Abe’s More As­sertive Ja­pan: Will He Defy Ex­pec­ta­tions Again?

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - By El­lis Krauss

the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter’s chal­lenges mount, in­clud­ing an er­ratic Us and his de­sire to amend Ja­pan’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan has proven, de­spite the set­back of his first, undis­tin­guished stint as premier, to be a re­mark­ably re­silient politi­cian. In power since 2012, his eco­nomic poli­cies have been only moder­ately suc­cess­ful and his ag­gres­sive se­cu­rity poli­cies have raised the hack­les of large seg­ments of the Ja­panese public. Nonethe­less, he may soon be­come Ja­pan’s long­est-serv­ing post-war prime min­is­ter. The chal­lenges he faces, how­ever, con­tinue to mount, writes El­lis Krauss, among them Don­ald Trump’s er­ratic ad­min­is­tra­tion and Abe’s de­sire to amend Ja­pan’s post­war “peace” con­sti­tu­tion to fit the re­al­ity of the coun­try’s more as­sertive se­cu­rity pos­ture.

Ja­pan’s Prime min­is­ter shinzo abe, in power since 2012, has con­sis­tently de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions. He first came to the of­fice in 2006, as the pro­tégé and suc­ces­sor to Ja­pan’s most pop­u­lar and ar­guably most suc­cess­ful post-war prime min­is­ter, Ju­nichiro Koizumi. By skil­fully us­ing a ma­jor elec­toral re­form in 1994 and an ad­min­is­tra­tive re­form in 2001 that en­hanced the lead­er­ship of the prime min­is­ter, Koizumi brought about ma­jor changes in Ja­pan’s eco­nomic and se­cu­rity poli­cies. abe also was pop­u­lar at first, de­spite be­ing known as a na­tion­al­ist and as the grand­son of the dis­graced Prime min­is­ter nobusuke Kishi, who re­signed af­ter mis­han­dling the 1960 Us-ja­pan se­cu­rity treaty cri­sis. there were high ex­pec­ta­tions for him as Ja­pan’s youngest post-war prime min­is­ter, Koizumi’s lieu­tenant and a well-known fourth-gen­er­a­tion politi­cian.

How­ever, the first abe ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to meet ex­pec­ta­tions and was marked by re­peated scan­dals among his cabi­net min­is­ters, while he con­cen­trated on for­eign af­fairs and largely ig­nored do­mes­tic pol­icy re­forms needed to help Ja­pan emerge from its decade and a half long re­ces­sion. also un­pop­u­lar was his de­sire to ad­vance Ja­pan’s military, the self-de­fense Forces (SDF), which he up­graded to a full-fledged min­istry dur­ing this term, as he sought to make Ja­pan a more as­sertive power. He also stum­bled in deny­ing Ja­pan’s cul­pa­bil­ity on his­tor­i­cal mem­ory is­sues and its bru­tal role in the Pa­cific War. abe lasted only one year.

af­ter his rul­ing con­ser­va­tive lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) — the party that had gov­erned

for all but a year since its for­ma­tion in 1955 — lost an Up­per House elec­tion, he re­signed due to ill health amid fall­ing ap­proval rat­ings. the in­creased in­flu­ence of the prime min­is­ter proved that it could re­sult in ei­ther great suc­cess (Koizumi) or speedy fail­ure (abe’s first term). abe was fol­lowed by two short-term LDP prime min­is­ters, con­tribut­ing to the more lib­eral ma­jor op­po­si­tion party, the Demo­cratic Party of Ja­pan (DPJ), tak­ing power in 2009. at this point, no one would have pre­dicted the res­ur­rec­tion of abe’s lead­er­ship ca­reer.

