japan as a one-party political system since its founding.

While the LDP led Japan to post-war prosperity with close government support of big business during the Cold War, it is however completely clueless as a political institution about how to restructure the economy to deal with the onslaught of globalization of unregulated financial markets after the Cold War. The LDP has remained in power for more than five decades through electoral gerrymandering and hefty subsidies to special interest groups, particularly its power base in rural farming electorates and the zaibatsu, giant industrial combines buoyant by export growth subsidized by government industrial policy; but it fell into conceptual menopause and policy paralysis beginning two decades ago with regard to the urgent task of restructuring the Japanese economy to meet the destructive onslaught on economic nationalism by finance globalization.

Sharp disputes within the LDP over political reform to meet the new financial globalization produced a seismic split in the party in 1993, causing the party to briefly lose power and control of politics for the first time in 38 years. A series of relatively short-lived LDP-led coalition governments followed, including an alliance in 1996 with the largest postwar opposition party: the Socialist Party of Japan (SPJ). But instead of the SPJ revitalizing the ruling LDP with bold domestic socialist programs, the alliance ruined the SPJ, now known as Social Democrats, by forcing it to support the distressed Japanese export sector with anti-labor policies, thus failing to increase domestic consumption demand, the key to prosperity in an economy plague by overcapacity.

None of the fleeting coalition governments since the mid-1990s was able to overcome solid popular opposition to the conservative agenda of reviving militarism, forbidden by the post-war pacifist constitution. Nor could these coalition governments overcome special interest opposition to proposals to restructure the economy to respond to emerging globalization. The traditional Japanese system of keiretsu, a close-knit structure that vertically integrates manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, traders, banks and insurance companies working closely with government bureaucracy to gain overseas market share, was too structurally imbedded to allow radical reform without dismantling the entire Japanese socio-economic system or rejecting the delicate balance between rights and obligations in traditional Japanese culture.

Desperate Gamble on Koisumi

The installation of Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister in 2001 was a desperate gamble for the troubled LDP. His father, Junya Koizumi, was director general of the Japan Defense Agency and a member of the Diet and was purged from politics for war crimes by the Allied occupation government but returned to the Diet in 1952. Junichiro’s cousin died a kamikaze pilot. His grandfather, Matajiro Koizumi was an early advocate of postal privatization when he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications under Prime Minister Yuko Hamaguchi (1929–30) who pursued a conciliatory policy toward China and compromised with the US in the London Naval Treaty of 1930, measures that were unpopular with the militarists. Hamaguchi was shot by an ultranationalist in 1930 and died from the wounds a year later. Baron Reijirō Wakatsuki succeeded Hamaguchi but he failed to control the Army, and was unable either to prevent the military-instigated Manchurian Incident or to rein in the Army from further escalation of hostilities in China afterwards. Wakatsuki opposed the war against the US in retirement.

Junichiro Koizumi fashions himself as Japan’s male Margaret Thatcher to promote all-out neo-liberalism in Japan, the way war-time emperor Hirohito fashioned himself after the Queen Victoria to promoting Japanese imperialism in Asia.

With his unorthodox image of being a champion of the need to remold an obsolete Japan, Koizumi had previously been dismissed as a cultural maverick, a derogatory term used in Japan against the likes of Sony founder Akio Morita who enjoyed more respect overseas than at home in Japanese society where individualism is viewed as a social disease.

However, imminent electoral defeat forced the LDP elders to back Koizumi despite his refusal to accommodate the factional bosses as required by the traditional route to top office. Koizumi exploited his unconventional persona by posturing as a political rebel and opponent of the staid establishment to win support from disaffected voters, particularly among the alienated youth coming into voting age who, as a generation, were victimized by financial globalization without having personally enjoyed any of the pre-globalization benefits, such as Shushin koyo, the lifetime guarantee of employment by the employer corporation and other benefits of corporate welfare.

Behind Koizumi’s neo-liberalism in economics, however, was a neo-conservative agenda in geopolitics. As prime minister, Koizumi immediately began his annual public visits to the Yasukuni shrine to honor not just war dead but convicted war criminals.

In May 2005, Japanese legislators overwhelmingly, by a vote of 202 to 14 in the upper house, approved a controversial bill, a month after the lower house’s approval, creating a national holiday to honor war-time emperor Hirohito. The holiday took effect in 2006, to be known as “Showa Day,” after the official name for Hirohito’s six-decade-long reign which lasted from 1926 to 1989. It was a ritual that critics identify as the latest in a series of symbolic gestures to glorify Japan’s militarist past and shift away from its post-war pacifism. The US has its Martin Luther King Day since 1986 to commemorate passive resistance to racism while Japan beginning 2006 has its Showa Day to idolize the glory of former empire.

Japanese opponents of the Showa Day bill condemned its passage. “The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to promote chauvinism through this,” said Seiji Mataichi, an upper house lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party and one of the handful of legislators who opposed the bill. He noted that debate continues over Hirohito’s responsibility of militarism and war.

The Koizumi government also authorized revisionist school history textbooks that are unapologetic about and denial of Japan’s wartime record of inhumane atrocity. He dismissed mass protests in China and South Korea against such revision of history, declaring the issues as matters of Japanese internal affair even though the atrocities were all committed beyond Japanese territory on the soil and the persons of compatriots of the protestors.

