The Dangerous Tendencies of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-11-07 15:43
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Since becoming Japan’s Prime Minister for a second time, Shinzo Abe has demonstrated a series of dangerous tendencies in politics and foreign policy that have come as a departure from the somewhat pragmatic approach that he displayed during his first term. These tendencies invariably evoke images of the political atmosphere in Japan when the country was ruled under the clutches of militarism. The right-wing forces that Abe represents and the rightward shift that they are promoting constitute a grave threat to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Supporting worship at the Yasukuni Shrine and denying Japan’s history of aggression

The Yasukuni Shrine in Japan was originally known as the Tokyo Shokonsha until acquiring its present name in 1879. Prior to World War II, the shrine was regarded as a symbol of State Shinto due to its administration by the Japanese military. After the war, Yasukuni was incorporated as a religious organization after the separation of church and state was written into Japan’s constitution. The temple enshrines Japanese soldiers that died in all of Japan’s wars of aggression. In 1978, Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class A war criminals were enshrined in Yasukuni. With this, the Yasukuni Shrine became a stronghold for the beautification of Japan’s history of aggression and the preaching of militarism. This is the reason why the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as people of insight from the US and Japan, are against Japanese leaders visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

After Shinzo Abe formed his first cabinet in 2006, practical considerations deterred him from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine during his time in office. After resigning, however, Abe visited the temple every year, and expressed “deep remorse” for failing to visit the shrine during his time as Prime Minister. Since becoming Prime Minister for a second time at the end of last year, Abe has sent an offering to the shrine in the name of the Prime Minister, and defended visits to the shrine. In addition, Taro Aso, a member of the Abe Cabinet and Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister, as well as 168 members of parliament successively visited the Yasukuni Shrine during the spring ceremony, exceeding the number that visited the shrine during Junichiro Koizumi’s time as Prime Minister.

April 25, 2013, Seoul, South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun (first on the right) summons Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koro Bessho (first on the left) to protest against visits by members of the Japanese Diet to the Yasukuni Shrine as well as remarks made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in denial of Japan’s history of aggression. / Xinhua/Yonhap News Agency

Abe’s support for visits to the shrine comes as a sign that he and the right-wing forces he represents are speeding up their efforts to push Japan to the right. Under the influence of this trend, Abe and other right-wing politicians have made a series of erroneous remarks with regard to historical issues. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister again, Abe pledged to revise the “Murayama talk,” in which remorse was expressed and an apology was made for Japan’s wars of aggression and colonial rule. He also openly claimed that “the definition of what constitutes aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community.” Members of the Abe Cabinet and certain high-ranking officials of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have also echoed Abe in a high-profile fashion. A series of erroneous remarks and actions by right-wing Japanese politicians attempting to deny the wrongs of Japan’s militaristic history and justify its wars of aggression have caused strong dissatisfaction among the people of Asia.

Saying no to the path of peaceful development with intentions to revise Japan’s peace constitution

The Constitution of Japan, which was formulated after the war, took effect on May 3, 1947. This constitution was a fundamental step forward from the Meiji Constitution, which was formulated before World War II. This progress is particularly evident in two aspects: First, Japan’s constitution stipulates that national sovereignty resides with the people. The transfer of sovereignty from the emperor to the people marked a fundamental change in Japan’s state system. Second, the constitution stipulates that Japan renounces war. Article 9 of the document, which is commonly referred to as the “peace clause,” provides as follows: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” The Constitution of Japan took away the legal basis for the survival of Japanese militarism, thereby curbing the ambitions of the Japanese right-wing to rearm. Therefore, since its introduction, this constitution has been met with strong opposition from right-wing forces. Since the turn of the millennium, right-wing forces within the LDP have stepped up their attempts to make the amendment of the constitution a reality. In 2003, a project team under the Constitution Investigation Committee of the LDP drafted an outline for the amendment of the constitution. This outline asked for clear inclusion of “the rights of individual and collective self-defense may be exercised so as to ensure the country’s independence and security,” and “a self-defense army will be maintained as the organization for the exercise of self-defense rights” in the constitution. In 2005, the LDP announced a draft amendment to the constitution in which it requested that Article 9 be amended to: “In order to ensure our country’s peace and independence as well as the security of our country and people, a self-defense army with the Prime Minister as commander-in-chief shall be retained.” In 2012, in an even more right-wing draft, the LDP requested that the “self-defense force” be converted to a “national security army,” claimed that “Japan is a state that has the emperor as its head as the symbol of the unity of the people,” and requested that the emperor be specifically referred to as the “head of state” in the constitution.