the dis­as­trous dpj Era

the DPJ came to power with a pop­u­lar do­mes­tic plat­form that promised more wel­fare but also lower taxes. In for­eign pol­icy, its first prime min­is­ter, yukio Ha­toyama, with­drew Ja­panese sup­ply ships from the In­dian Ocean, where they had been re­fu­el­ing and sup­ply­ing non-military goods to Us and coali­tion forces in afghanistan. His ad­min­is­tra­tion also tried to cozy up to China. Ha­toyama pushed for a com­plete with­drawal of the con­tro­ver­sial marine Corps air sta­tion Futenma, a ma­jor Us air base on Ok­i­nawa, which the Us military con­sid­ers the “key­stone” of its Pa­cific strat­egy in asia. this came af­ter the Us and Ja­pan had spent over 13 years ne­go­ti­at­ing an agree­ment to move the base to a less pop­u­lous part of the pre­fec­ture and a par­tial with­drawal of Us marines from Ok­i­nawa to Guam.

none of these DPJ poli­cies came to fruition and Ha­toyama’s three years in power proved to be a dis­as­ter, fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally. the DPJ’S con­tra­dic­tory do­mes­tic poli­cies were only par­tially ful­filled. Its pol­icy of closer relations with China was tor­pe­doed by an in­ci­dent near the dis­puted senkaku/diaoyu Is­lands, ad­min­is­tered by Ja­pan but claimed by China. a Chi­nese fish­ing boat — one of many along with Chi­nese military ves­sels that con­stantly chal­lenge Ja­pan’s pro­tec- tion of the is­lands — rammed a Ja­panese coast guard cut­ter pa­trolling the area. the govern­ment em­bar­rass­ingly mis­han­dled the in­ci­dent.

the most dra­matic self-in­flicted fail­ure of Ha­toyama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, was the push to move the Futenma base out of Ja­pan com­pletely. al­though the Ja­panese public fully sup­ported re­duc­ing the bur­den of Ok­i­nawa as the prime host area for the Us military in Ja­pan, it also had the con­tra­dic­tory at­ti­tude of also be­ing to­tally op­posed to mov­ing any bases to any­where else in Ja­pan. Ha­toyama also failed to get the Us to agree to move the dis­puted base to Guam, the other Us military bas­tion in the Pa­cific that was al­ready brim­ming with Us forces and was ex­pected to host more with the promised with­drawal of a por­tion of the marine forces sta­tioned on Ok­i­nawa.

lack­ing any lever­age to pres­sure the Us on the base is­sue, es­pe­cially at a time of in­creas­ing ten­sions with north Korea and China, the re­sult was pre­dictable: only a mi­nor face-sav­ing agree­ment for the Us to scale down other bases a bit, which in­fu­ri­ated the Ok­i­nawans. the Ja­panese public’s once-strong sup­port for the DPJ faded away with the re­al­iza­tion that an in­ef­fec­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion could not ful­fill its prom­ises nor main­tain sta­ble relations with Ja­pan’s main ally. Ha­toyama re­signed in 2013 with low ap­proval rat­ings and trust in his party shat­tered.

the next two DPJ prime min­is­ters weren’t as bad. How­ever, one, Kan naoto, was un­lucky in hav­ing the triple dis­as­ter of a mas­sive earth­quake, tsunami, and nu­clear plant melt­down in the north­east of Ja­pan on march 11, 2011. Dur­ing the dis­as­ter, the power com­pany that owned the nu­clear plant mis­in­formed Kan, and later much prior reg­u­la­tory fail­ure was re­vealed. His govern­ment also bore some re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause of its lack of trans­parency dur­ing the cri­sis, and its slow re­sponse af­ter the dis­as­japan

ter. all the re­sult­ing prob­lems, fairly or not, were blamed on Kan and he re­signed af­ter a year. the fi­nal DPJ prime min­is­ter, yoshi­hiko noda, per­son­ally lacked voter ap­peal and bravely ap­proved a rise in the very un­pop­u­lar con­sump­tion tax. When he fi­nally called an elec­tion in 2012, the re­sult­ing DPJ loss was ex­pected.