9-11 Provided an Opening for Japanese Militarism

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US homeland provided a timely opening for Japan militarism revival. Koizumi immediately threw Japan solidly behind the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism”, endearing himself personally to Bush. The US-led war of terrorism was viewed by Koizumi as a golden opportunity to restore Japan as a “normal nation”, one able to use its armed forces to assert its national interest uninhibited by a pacifist constitution. He pushed through legislation to allow the dispatch of Japanese warships to support US invasion of Afghanistan, decisively breaking with his foreign minister and key ally Makiko Tanaka, who was critical of US neo-conservative militarist transformational foreign policy and who advocated a more independent path for Japan. In 2003, despite overwhelming popular opposition of 88%, Koizumi dispatched Japanese troops to Iraq, the first time Japanese military personnel had been sent to an active war zone since World War II. Japanese troops were also sent to Indonesia to assist with relief work after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The defense minister of the new administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, successor to Koizumi, is Fumio Kyuma, former Chairman of the LDP General Council. The outspoken defense minister, whose office has just been elevated to full ministry status from a unit within the Ministry of State, said in a Diet committee session in December 2006 that former Prime Minister Koizumi’s expression of Japan’s outright support for the US-led invasion of Iraq “was not made officially” but was just comments Koizumi made to the media. Kyuma criticized US President George Bush’s decision to launch the war in Iraq in a speech before the Japan National Press Club on January 24, 2007, saying they could have severe effects on the bilateral alliance, causing an immediate official protect from the US States Department. The revival of Japanese militarism is not synonymous with unquestioned support for US militarism, signaling a rising degree of independence from the US in security matters. Japanese national interest in the Middle East is not identical to US national interest.

Still, the revival of Japanese militarism is reflected in many quasi-official pronouncements. A typical example is a lengthy September 2005 speech sponsored by the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia in which Masayuki Yamauchi, Tokyo University Professor and Chef de Mission of the Japan-Middle East Cultural Exchanges and Dialogue Mission, after acknowledging that “the foundations for Japan’s post-war prosperity were built with the onset of regional conflicts in East Asia and the Cold War,” asserts that anti-Japanese feelings in China and South Korea are rooted in jealousy, not unlike Saddam Hussein’s invasion of oil-rich Kuwait which he misinterprets as also motivated by jealousy, betraying his ignorance of Middle East history.

“Jealousy of and a backlash against Japan have strong roots in areas of East Asia close to Japan, and it is from these roots that anti-Japanese feeling has emanated in complex undercurrents. The further away from Japan one travels, to Southeast and South Asia, praise for Japan increases and moving still further away, to the Arab countries of the Middle East and Turkey, it can be said that such envy evaporates and instead transforms into praise and respect coupled with aspirations. This ‘doughnut phenomenon’ of course is undoubtedly related to Japan’s history between 1905 and 1945 and whether the countries experienced at first hand Japanese colonialism and the war. The “doughnut phenomenon” came into sharp relief this year when fanatical anti-Japanese feeling came gushing forth in both China and South Korea. Although Japan provided a total of US$11.5 billion in support of the multinational force engaged in the war, it could not even fulfill a role in peacekeeping operations, and Japan took no more than a backseat role in international politics at the time of the formation of a post-Gulf War Middle East order. This is not a blunder of career diplomats but rather the responsibility for failure falls to Japanese politicians who were lacking in any kind of political philosophy or strategic initiatives,” Yamaguchi said.

While Professor Yamaguchi is off target with his doughnut analogy of distance and hostility, highlighted by the fact that Southeast Asia, including Singapore, further from Japan than East Asia, remains the hotbed of anti-Japan feelings, his views are quite representative of Japanese narcissism. Popular anti-Japanese feelings in Asia are based more on Japanese wartime atrocities, crimes against humanity, than on Japanese colonialism, crimes against nations. To expand Professor Yamaguchi’s “doughnut” theory, there is also no anti-Japanese sentiment on Mars because the Japanese atrocity never reached that far.

To many Japanese chauvinists, the 1991 Gulf war was the low point of Japan’s postwar diplomacy when its pacifist constitution, which renounces the use of force as a means of settling international disputes, suddenly becomes the reason why Japan is not getting proper respect from other governments rather than a source of moral pride. To deflect the sense of national shame for having been forced in defeat to accept a US-imposed constitution, many Japanese have rationalized constitutional pacification not as a dishonorable imposition by an arrogant victor on a defenseless vanquished, but as a posture of moral regeneration against the horror of war, which had brought on two atomic-bomb attacks on its homeland and civilians in a blatant display of state terrorism.

In the 1991 first Gulf War, Japanese diplomats saw their government bluntly condemned by allies for failing to contribute even a token dispatch of military personnel to the multinational force against Iraq because of misapplied constitutional restraints. As US propaganda posed the Iraqi reclamation of Kuwait as a violation of the international principle of respect for sovereignty, Japanese non-participation was interpreted as a lapse in its international responsibility. Tokyo’s belated and reluctant contribution of $13 billion to the war effort was off-handedly dismissed as check book diplomacy. After the conflict, when Kuwait, a major exporter of oil to Japan, thanked a long list of nations for their defense of its sovereignty, Japan stood out conspicuously by its omission.

In comparison with the 1991 Gulf War, the neo-conservative Koizumi administration acted swiftly and decisively in the 2002 Afghanistan War and the 2003 Iraq War. With a 70% general support rating, Koizumi redirected a strong public mandate towards long-standing right-wing inclination to remove the constitutional restraints put on Japanese militarism in the wake of defeat in WWII by the victor. Using new laws to legalize militarized peacekeeping, Koizumi pushed the constitutional envelope by dispatching Japanese military personnel to support the US war effort. The maritime self-defense forces helped US forces in intelligence gathering operations, while ground troops assisted in refugee relief operations in Pakistan and provided rearguard support for US military operations, including the provision of supplies, transport, medical services and security protection for US bases in Japan for operations far from Japan. New legislation was submitted in parliament to allow the Self Defense Forces (SDF) to provide support to US forces in pre-emptive crises beyond “areas surrounding Japan”, not withstanding that force projection is by nature offensive.

“We want to provide maximum support to the US, our ally, with the cooperation of the Japanese people,” Koizumi said. “Japan would like to take an active role in the fight against terrorism.” Anti-terrorism is then exploited as a moral pretext for the revival of militarism in Japan.

