Reck­less words, poli­cies catch up with Abe

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

In this year of sober­ing his­tor­i­cal re­minders, Aug 15 marks the 69th an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s an­nounce­ment of sur­ren­der in WorldWar II. That date is un­likely to bring in­spi­ra­tion or com­fort to Ja­pan’s in­creas­ingly be­lea­guered PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe.

This year Abe has been try­ing to turn the pop­u­lar­ity he earned for try­ing to re­vive Ja­pan’s long-mori­bund do­mes­tic econ­omy into sup­port for his rear­ma­ment and in­creas­ingly as­sertive for­eign poli­cies. But these typ­i­cally bold moves have back­fired on him. Sup­port for Abe is fall­ing fast. About 46 per­cent of Ja­panese now dis­ap­prove of his eco­nomic poli­cies ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the pro-Abe Sankei news­pa­per. His gen­eral sup­port now runs at 48 per­cent and is plung­ing fast ac­cord­ing to another poll, pub­lished in Nikkei news­pa­per, a far cry from his 76 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing af­ter his first six months in of­fice.

It was al­ready clear that Abe’s shift in fo­cus from eco­nomic re­form to mil­i­tary and for­eign af­fairs was wor­ry­ing Ja­pan’s neigh­bors. It is now also clear that these moves have alarmed the Ja­panese peo­ple too.

Abe tried to clothe his rad­i­cal new di­rec­tions in mil­i­tary and for­eign pol­icy as sim­ply try­ing to bring Ja­pan in line with the norms of in­ter­na­tional be­hav­ior and se­cu­rity obli­ga­tions. But his ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts to white­wash the ap­palling war crimes of the im­pe­rial Ja­panese mil­i­tary from 1937 to 1945 tell a dif­fer­ent story.

Abe has re­peat­edly shocked Asia by his brazen ef­forts to turn the clock back and smother any free and open de­bate in the Ja­panese me­dia and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem about those years. These ef­forts amount to an Asian equiv­a­lent ofHolo­caust de­nial in Europe. No won­der, there­fore, that peo­ple in coun­tries such as China and South Korea, which suf­fered the most from Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, were out­raged. Abe never grasped that any nor­mal coun­try’s lead­ers would ex­press hor­ror and re­morse at Ja­pan’s war crimes, as Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel con­tin­ues to do.

None of this anger has had the slight­est ef­fect on Abe. On the con­trary, he ap­pears to have rev­eled in it. But now the Ja­panese peo­ple them­selves are re­ject­ing his ad­ven­tur­ism and risk tak­ing.

Abe, what­ever his am­bi­tion, is a vet­eran politi­cian. His first term as prime min­is­ter burned out af­ter only one year. He was con­vinced that his new pro­grams for the econ­omy and other ar­eas would fi­nally bring him last­ing suc­cess and re­store his Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party’s for­tunes this time round.

In­stead, as Ja­panese econ­o­mists have said, Abe’s much vaunted do­mes­tic re­forms have plunged the coun­try deeper into pub­lic debt. Abe never faced up to the vi­tal re­struc­tur­ing re­forms Ja­pan re­ally needed. As a re­sult, the econ­omy is floun­der­ing, the yen is fall­ing and ex­ports are stag­nant.

At ev­ery step, Abe took the easy way for­ward. He thought that by buy­ing pop­u­lar­ity on the home front, he would also win the pop­u­lar back­ing he needed for his mil­i­ta­riza­tion and con­fronta­tional poli­cies abroad. But that has not hap­pened. Abe’s reck­less spend­ing has raised in­creas­ing alarm at home and it is hav­ing pro­gres­sively less suc­cess in gen­er­at­ing in­creased em­ploy­ment and eco­nomic growth. When­ever the Ja­panese peo­ple have had the chance to ex­press their opin­ions on his risk tak­ing and gam­bling in for­eign af­fairs they have come out strongly against it.

US pol­i­cy­mak­ers, diplo­mats and me­dia pun­dits con­tinue to treat Abe with kid gloves and give him the ben­e­fit of ev­ery doubt. They have for­got­ten the lessons ofWorldWar II when Ja­pan in­vaded most of the coun­tries in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. And they need to ask what the im­pact will be on re­gional se­cu­rity if Abe con­tin­ues his hawk­ish poli­cies.

Abe ap­pears in­ca­pable of learn­ing from his mis­takes. How­ever, the an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s hu­mil­i­a­tion and to­tal sur­ren­der to the Al­lied forces on the deck of the USS Mis­souri in Tokyo Bay on Sept 2, 1945, will serve as a fur­ther re­minder to his peo­ple of what the old mil­i­taris­tic poli­cies led to— and why they must never be in­dulged in again. The au­thor is chief global an­a­lyst at The Glob­al­ist Re­search Cen­ter and a se­nior fel­low of the Amer­i­can Univer­sity in­Moscow, and has the book, Shift­ing Su­per­pow­ers: The New and Emerg­ing Re­la­tion­ship be­tween the United States, China and In­dia, to his credit.

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