the res­ur­rec­tion of shinzo abe

What was un­ex­pected was who would lead the LDP back to power: shinzo abe. some­how, de­spite his ear­lier failed premiership, abe con­vinced his party to take him back. In­deed, in the 2012 elec­tion, abe seemed to have learned his les­son, em­pha­siz­ing “abe­nomics,” as the press dubbed it, not for­eign and se­cu­rity poli­cies. this pol­icy promised to re­vive Ja­pan’s long-stag­nant econ­omy by us­ing “three ar­rows” — fis­cal and mone­tary stim­u­lus plus struc­tural re­forms. along with the very deep dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the DPJ, this proved to be a win­ning com­bi­na­tion for the LDP. It won a land­slide vic­tory un­der abe, and his sur­pris­ing come­back had de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions again.

early in his term, abe im­ple­mented the promised fis­cal and mone­tary stim­u­lus, and some struc­tural eco­nomic re­forms (al­though not as many as had been hoped) while the econ­omy strug­gled to grow. By 2017, there had been mod­er­ate growth again, with un­em­ploy­ment drop­ping to be­low 3 per­cent, its low­est level in 23 years. His fis­cal and mone­tary moves, how­ever, ex­ac­er­bated Ja­pan’s huge debt, now the largest in the in­dus­tri­al­ized world at al­most 2.5 times gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP). to ad­dress this prob­lem, abe raised the un­pop­u­lar con­sump-

Abe is the odds-on fa­vorite in the Septem­ber 2018 LDP elec­tion for party leader and thus prime min­is­ter ... Yet, de­spite his ac­com­plish­ments, Abe now faces his great­est chal­lenges, both in his eco­nomic relations with the US and in ful­fill­ing his most de­sired and dif­fi­cult se­cu­rity goal.

tion tax from 5 per­cent to 8 per­cent, but when the econ­omy be­gan to slide again, he post­poned a fur­ther in­crease to 10 per­cent.

De­spite the hype and even lim­ited suc­cess of abe­nomics, many of his key do­mes­tic and for­eign poli­cies have got­ten mixed re­views, and some are down­right un­pop­u­lar, such as his de­ci­sion to restart nu­clear plants af­ter the march 2011 dis­as­ters. al­though the public re­tains hope in abe­nomics, polls have shown they don’t think it is work­ing that ef­fec­tively. His stance in his first ad­min­is­tra­tion on his­tor­i­cal mem­ory is­sues, in­clud­ing vis­it­ing the con­tro­ver­sial ya­sukuni shrine where Ja­pan’s war dead in­clud­ing sec­ond World War war crim­i­nals are en­shrined, and his send­ing of­fer­ings to the shrine since then, still po­lar­izes the public and wors­ens relations with China and south Korea,

It is, how­ever, his se­cu­rity poli­cies that are es­pe­cially lack­ing in sup­port. abe’s long-time de­sire is to make Ja­pan a more as­sertive for­eign player by le­git­imiz­ing its military and build­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity to sup­port its Us ally abroad. Ul­ti­mately, he wants to re­vise the post-war ar­ti­cle 9 of the “peace con­sti­tu­tion” that lit­er­ally for­bids Ja­pan from wag­ing war or hav­ing armed forces.

Mus­cle flex­ing

to place his goals in their proper con­text, de­spite ar­ti­cle 9, Ja­pan has never been a “paci­fist” coun­try, as the mass me­dia fre­quently and wrongly in­sist. there has al­ways been public sup­port for the de­fense of Ja­pan it­self and for the self­de­fense Forces, a quar­ter-mil­lion per­son military ex­cept in name, and now with the sec­ond strong­est navy in the Pa­cific. What grad­u­ally de­vel­oped among many Ja­panese in the decades af­ter the war was not “paci­fism,” ex­cept among a mi­nor­ity, but rather what thomas Berger has more ac­cu­rately termed an “anti-mil­i­tarist” sub­cul­ture. What much of the public has al­ways

op­posed is be­com­ing em­broiled in military in­ter­ven­tions along­side the Us out­side of the de­fense of Ja­pan, and “col­lec­tive de­fense,” i.e., mil­i­tar­ily de­fend­ing the Us. In­deed, there is no lit­eral obli­ga­tion for Ja­pan to do ei­ther un­der the Us-ja­pan se­cu­rity treaty, de­spite the obli­ga­tion for the Us to de­fend Ja­pan. In short, much of the Ja­panese public con­tin­ues to sup­port the former “yoshida Doc­trine,” the main LDP se­cu­rity pol­icy from the 1950s through the 1990s, which called for main­tain­ing a min­i­mal military force and re­ly­ing pri­mar­ily on the Us to de­fend it in a cri­sis. this is still largely true de­spite the public’s grow­ing fear of north Korea and China.