Flexing Japan’s economic muscle, Tokyo provided emergency financial aid to Pakistan and India as rewards for their cooperation with the US war on terrorism. This represented a de-facto change of policy as Japan had halted economic assistance to the same two countries in 1998 in protest of their separate nuclear weapons tests.

was nervous that Japan after 9:11, 2001 would again be left on the sidelines of big-power maneuvering as in 1991. Japan suffered substantial civilian losses in the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US, with 24 Japanese nationals missing and the offices of 31 Japanese companies destroyed. However its ability to respond militarily was constitutionally so limited that the US put far more effort into building anti-terrorism cooperation with China and Russia, which command more military and intelligence capability. As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, Japan feels obliged to accelerate revision of its pacifist constitution which both the US and Japan desire for separate reasons. The unintended victims of the terrorist attacks on the US could prove to be Japanese pacifism. And the unintended consequence of the US War on Terrorism could be a revival of militarism in Japan and other nations in Asia and around the world.

US Invasion of
Iraq Cost LDP Majority

After the March 2003 Iraq invasion, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Koizumi suffered an eclipse in its long-held majority in Japan’s lower house of the Diet in the November 9, 2003 elections. Campaigning on a platform of privatization of public services and utilities, pension reforms and the deployment of Japanese SDF troops to Iraq, the ruling LDP lost 10 seats, retaining just 237 in the 480-seat lower house and lost its ruling majority. The LDP once again had to rely on coalition partners: the pacifist Buddhist New Komeito Party, which won 34 seats, and the right-wing nationalist New Conservative Party which won 4 seats. Following the poll, three independents joined the LDP, giving the ruling coalition a total of 278 seats, down from its pre-election total of 286.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 40 seats to reach 177 in the Diet on a platform opposing the dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq. Its success led several commentators to conclude, somewhat prematurely, that Japan had moved into a new political age, with a genuine multiparty political system after a half-century of one party rule by the LDP. Voter turnout dropped 3% from the 2000 election to 60%, reflecting public apathy toward politics and frustration with a stagnant economy and job cuts, increased taxes to finance corporate bailouts while neglecting under-funded pension and health system. The political left, never very strong since its exhaustive purge by the US occupation, was a big loser, with the Social Democratic Party reduced to 6 seats from 18, and the Communist Party losing 11 of its 20 seats.

The DPJ opposition to the revival of militarism and to the deployment Japanese troops to Iraq was technical, arguing that Japanese troops should only be sent to Iraq under the framework of the United Nations, not under conditions where the US military still controls the country. This position reflects the view of the ruling circles that Japan’s interests in the Middle East, above all its dependence on oil from the region, are not served by domination of the Middle East by the US and Britain, which ironically reinforces the need of an independent Japanese military.

Makiko Tanaka

A significant development in Japanese politics was the election of independent candidate Makiko Tanaka, the former and first female foreign minister from April 2001 to January 2002 in the Koizumi administration. Daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka who, following Nixon, re-established diplomatic relations with China, Ms. Tanaka ran in Niigata No. 5 district after she was fired from the cabinet for making remarks critical of the prime minister.  Kicked out of the ruling LDP and barred from party membership for two years, she ran as an independent and defeated the incumbent LDP candidate who had taken over her seat when she resigned from the Diet over some minor scandal that she was later exonerated. After a 4-month political absence, she made a political comeback on an ideological alignment with “like-minded lawmakers”.  As foreign minister, she achieved international notoriety when she referred to George W Bush as “totally an asshole” during a visit to her old private high school near Philadelphia in 2001.

Ms Tanaka, who contributed to Koizumi’s rapid rise to prominence and popularity and who shares his neo-liberal economic reform agenda, was removed as foreign minister as differences began to emerge over Japan’s unquestioning alliance with the US. Tanaka is representative of a faction in Japanese politics that sees Japan’s future as being bound up with closer relations with China and other Asian nations, where Japan has large and growing investments and important trade relations on top of close cultural affinity.

The Buddhist New Komeito Party, a pacifist organization that represents the “weak and underrepresented” in society opposes the deployment of SDF troops to Iraq as well as further amendments and revisions to Japan’s pacifist constitution. It also aims to protect small business and the working class from adverse impacts from of further economic restructuring advocated by Koizumi and Tanaka.

Shinzo Abe

On 26 September 2006, Shinzo Abe, the newly elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), became at 52 the youngest post-war Prime Minister of Japan, after winning 66%, or 464 votes out of the total 703 votes from LDP lawmakers.  On January 10, 2007, Abe upgraded the Defense Agency to full ministry status for the first time since Japan’s defeat in WWII, as a part of his push to reclaim a full role for Japan in world affairs as a major power. Though largely symbolic, the change gives the military establishment greater budgetary and policy powers and greater prestige even if not respectability.

As Japan’s newly elected and 90th Prime Minister, Abe is the first leader born after WWII. Facing tense diplomatic stress, Abe began his premiership with an urgent task of mending ties with Japan’s Asian neighbors. In October 2006 Abe paid “ice-breaking” visits to China with which no top level visit from Japan has taken place since 2001, and to South Korea, signaling a new approach in Japanese foreign policy with regard to Asia to break Japan’s diplomatic deadlocks with China and South Korea left by his predecessor Koizumi. Abe hopes his new approach would not only serve Japan's national interests, but also lead to improved stability in Northeast Asia.

Abe carries a personal burden of a sensitive heritage. Under postwar US occupation, his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was initially condemned as a war criminal for his role as a high official overseeing the Japanese puppet regime in Manchuria and a minister in the wartime cabinet of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. Kishi was nevertheless rehabilitated to meet US need for conservative politicians to keep the increasingly popular left in check in post-war Japanese politics. He rose quickly to prominence in the LDP and became prime minister in 1957.

In 1960, Kishi pushed through the renewal of US-Japan Security Treaty amid massive public protests. Anti-US demonstrations became so intense that then White House press secretary James Hagerty, in Japan to prepare for a presidential visit, had to move about by helicopter to avoid protestors on the ground.  President Dwight Eisenhower had to cancel his planned trip to Japan and Kishi himself eventually had to resign. But the treaty survived.