Since becoming President of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan, Abe has stated on many occasions that he will push for the adoption of the LPD’s draft amendment of the constitution during his tenure. If he should succeed, the progress that Japan’s post-war constitution has made towards democracy and peace will be seriously undermined.

Stirring tensions between China and Japan in an attempt to challenge the international order

On the very day he formed his new cabinet, Abe stated that Japan would engage in multi-angle, strategic diplomacy. Since then, the goals of Abe’s so-called strategic diplomacy have gradually come to light: to encircle China and challenge the post-war international order. The key point in this strategy is to exaggerate the supposed China threat with claims that China is making constant provocations to Japan’s territory, territorial waters, airspace, and sovereignty. In addition to establishing China as Japan’s hypothetical enemy, Abe has also stayed close to the US, attempting to encircle China by bringing on board countries that supposedly have similar values or common interests with Japan. The purpose of these attempts is to guard against and constrain China, thereby forcing it to make the concessions that the Japanese right wing wants. Abe has said, “I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond.”

Abe’s denial of Japanese aggression, his intentions to amend Japan’s peace constitution, and his attempts to encircle China are directed not only towards China, but towards the post-war international order in general. It is well known that the international order in the Asia-Pacific region following World War II was established on the basis of the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation. When Japan surrendered in August, 1945, it promised that the Emperor, the Japanese government, and their successors would earnestly implement the terms of Potsdam Proclamation. But in blind disregard for history and international law, Japan has since claimed that Japanese territory was legally defined by the San Francisco Peace Treaty. These statements are extremely irresponsible. Proponents of peace around the world should stand behind the post-war order of peace, and refuse to allow the fruits of victory to be sabotaged or denied.

Turning back before it’s too late

The grave right-wing tendencies of the Abe Cabinet have been the cause of widespread uneasiness among the people of Asia. An article carried in the South Korean Central Daily said, “Japan’s right-wing tendencies are becoming the biggest risk to peace in Asia.” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson also issued a sober warning to Japan: If Japanese leaders take pride in the foreign aggression, expansion, and colonial rule of Japan’s militant past, Japan will never step out from the shadow of history, and its relations with Asian neighbors will have no future. The Japanese media has also directed criticism towards the Abe Cabinet, saying, “Rather than rushing ahead on the issue of collective self-defense, Abe needs to devote more energy to cooperation with other nations in order to avoid isolating Japan from the rest of the world.”

The emergence of dangerous tendencies in the Abe Cabinet is attributable to a number of internal and external factors. Internationally, the US has proposed the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy, which entails taking advantage of Japan to guard against and contain China from a security perspective. At the same time, China’s rapid development has seen it replace Japan as the world’s second largest economy. This, combined with attempts by the Japanese right wing to exaggerate the supposed China threat, has fueled public misgivings and fears over China. Domestically, there has been general public dissatisfaction in Japan over sustained economic stagnation and the frequent change of governments. This has led to a rise in right-wing and conservative sentiment, with right-wing forces rapidly gaining ground. The tipping of Japanese politics to the right has created conditions for the development of dangerous tendencies within the Abe Cabinet.

If not promptly reversed, the dangerous tendencies of the Abe Cabinet will give rise to serious consequences. Once the post-war path of peaceful development has been negated, Japan will likely once again become a staging ground for war and aggression. Worse still, the Abe government is pushing for the encirclement of China, which will steer China-Japan relations and the situation in the Asia-Pacific region down an extremely dangerous path.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently stated that peace will forever be what the people long for. He pointed out: “The international community should promote the concept of comprehensive, common, and cooperative security, so that our global village can become a grand stage for common development, rather than an arena for mutual contention. We cannot allow the selfish pursuits of a single party to throw a region or even the entire world into chaos.” In fact, the peaceful and stable international order and environment in the region has been the very foundation on which the achievements of many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, have been built since the war ended. The Abe Cabinet must face up to history. It must recognize that peaceful development is the trend of our times, and turn back before it is too late by showing respect for the post-war international order of peace and stability. If it should misjudge the situation, and insist on leading Japan back down the erroneous path of militarism, it will inevitably be punished by history, bringing misfortune down on itself and on others.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.13, 2013)

Author: Director of the Japanese Studies Center of Shanghai Jiaotong University

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