Build­ing on some of Koizumi’s pre­vi­ous re­vi­sions of the yoshida Doc­trine, such as send­ing self-de­fense Forces abroad for non-com­bat mis­sions in afghanistan and Iraq, abe has gone much fur­ther. among other changes to pre­vi­ous lim­its on Ja­pan’s se­cu­rity poli­cies, he has es­tab­lished a na­tional se­cu­rity Coun­cil to co-or­di­nate min­istries’ re­sponses to crises; passed Ja­pan’s first na­tional se­crets law; re­laxed Ja­pan’s weapons ex­port ban to the Us and Us al­lies; tried to bring cy­berspace and space into the Us-ja­pan se­cu­rity guide­lines; al­lowed the SDF to pro­vide re­fu­el­ing and med­i­cal aid to Un-sanc­tioned multi­na­tional military op­er­a­tions even in pre­vi­ously for­bid­den com­bat zones; and tried to cre­ate de facto po­lit­i­cal al­liances with other Pa­cific democ­ra­cies (notably ex­cept for south Korea) to counter China’s ris­ing in­flu­ence in the re­gion. abe ar­guably has al­ready ac­com­plished more to change se­cu­rity poli­cies and make Ja­pan’s for­eign pol­icy more as­sertive than any pre­vi­ous prime min­is­ter.

His most dra­matic and con­tro­ver­sial change, how­ever, was push­ing through a new le­gal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “Col­lec­tive self-de­fense” that for the first time al­lows Ja­pan to come to the aid of the Us or other close Ja­panese al­lies when “Ja­pan’s sur­vival” is threat­ened and there are no other means avail­able to re­pel an at­tack. abe’s orig­i­nal plan was for a stronger bill, but his more an­timil­i­tarist coali­tion part­ner, the Clean Govern­ment Party (CGP), forced him to wa­ter it down. thus, even within the two re­stric­tions the SDF is per­mit­ted to use force only “to the min­i­mum ex­tent nec­es­sary.”

even this lim­ited change, how­ever, has been quite un­pop­u­lar with a public deeply op­posed to col­lec­tive de­fense di­rectly or in­di­rectly. In a book in progress com­par­ing Ja­pan and Ger­many un­der their re­spec­tive post­war “peace” con­sti­tu­tions (ten­ta­tively ti­tled Re­luc­tant War­riors, Con­flicted Al­lies) four co-au­thors and I found that al­though Ja­pan has moved away from its very anti-mil­i­tarist Cold War se­cu­rity poli­cies, Ger­many has done more than Ja­pan, in­clud­ing com­bat roles in afghanistan in sup­port of the Us. no SDF sol­dier has ever killed or been killed abroad in com­bat in the post-war era. Ja­pan’s stronger anti-mil­i­tarist sub­cul­ture has forced Ja­pan’s elites to be more wary, cir­cum­spect and re­stric­tive about military in­ter­ven­tion than Ger­many.