Abe’s granduncle, Eisaku Sato, Kishi’s brother, was prime minister from 1964 to 1972. Abe’s own father, Shintaro, also a leading LDP politician, was slated to become prime minister when he died suddenly in 1991. Abe had left his job as an executive with Kobe Steel to become his father’s secretary after Shintaro’s appointment as foreign minister in 1982. After Shintaro’s death, Abe took over his father’s seat in parliament representing Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Abe’s family political heritage goes back to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. His Yamaguchi Prefecture was the base of the powerful Choshu clan that joined with elements of the rising bourgeoisie to overthrow the feudal Shogunate and restore the Meiji Emperor as a central authority who modernized Japan on the model of the British Empire. While the US imposed post-WW II constitution formally established Japan as a constitutional monarchy, right-wing elements of the Japanese establishment continue to regard the emperor as the revered symbol of ultra-nationalism, patriotism and militarism in the land of Samurai culture, notwithstanding that the Meiji Restoration demolished the feudal Samurai cult and co-opted its surviving members and values into industry, business, government and the military in the service of the Emperor.

The Impact of Westernization of

Notwithstanding the historical image of the Meiji Restoration as a modernization movement, policy conflicts persisted throughout the Meiji period over how much Japan should emulate or borrow from the West. Opinion was divided between kaikoku (open the country) and jôi (expel the barbarians) after Commodore Perry landed in 1853. While tensions continued throughout the Meiji period regarding Japan’s policy toward foreigners among politicians and alien ideas among intellectuals, the Japanese masses went from xenophobia to xenophile, seduced by crass Western mannerism and low culture while the whole nation adopted the martial aspects of Western civilization without full appreciation of its humanist side.

Among the perverse Western ideas and institutions the Meiji reformers adopted was a quest for fukoku kyôhei (rich country, strong military) to catch up with Western empires and to gain national power and wealth, rejecting traditional appreciation of the virtue of harmony in Asian civilization as expressed in Confucianism and Buddhism. The rise of Japanese militarism is closely associated with curbs on Buddhism and Confucianism by Shinto as a state religion with the Emperor as its living god.

A December 15, 1945 Directive for the Disestablishment of State Shinto from the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers to the Imperial Japanese Government decreed that “in order to prevent recurrence of the perversion of Shinto theory and beliefs into militaristic and ultra-nationalistic propaganda designed to delude the Japanese people and lead them into wars of aggression …The sponsorship, support, perpetuation, control, and dissemination of Shinto by the Japanese national, prefectual, and local governments, or by public officials, subordinates, and employees acting in their official capacity are prohibited and will cease immediately. No visits to Shinto shrines and no rites, practices, or ceremonies associated with Shinto will be conducted or sponsored by any educational institution supported wholly or in part by public funds ... terms whose connotation in Japanese is inextricably connected with State Shinto, militarism, and ultra-nationalism is prohibited and will cease immediately … No official of the national, prefectural, or local government, acting in his public capacity, will visit any shrine to report his assumption of office, to report on conditions of government, or to participate as a representative of government in any ceremony or observance.”

Many Japanese rationalize war-time Japan’s aggression in Asia as a program to liberate Asians from Western imperialism, notwithstanding that the Japanese version of colonialism was infinitely harsher than Franco-British colonialism. The sad result was that Japanese colonialism enabled Western colonialism in Asia to claim its pugnacious self as a benign system that did more good than harm, as apologists for slavery also claim for slavery based on atrocious labor conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Japan’s conflict with its Asian neighbors is rooted in the indiscriminate Westernization of its national character which might have come from the fact that Japan had benn historically mostly on the periphery of Asian civilization.

The anti-feudal ideology of the Meiji Restoration began as a progressive force to build the modern Japanese state with an industrialized economy on the European model, enabling Japan to be the only country in Asia to successfully withstand the onslaught of Western imperialism and in the process established Japan essentially as a warped version of a Western power located in Asia, with little contribution to the revival of an Asian civilization. Ironically, as Japan integrated itself into the Western economic system, the Great Depression after WWI hit Japan harder than any other economy in Asia, mostly because colonialism had placed most Asian economies in a state of permanent economic recession.

Economic Collapse led to Rise of Militarism

Economic collapse in the 1930s transformed the bright, optimistic political climate of the Taishô period that began in 1912 into aggressive industrial militarism. Japan’s solution to economic depression was to compete with the European imperialism by military conquest, initially in East Asia and later in Southeast Asia.

Japan views itself as a Western Power in Asia

Post-war Japan continues to view itself as a Western power that is more at ease with Western institutions such as the Group of Seven (G7) and the Trilateral Commission. The long economic stagnation since the 1990’s similarly has given rise to a new militarism as it did during the Meiji Restoration. Until this denial of self of Japan as an Asian country is purged in Japanese mentality, Japan will not be a constructive force in Asian geo-politics.

Abe’s Abduction Fixation

Although comparatively young, Shinzo Abe was given the key post of deputy chief cabinet secretary in Koizumi’s cabinet. His political star elevated quickly to national prominence in 2002, when he pressed Koizumi to take up the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, a longstanding pet topic of right-wing extremists. Abe accompanied Koizumi on a visit to Pyongyang in 2002 and pressed for an official North Korean admission of, and apology for, the abductions.

On February 8, at the latest round of six-party talks involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program since August 2003, North Korea accused Japan of jeopardizing progress at international nuclear talks, calling Tokyo’s insistence on discussing the North’s past abduction of Japanese nationals “disgusting” and saying Japan had not right to be at the negotiations and the abduction issue had no place on the agenda.

