Abe’s friends lend him wrong ideas

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Ja­panese PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­ceiv­ing flak all round, a sit­u­a­tion made worse by friends and like-minded people that he has re­cruited to push his na­tion­al­ist right-wing agenda. Of par­tic­u­lar note are Sei­ichi Eto, one of sev­eral spe­cial ad­vis­ers to the prime min­is­ter, and KoichiHag­iuda. The lat­ter is also a spe­cial ad­viser to Abe but in his ca­pac­ity as head of the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party.

These two men have never held Cab­i­net po­si­tions. But they share Abe’s na­tion­al­is­tic views, and are said to have the ear of the prime min­is­ter. Eto andHag­iuda were be­lieved to have talked Abe into pray­ing at the con­tro­ver­sial Ya­sukuni shrine last year. And it was Eto that Abe dis­patched toWash­ing­ton lastNovem­ber to seek theUnited States govern­ment’s un­der­stand­ing for his Ya­sukuni visit.

De­spite neg­a­tive feed­back fromWash­ing­ton, Abe vis­ited Ya­sukuni on Dec 26, draw­ing an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion of “dis­ap­point­ment” from the US em­bassy. In Fe­bru­ary, in a YouTube video re­buk­ingWash­ing­ton, Eto said: “Why doesn’t the US treat its ally Ja­pan bet­ter? We are the ones who are dis­ap­pointed.” The govern­ment spokesman, Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga, rushed to ex­plain that Eto was only voic­ing a “per­sonal opin­ion”.

How­ever, with an April state visit by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in the works, the of­fend­ing video was quickly re­moved and Eto was made to re­tract his re­marks. But he had al­ready done his job of sig­nal­ing to Abe’s right-wing con­stituency that the Ja­panese leader couldn’t care less what Wash­ing­ton thought.

Last month, Abe vowed to honor the land­mark 1993 Kono State­ment ac­knowl­edg­ing Ja­pan’s forcible use of “com­fort women” sex­ual slaves in WorldWar II, in­clud­ing Korean women. This was to per­suade Korean Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­Hye to agree to a tri­lat­eral sum­mit at TheHague, along with Obama.

But on the weekend be­fore the sum­mit, Hag­iuda up­set Seoul by declar­ing that if a re­viewof the “com­fort women” is­sue threwup fresh ev­i­dence, the govern­ment should con­sider rewriting the 1993 State­ment. Govern­ment spokesman Suga quickly tookHag­iuda to task. But wasHag­iuda, like Eto, also speak­ing the prime min­is­ter’s mind?

Highly likely, say crit­ics, as Abe had long talked about is­su­ing his own state­ment in Au­gust 2015 to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the end ofWorld War II. Abe is us­ing his aides to speak to the coun­try’s na­tion­al­ist fringe when he him­self can­not do so for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

Un­like his first stint as prime min­is­ter in 20062007, when he sur­rounded him­self with friends in the Cab­i­net, this time, Abe has clearly placed people who share his ide­ol­ogy in po­si­tions where they are more ef­fec­tive in push­ing his agenda. But they are also prov­ing to be a li­a­bil­ity.

Take the case of Kat­su­toMomii, the newchair­man of pub­lic broad­caster NHK, which Abe pro­fesses no lik­ing for. SinceMomii, Abe’s pre­ferred can­di­date, be­came chair­man of NHK in Jan­uary, the broad­caster’s tra­di­tional in­de­pen­dence has ar­guably suf­fered.

Abe is known to con­sider NHK too left-wing in its views. In 2001, when he was Deputy Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary, he had tried to get the broad­caster to can­cel a doc­u­men­tary on Ja­pan’s in­volve­ment in the com­fort women is­sue.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Momii’s first pub­lic re­marks on as­sum­ing of­fice were to cast doubt on Ja­pan’s guilt in the com­fort women is­sue. Ac­cused by op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers of be­ing un­suit­able for the job of NHK chair­man, Momii, a for­mer busi­ness­man, continues to be a source of em­bar­rass­ment for both the broad­caster and Abe.

But Abe’s great­est li­a­bil­ity has turned out to be for­mer diplo­mat Ichiro Ko­matsu. An in­ter­na­tional law­ex­pert, Ko­matsu shares Abe’s con­vic­tion that Ja­pan should be al­lowed to take part in col­lec­tive self-de­fense with other coun­tries, some­thing that is banned un­der the long­stand­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Ja­pan’s Con­sti­tu­tion.

To Abe’s dis­gust, all pre­vi­ous di­rec­tors of the Cab­i­net Leg­isla­tive Bureau, which is re­spon­si­ble for vet­ting state-spon­sored leg­is­la­tion, have pooh-poohed the idea of re­vamp­ing the con­sti­tu­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tion, cit­ing le­gal ar­gu­ments. Head­hunted by Abe to head the bureau, Ko­matsu has the job of con­vinc­ing Par­lia­ment that the cur­rent in­ter­pre­ta­tion is no longer valid.

Abe thought he had the mat­ter all sewn up. But Ko­matsu in­ex­pli­ca­bly picked ver­bal fights with elected law­mak­ers, both in­side and out­side Par­lia­ment. But Ko­matsu has re­fused to quit his post and Abe does not ap­pear to be ac­tively look­ing for a re­place­ment ei­ther.

Abe is ex­pected to reshuf­fle his Cab­i­net af­ter the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary ses­sion ad­journs in mid-June. But un­like his pre­vi­ous stint as pre­mier, his big­gest headaches this time lie out­side the Cab­i­net. He could do with more people of the cal­i­bre of Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Suga, an unas­sum­ing politi­cian who rep­re­sents the voice of rea­son and who has proven ca­pa­ble at times of re­strain­ing the loose can­non that is Abe.

The Straits Times/Asia News Net­work

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