Past, fu­ture hang heavy as Abe vis­its US

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY HIROSHI HIYAMA

Ja­pan’s leader heads to Wash­ing­ton eye­ing the po­ten­tial prize of a huge trade deal that would an­chor his “Abe­nomics” plan for fu­ture eco­nomic re­vival, while still dogged by his na­tion’s wartime past.

Shinzo Abe will be­come the first Ja­panese prime min­is­ter to ad­dress a joint ses­sion of Congress next week, where he will show­case Ja­pan’s evo­lu­tion from sworn en­emy to loyal U.S. ally at a time when China is on the march.

On the ta­ble for White House talks with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP), a U.S.-led ini­tia­tive to tear down trade bar­ri­ers cov­er­ing 40 per­cent of the world econ­omy that ex­cludes China.

A deal be­tween Ja­pan and the United States would push the 12-na­tion pact much closer to re­al­ity af­ter years of talks, beat­ing Bei­jing’s ri­val bid for a com­mon trade re­gion in East and Southeast Asia.

It would also help the two al­lies seize back the ini­tia­tive af­ter China’s launch of the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, which saw dozens of U.S. al­lies sign­ing up, to Wash­ing­ton’s dis­com­fort.

For Abe, the TPP could trans­form Ja­pan’s cos­seted agri­cul­ture sec­tor, strip­ping out some of the enor­mous tar­iffs un­der which Ja­panese farm­ers have long shel­tered.

That would de­liver a de­cent chunk of the “third ar­row” of his “Abe­nomics” over­haul of the world’s third- big­gest econ­omy: struc­tural re­form.

The first two ar­rows have been fired al­ready as Abe bids to drag Ja­pan out of more than two decades of stag­na­tion: fis­cal stim­u­lus by the gov­ern­ment, and dras­tic mon­e­tary eas­ing by the Bank of Ja­pan.

But eco­nomic re­cov­ery is not a done deal, and nei­ther is the TPP. Obama faces op­po­si­tion from la­bor unions and mem­bers of his Demo­cratic Party, who warn it could put

Amer­i­can jobs at risk.

‘Un­shake­able al­liance’

Abe leaves Sun­day for a week­long visit that will also in­clude stops in San Fran­cisco, Los An­ge­les and Bos­ton. The cen­ter­piece will be his speech to Congress on Wed­nes­day.

“For the last 70 years, the U.S.-Ja­pan al­liance achieved many things, and I would like to ex­press that this al­liance is an un­shake­able al­liance,” Abe told the Wash­ing­ton Post in a re­cent in­ter­view.

In par­al­lel to his ef­forts on the econ­omy, Abe is bid­ding to over­haul Ja­pan’s com­pli­cated at­ti­tude to its well-funded and well-trained armed forces.

Popular feel­ing meant he was un­able to ditch con­sti­tu­tional re­stric­tions lim­it­ing their role to self­de­fense, so he opted to rein­ter­pret rules to al­low Ja­panese sol­diers to come to the aid of al­lies un­der attack.

The re­cast­ing, un­der Abe’s “proac­tive paci­fism” phi­los­o­phy, has been wel­comed by Wash­ing­ton, which is keen for Ja­pan to shoul­der more of the bur­den of its own de­fense.Ahead of the sum­mit with Obama on Tues­day, the U.S. and Ja­panese de­fense and for­eign min­is­ters will thrash out up­dated guide­lines for how their mil­i­taries work to­gether, with “in­ter­op­er­abil­ity” the watch­word.

“The Ja­pan-US al­liance will be­come more ef­fi­cient,” Abe told a Ja­panese tele­vi­sion show.

“Its func­tions will be

strength- ened. Our bond will be stronger. As a re­sult, de­ter­rence will be­come stronger, and the re­gion will be­come more sta­ble and we can main­tain peace.”

The tar­get of de­ter­rence is not spelt out but while North Korea is a peren­nial threat, Abe has made clear his be­lief that China is desta­bi­liz­ing the re­gion via its as­sertive claims to ter­ri­tory at sea.

His­tory Mat­ters

For its part, China — and South Korea — wants Abe to look his­tory in the eye and re­peat the ex­plicit apolo­gies made by past prime min­is­ters for Ja­pan’s ram­page across Asia be­fore and dur­ing World War II.

Ob­servers will be pars­ing the con­gres­sional ad­dress for hints about the con­tent of Abe’s up­com­ing state­ment in Au­gust on the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of the war.

He would like to move past the apolo­gies is­sued on the 50th and 60th an­niver­saries by pre­de­ces­sors, and put a new fo­cus on Ja­pan’s paci­fist record since 1945.

But for­mer “com­fort women” - who were pressed into sex­ual slav­ery by the im­pe­rial Ja­panese army - are de­mand­ing he use the high­pro­file fo­rum to say sorry.

“I’m not go­ing to die un­til we re­solve this is­sue,” 87-year-old vic­tim Lee Yong-soo told re­porters in the U.S. Capitol on Thurs­day, as 25 con­gress­men wrote to Ja­pan’s am­bas­sador urg­ing “hum­ble rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

Mit­suru Fukuda of Ni­hon Uni­ver­sity said Abe needs to over­come the view in some U.S. quar­ters that he is a na­tion­al­ist hawk.

“Ma­jor U.S. me­dia, like the New York Times, have voiced open crit­i­cism about Mr. Abe and Ja­pan turn­ing to the right,” Fukuda said.

“He could use this trip to ease wor­ries and lay out his vi­sion for the Ja­pan-U.S. part­ner­ship in the face of a ris­ing China,” Fukuda said.

“The key will be how well Mr. Abe ex­plains his agenda to Congress and to the U.S. me­dia.”

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