“It is ridiculous and disgusting that Japan, which is not even qualified to attend the talks, keeps saying that the abduction issue is a basic agenda. The international community will not tolerate Japanese politicians’ behavior if the nuclear talks become complicated and fail to produce substantial fruit due to Japan's improper maneuver,” said a commentary published on the same day by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Though Japan has been at the forefront of international efforts to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, it has refused to discuss compensatory aid to North Korea unless its government provides full information about its kidnapping of Japanese citizens decades ago to train spies in Japanese language and culture. The issue is an emotional one for Japan, still stunned by the North’s admission in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s. North Korea allowed five to return home later that year, saying the others had died, and declared the case closed. Japan has demanded proof and says more of its citizens may have been taken.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has championed the abduction cause, pledging not to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea until it “shows sincerity” on the abduction matter, echoing the Bush administration’s “moral clarity” posture of not negotiating with an evil North Korea. “Japan is prepared to play an even bigger role in assistance to North Korea, but there must be progress on the abduction issue,” a Foreign Ministry official said on February 8 on customary condition of anonymity. “It is true that the main focus of the six-party talks is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But the talks are also a comprehensive forum for discussing issues of security, politics and economics in Northeast Asia,” he said. Analysts warn that continuing Japanese intransigence could impede the disarmament talks.<>

“The abductions are too important an issue for Japan to compromise on, while it’s unclear what Pyongyang could offer in terms of progress,” said Noriyuki Suzuki, director of Radiopress, a Japanese news agency that monitors North Korean media. “It’s entirely possible that the issue will hurt overall progress in disarmament,” Suzuki said.  The unresolved fate of the 8 Japanese citizens in North Korea is holding the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula hostage, as well as endangering all of Japan’s population of 130 million.

Abe became LDP secretary general in 2003 and chief cabinet secretary in 2005, positions traditionally reserved for potential prime ministers. He took a forceful stance on foreign affairs, including backing for the joint US-Japan missile defense system and comprehensive sanctions against North Korea. During the North Korean “missile crisis” in July 2005, Abe called for Japan to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if Pyongyang tested more missiles, echoing Bush’s pre-emptive defense doctrine.

The New
Japan wants to be also an International  Rule Maker

Abe represents a young generation of Japanese elite and is a modern media-savvy politician, acutely conscious of the power of the media and the importance of public relations to secure popular support. Yet for all his modern gloss and progressive exterior, the new prime minister is deeply beholden to a neoconservative constituent. Abe stands for not merely a strong Japan, but a powerful Japan prepared to protect and enhance its national interest with force projection. He has pledged to actively pursue “a new diplomacy under which Japan at times takes leadership and asserts opinion to set the world’s rules.” In other word, Japan is no longer satisfied with merely playing well the game whose rules were written by the superpowers, but now wants a pro-active role in writing new rules for the post-Cold War era.  This is not necessarily an unconstructive approach unless Japan chooses the path of neo-imperialism through military force.

Abe will work for Japan’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council and see Japan’s preparedness to contribute militarily to UN peace-keeping as a prerequisite for Security Council membership. Abe promotes increased influence for the military in policy planning, while simultaneously distancing Japan from its share of guilt and responsibility for WWII and Japanese atrocity in war time. Unfortunately, a denial of history inevitably leads to a repeat of history.

Domestically, Abe wants to strengthen the office of the prime minister by the creation of a Japanese version of the US security infrastructure in the form of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Council that report directly to the prime minister. Just as prewar Japan went down the wrong path by copying the British Empire, the Japan of the 21st century is in danger of going down the wrong path again by copying US militaristic neo-imperialism. Japan has the potential to shape a new national destiny as a deserving leader in the Asian Century. But to fulfill that high destiny instead of a replay of US Manifest Destiny of colonialism, Japan must avoid again setting itself apart from Asia both in terms of geopolitical interest and value systems to once again choose the low road of militaristic imperialism.

Revision of the Pacifist Constitution

Abe stands firmly behind the revision of the US-imposed 1947 pacifist constitution asserting that “from a standpoint of emerging from the post-war regime, I want to show leadership on a new constitution.” A 1999 Japanese Defense White Paper stated that it would not be against Japan’s constitution to make pre-emptive strikes if it has reason to believe other countries are setting out to attack it. This was an echo of US preemptive doctrine that was abused by the G.W. Bush White House to launch the disastrous war on Iraq. Exploiting evolving new security situations in East Asia, with a rising China and nuclear armed North Korea, Abe rationalizes that a strictly defensive military posture is no longer a credible deterrent, nor is the exclusive reliance on a US nuclear umbrella.  By extension, as Japanese militarism copies US national security structure, Japan can be expected to also copy US doctrine of force projection capability to carry out pre-emptive wars on foreign soil, initially in East Asia.

The May 1, 2006 Joint Statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso, and Japanese Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga states that US-Japan security relationship is the indispensable foundation of Japan’s security and of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the linchpin of American security policy in the region. The ministers stressed the imperative of strengthening and improving the effectiveness of bilateral security and defense cooperation in such areas as ballistic missile defense, bilateral contingency planning, information sharing and intelligence cooperation, and international peace cooperation activities, as well as the importance of improving interoperability of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces to preclude duplication. This strong partnership is increasingly vital in meeting global challenges, the scope of security and defense cooperation to ensure a robust alliance relationship, and to enhance the alliance’s capability to respond to diverse challenges in the evolving regional and global security environment. In other words, Japanese military must now be restructured to meet a global challenge, not just defense of Japanese home land.

Shame trumps Guilt in Japanese Geopolitical Agenda

Yet historically, Japan has more scores to settle with the US and its Western Allies than with China and Korea, North or South, or with any other state in Asia. Japan-US security alliance exposes Japan unnecessarily to security threats. The threats Japan faces from its Asian neighbors arise from the presence of US bases in Japan from which US aggression on Asian location could be launched. US bases in Japan have evolved from purely defensive bases for the purpose of defending Japan from attacks to offensive bases to support US military actions outside of Japan. Threats against Japan would evaporate if offensive US bases in Japan are removed.

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Western victors rejected the simple request from Japan, a fellow victor ally, to have a racial equality clause included in the League of Nations Covenant. In 1924, The US passed the racist Japanese Exclusion Act to shut off Japanese immigration. The US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan which all Japanese viewed as unnecessary since a demonstration would have served the same purpose of ending the war. After the war, the US dictated a curb on the spiritual legitimacy of the Japanese emperor. These unsettled scores with the US are scars of national shame that Japan’s Samurai culture is not likely to forget or forgive even in a millennium.

On the other hand Japan suffers national guilt but not shame on its history with its Asian neighbors. This is significant point in Asian culture in which shame overwhelms guilt in determining behavior, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian West. The cultural trumping of guilt by shame explains the difference between Germany and Japan in the two defeated nations’ attitude toward war crimes, with Germany dealing with the issue with remorse while Japan with denial.  US support of revival of Japanese militarism for short-term expediency has the potential of leading to the same blowback as its Cold War support of extremist Islamic fundamentalism against communism. The US might have defeated Japan in 1946, but it has not conquered the Japanese mind by a long shot.

Indeed, the back-handed praise lavished by Bush on Japan that after its defeat by the US has become a democracy and close ally as a shining example of how US military intervention can bring democracy to the world is, explained Prof. Takeshi Inoguchi, international relations expert at Chuo University, “awkward and embarrassing for most Japanese because it carries so many nuances of the difficult past.”

Following the footsteps of Koizumi, Abe considers the amendment to Article 9 of the Japanese pacifist constitution as vital in freeing the Japanese military to participate in more “peacekeeping” mission globally. Like his maternal grandfather Kishi in the 1950s, Abe understands that Japan has no choice but to temporarily swallow its national pride to cooperate with Washington, only gradually moving towards more equality in sharing mutual interests and responsibilities. Yet a truly independent Japan as an Asian great power would sooner or later have more historical reckoning to settle with the US than with China or any other nation in Asia.

Thre Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere

The Japanese war-time vision of a Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere was flawed only in its absence of ingenuity, evidenced by the de facto inequality offered to non-Japanese member nations. If the vision had not been a false front for Japanese imperialism but was true to the slogans such as “Asia for Asians”, “the liberation of Asian countries from Western imperialist powers” and “economic co-prosperity for member nations”, a true Asian enterprise as a forerunner of the European Union might have evolved from the vision without bloodshed and the Asian Century would have been speeded up and its emergence would be infinitely less torturous. Alas, the local governments set up by Japanese occupation all turned out to be puppet regimes carrying out dictatorial orders from Tokyo and the Japanese conducted themselves as insufferable, haughty conquerors with disdain towards the local population. Copying French imperialism, Japan imposed programs of “Japanization” with no tolerance or respect for local culture.

Unlike post-war Germany which managed to emerge as a political, economic and moral leader of the new Europe, Japan has made itself, at US urging, as the main obstacle to Asian unity and solidarity, in parallel to US policy turning Israel from a potentially positive force in the development of the Middle East to a forward base of US neo-imperialism. The Arabic nation would do well to welcome Israel as a constructive component of a new Middle East by welcoming the return of the Jewish state as god’s gift to the region, by turning Israel’s national interest to align with the interests of region rather than with those of the West. The fundamental geopolitical problem with Israel is the Jewish state’s view of itself as a Western state in a non-Western Middle East, in denial of its oriental heritage. In that sense, Japan and Israel have a similar problem of self denial of their indigenous roots to make themselves invasive alien elements in their own home regions.

Lessons of the Plaza Accord

The lessons of the damages on the Japanese economy by the 1985 Plaza Accord and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis force Abe to aim at making the Japanese economy more neo-liberal and global. In doing so, he is committed to revive Koizumi’s stalled reforms, to curb government spending, to privatize the public sector and to accommodate cross-border capital flow to increase foreign direct investment. However, it is not all together certain that neo-liberalism is suitable to Japanese socio-economic culture or that can provide solutions to Japan’s economic dilemma which had be caused in the first place by none other than neo-liberal onslaught under dollar hegemony. Still, Japanese mentality is not known for bold originality and it would be surprising if creative new concepts of economic revival would originate from Japan. Unless current trends change, as US influence in Asia declines, Japan will decline with it.

For example, US investors and lenders require US-style transparency and control that are incompatible with Japanese social manners and traditions. US-managed Japanese funds want only to make investments based on narrow, short-term economic rationality rather than on Japan’s keiretsu long-term relationships. The intrusion of US-managed global capital would cause the very social chaos that Japanese politicians badly want to avoid.

This cultural conflict between Western-dominated globalization and Asian traditions holds true throughout much of Asia, including China. Asia is unable to attract sufficient global capital to sustain its growth/recovery targets, unable to restructure its economies to generate that capital domestically because of the trap of export dependency under dollar hegemony, and unwillingness to allow an uncontrolled influx of US-managed global capital on non-Asian terms. Socially, the Confucian ideal of personal considerations and ritual relationships would be interpreted by Western standards as collusion, or worse still as corruption. Politically, Asian leaders, including those in Japan, are trapped between the economic demands of a Western-dominated global system and indigenous social traditions. They face policy paralysis resulting from conflicting pressures operating under incompatible value systems. Inefficiencies continue, recovery aborted by externally imposed economic realities, and social tensions reach boiling points.

Relations with
China and South Korea

Simultaneously, Abe must repair deteriorating relations with China and South Korea while remaining unapologetic about Japan’s militaristic and atrocious past that still divide Japanese public opinion. Before becoming premier, Abe defended visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by arguing such visits as matters of individual conviction regarding respect for Japan’s war dead while avoiding further inflaming emotional diplomatic disputes with Japan’s victimized neighbors. Nationalism needed for successful domestic politics in Japan conflicts with Asian solidarity necessary for effective Japanese foreign policy.

At the time of his elective victory for the premiership in September 2006, Abe enjoyed a high 70% popular support. Four months later, tarred by scandals that undermined confidence in his judgment and diminished his political capital, the support has fallen to as low as 39%, close to the dismal approval rating of George Bush. The coming April local elections and the July upper house elections pose an imminent threat to the political life of Japan’s youngest prime minister.

Towards A Beautiful Nation

Abe published a book during his campaign for prime minister with the title: Toward a Beautiful Nation, a bestseller in Japan, in which he claims that Class A war criminals charged with crimes against peace were adjudicated in the Tokyo Tribunal after the war but were not war criminals in Japanese domestic law.

On September 29, 2006, three days after his inauguration, Abe delivered his first policy speech to a plenary session of the House of Representatives emphasizing his determination to promote his vision of “a beautiful nation” and to continue and accelerate the course of structural economic reform.  He outlined five policy targets: 1) constructing an open economy full of vitality, 2) resolute implementation of fiscal consolidation and administrative reform, 3) realizing a healthy and safe society, rebuilding education, and 4) shifting to proactive diplomacy.

Abe also laid out his plan for the formulation of a long-term strategic guideline called “Innovation 25” aimed at the creation of innovation contributing to economic growth looking forward to the year 2025; and the promotion of comprehensive “Challenge Again Assistance Measures,” including expanding the application of social insurance coverage to part-time workers; the deep reduction of expenditures aimed at minimizing the financial burden on taxpayers and the steady promotion of fundamental administrative reform to achieve simple yet efficient lean government; and the early enactment of a bill to revise the Fundamental Law of Education, the introduction of systems for the renewal of teaching licenses and the implementation of external assessment, and the establishment within the government of an “Education Rebuilding Council.”

Regarding revision of the Constitution, which he put forward as an administration pledge during his campaign in the recent Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, Abe declared his hope that a national referendum bill stipulating revision procedures would be enacted as soon as possible. Regarding Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense, which is currently forbidden by the Constitution, Abe attracted attention by indicating his intention to study specific cases.

“The vision I am aiming for,” Abe said at the beginning of his speech, “is that of ‘a beautiful country, Japan’ - a country filled with vitality, opportunity, and compassion, which cherishes a spirit of self-discipline, and is open to the world.” He then cited four aspects of the “beautiful country, Japan” vision: (1) a country that values culture, tradition, history, and nature; (2) a country based on a free society that respects discipline and has dignity; (3) a country that continues to possess the vitality to grow toward the future; and (4) a country that is trusted, respected, and loved in the world and that demonstrates leadership.

Abe’s vision of a beautiful nation conflicts with the past and present path of Japan which has led Japan to reject its “culture, tradition, history and nature”. The revival of Japanese militarism is not likely to win Japan any “trust, respect or love in the world”, and instead of leadership, it will only generate resistance to renewed Japanese threat.

Referring to diplomacy and national security, Abe said, “I will demonstrate the ‘Japan-US Alliance for Asia and the World’ even further and promote diplomacy that will actively contribute to stalwart solidarity in Asia.” He went on to declare that “the headquarters function of the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] will be reorganized and strengthened, and intelligence gathering functions will also be enhanced” and “I will put in place a framework that ensures constant communication between the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House in order to consolidate the trust [between Japan and the United States].” Regarding relations with China and South Korea, he said that “it is essential to make mutual efforts so that we can have future-oriented, frank discussions with each other.” Regarding the North Korea problem, he said, “There can be no normalization of relations between Japan and North Korea unless the abduction issue is resolved.” He also announced the establishment of a Headquarters on the Abduction Issue chaired by the prime minister.

With regard to exercise of the right to collective self-defense, Abe said, “In light of the changes in the international situation, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles and the fight against terrorism, as well as the advancements in military technologies and the rising expectations toward Japan’s international contribution, we will thoroughly study individual, specific cases to identify what kind of case falls under the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, which is forbidden under the Constitution, so that the Japan-US alliance functions more effectively and peace is maintained.”

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun (September 29, evening edition), “Cases that have been considered until now as the exercise of the right of collective self-defense will be studied individually. If a case is judged to fall under the right of individual self-defense, then it will be deemed to be constitutional.” It explained, “It is expected that cases will be studied that at present are deemed to constitute exercise of the right of collective self-defense, for example, the case in which a ship of the US Navy that is engaged in joint action with the Maritime Self-Defense Force undergoes a missile attack, and a MSDF ship located one kilometer away counterattacks.”

In his conclusion, Abe quoted the words of Albert Einstein who, when visiting Japan, said, “It is my sincere wish that the Japanese people keep intact and never forget those traits which you have intrinsically possessed: humbleness and simplicity essential to an individual, pure and calm Japanese heart.” Abe commented, “I believe it is fully possible to build a 21st century Japan which retains the Japanese virtues which Einstein admired and is filled with charm and vitality. I believe that the Japanese people have the ability to achieve this.”

In a commentary analyzing Abe’s speech, the Mainichi Shimbun (September 30) warned that “the flood of newly created bodies and the formulation of policies by the Kantei will take away authority from the ministries and agencies, so resistance can be expected.” The Mainichi added, “Effectiveness looks likely to be the issue.”

In his policy speech, Abe left out such expressions from his LDP presidential election campaign as “breaking away from the postwar framework” and “open conservatism” that seem to reflect his ideological bent. The Yomiuri (September 29, evening edition) commented: “He seems to have been aware of the eyes of other countries.” It went on, “Abe, who is treated as a nationalist by some foreign newspapers, apparently was forced to dilute his conservative standpoint and proclaim himself to be an ordinary politician who loves country, community, and family.”

Opposition parties expectedly were all critical of the speech. Naoto Kan, deputy leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, said, “Abstract words were bandied about, but the substance was extremely vague.” Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, commented, “There were many foreign buzzwords and images but no substance.” Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, said, “It was a step toward building a nation that conducts war overseas. The important point is that he stated clearly that studies would be made to join the United States in war.”

At a press conference shortly after his inauguration in September 2006, the new premier made it clear that Japan, as an Asian country, attached great importance to its Asian diplomacy and was willing to further strengthen relations with neighbors such as China, South Korea and Russia. Describing China as an important country in Japanese foreign policy, Abe stated that China’s peaceful development is conducive to peace and prosperity in Asia and he would restart immediate efforts to improve bilateral relations.

In follow-up speeches in parliamentary hearings, Abe pointed out it was vital to reopen summit meetings with China and South Korea and to conduct candid dialogue. He also pledged to promote all-round exchanges and cooperation in all fields with China and South Korea, in order to build up future-oriented relations with the two countries on the basis of mutual understanding and trust. The new premier showed positive attitude toward historical issues, acknowledging that Japanese invasion and colonization during WWII inflicted bitter sufferings by the peoples and heavy damages in property in many countries, especially Asian countries, and reaffirmed Japan’s acceptance of the ruling of the Far East Military Tribunal on war crimes. Abe’s foreign policy pronouncements contradict his domestic campaign rhetoric.

Good Beginning with

In the second week in office, Abe made an official visit to China, making himself the first postwar Japanese prime minister who chose China for the maiden diplomatic tour. President Hu Jingtao described Abe’s visit as “a turning point in China-Japan relations” and expressed hope it would also serve as a new starting point for better relations. Premier Wen Jiabao said that a “window of hope” has been opened.

In a joint communiqué issued during Abe’s trip to China, the two governments agrees to continue to abide by the principles of the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement of September 29, 1972, Article 3 of which states: “The government of the People's Republic of China reiterates that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. The government of Japan fully understands and respects this position of the government of the People's Republic of China, and shall firmly abide by the principles under Article 8 in the Potsdam Proclamation”; the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1978 and the Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration of 1998 on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development. The two sides also agreed to squarely face history and be oriented towards the future.

The communiqué states that the two countries would properly deal with problems affecting the development of bilateral ties and promote bilateral relations through expanding both political and economic links. Both sides agree to make efforts to build a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests and to realize the goals of peaceful coexistence, long-lasting friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation and common development.

Abe's China tour earned him credit at home. Akihiro Ota, president of Japan’s junior ruling coalition party the New Komeito, spoke highly of Abe's visit to China, expressing the hope that two countries would further strengthen the mutual understanding. <>Mizuho Fukushima, secretary general of the Social Democratic Party, said she hoped Abe’s visit to China could be a positive turning point in bilateral ties.

Abe’s gesture was ardently welcomed by the Japanese economic sector, which hope for sound political relations with China, Japan's largest trade partner, so that Japanese firms can operate under more favorable circumstances. Kakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executive, expressed hope that summits between the two countries would be arranged on a regular basis and bilateral economic relationship further developed.

Abe’s visit to China reinvigorated the stalled Sino-Japanese relationship. Sustaining hard-won amity would require continued efforts from both sides. Xu Dunxin, former Chinese ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1998, was “prudently optimistic” about the prospects of China-Japan relations, but he warned Abe’s visit cannot resolve all the problems in bilateral ties as they are complicated and protracted.

In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, the official news agency of China, Abe reiterated his judgment that Japan-China bilateral ties are of great significance, and preserving and strengthening of friendship between the two countries are vital to peace and development of the region and the world at large. More potential of the relations is yet to be exploited, Abe said, adding that China’s development means opportunities for Japan and he is willing to make efforts to further promote the bilateral ties. On August 4, 2006, less than two months before he was elected prime minister on September 26, Japanese media reported that Abe had visited the Yasukuni Shrine in April that year. Abe claimed the visit was of a personal and non-official nature.  As prime minister, Abe visited a Shinto shrine on New Year Day, but stayed away controversial Yasukuni war shrine in what domestic media said was an effort to appease neo-conservative supporters without raising tension abroad.

And on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cebu, the Philippines in mid-January 2007, Abe met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao which led to Wen’s indication that Beijing is willing to cooperate in resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. This is a breakthrough for Abe’s diplomacy. Yet North Korean response in the latest six-party talks in Bejing on February threatened progress on this issue. Wen also agreed to visit Japan in April, 2007, the first by a Chinese premier in seven years. Neither Japan nor China brought up the thorny issue of visits by Japanese leaders to Yasukuni Shrine. The lack of discussion, however, also means the issue remains prickly while both side are trying to avoid escalation on a sensitive issue in the domestic politics in both countries.

However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry source has confidently stated that “Abe will not visit Yasukuni as long as he is prime minister.”  Behind that sure pronouncement was the assumption that not only would Abe visit China again, but Chinese President Hu Jintao would also come to Japan.  The Chinese source said, “Abe is not likely to say he won't visit Yasukuni. But that's all right as long as the net result is that he does not visit Yasukuni. There has never been a time with so many scheduled mutual visits by Japanese and Chinese leaders. The visits are the symbols of friendship.”

Still, Wen also indicated China had not changed its fundamental stance on history. Abe, meanwhile, after pressing the reset button on Japan-China ties with his visit to Beijing in October, 2006, has voiced criticism of China during the prime minister’s recent European travels. Abe’s diplomatic strategy aims to minimize friction with Beijing through bilateral talks and contact, while exploiting Japanese affinity to Western values to keep pressure on China.  In Europe, Abe repeatedly pushed three items: North Korean nuclear weapons development, the abduction issue and Japan’s concerns with China’s military modernization with opposition to lifting the EU ban on weapons exports to China imposed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen incident since 1989.

In recent days, China has related to Japan that the anticipated state visit by Hu to Tokyo may not take place in 2007 as planned, signally Chinese reservation regarding Abe’s true agenda. Ignoring popular opposition at home, Abe while in Europe endorsed Bush’s controversial new plan of troop surge war-torn Iraq.

Next: Hope for the Stalled Six-Nation Talks over North Korea Nuclear Issue