Con­tin­ued Vic­to­ries, grow­ing Chal­lenges

nev­er­the­less, de­spite the lim­ited pop­u­lar­ity of his poli­cies, abe has con­tin­ued to win elec­tions. the LDP won gen­eral and/or Up­per House elec­tions un­der abe in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. How do we ex­plain yet an­other case of abe’s def­ing ex­pec­ta­tions?

three main fac­tors are at work. the first is the deep dis­trust of the op­po­si­tion par­ties, a fact among vot­ers since the ru­inous term of the DPJ. sec­ond, the op­po­si­tion par­ties con­tinue to splin­ter and form new par­ties, none of which com­mand any­thing near the ldp’s sup­port, leav­ing much of the public feel­ing as if there are few al­ter­na­tives to the LDP. third, abe’s elec­toral tac­tics have been craftily suc­cess­ful, tac­tics Pro­fes-

sor ethan scheiner of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Davis has la­beled “bait and switch.” Dur­ing cam­paigns, abe fo­cuses on do­mes­tic poli­cies, in­clud­ing his hope for “abe­nomics” to be­come more ef­fec­tive while us­ing the con­sump­tion tax more for wel­fare pur­poses. With the elec­tion suc­cess­fully over, he re-fo­cuses more on his for­eign and se­cu­rity poli­cies.

abe is the odds-on fa­vorite in the septem­ber 2018 LDP elec­tion for party leader and thus prime min­is­ter. If this hap­pens, abe may very well be­come the long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter in the post-war pe­riod, sur­pass­ing eisaku sato’s seven years (1965-1972). yet, de­spite his ac­com­plish­ments, abe now faces his great­est chal­lenges, both in his eco­nomic relations with the Us and in ful­fill­ing his most de­sired and dif­fi­cult se­cu­rity goal.

Don­ald trump’s poli­cies have cre­ated prob­lems for abe, as for other world lead­ers. as a fel­low con­ser­va­tive, abe thought he could han­dle trump by es­tab­lish­ing a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship. He was the first for­eign leader to visit trump af­ter the elec­tion, and has co­zied up to him, play­ing golf with him sev­eral times. at first it seemed to work, as trump ini­tially avoided crit­i­cism of Ja­pan’s trade poli­cies, un­like his crit­i­cism of Ger­many. But then, as is trump’s wont, he seemed to be­tray even abe. First, he with­drew from the trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) trade agree­ment that Ja­pan strongly sup­ported, leav­ing tokyo to push ahead with its suc­ces­sor, the Com­pre­hen­sive and Pro­gres­sive agree­ment for trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship (CPTTP), with­out the Us. and de­spite abe’s ef­forts, trump has thus far re­fused to ex­clude Ja­pan from threat­ened high au­to­mo­bile tar­iffs.

His other great chal­lenge is con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion, abe’s most cher­ished for­eign pol­icy goal be­fore he leaves of­fice. the LDP is push­ing to amend ar­ti­cle 9, which would be the first amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion since it was es­tab­lished in 1947, keep­ing some of its anti-war word­ing but clar­i­fy­ing the le­gal­ity of the SDF. He can prob­a­bly get it through the Diet be­cause he and his coali­tion part­ner, the CGP, have more than the two-thirds ma­jor­ity re­quired. How­ever, it must also pass a na­tional ref­er­en­dum with a ma­jor­ity and this is very un­cer­tain. Polls in­di­cate that 50 to 70 per­cent of the public do not sup­port re­vi­sion. Can abe defy ex­pec­ta­tions yet again to achieve his goal?

ei­ther way, his con­tro­ver­sial ad­min­is­tra­tions have al­ready done more to change Ja­pan’s se­cu­rity pos­ture than any­one ex­pected. Whether he man­ages to pass a con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion or not, he will not have re­solved Ja­pan’s deep se­cu­rity con­tra­dic­tions, which pit public anti-mil­i­tarism and the Con­sti­tu­tion’s word­ing against Ja­pan’s military and se­cu­rity re­al­ity. large gaps will re­main be­tween the le­gal frame­work and Ja­pan’s military power; and be­tween a still strong, if di­min­ished, anti-mil­i­tarist cul­ture that ig­nores Ja­pan’s threat­en­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment while re­sist­ing the height­ened ex­pec­ta­tions of its es­sen­tial ally, the Us. El­lis krauss is pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of ja­panese pol­i­tics and pol­icy-mak­ing at the school of global pol­icy & strat­egy at the uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, san diego.

Photo: Kim­i­masa Mayama/epa

Mr Pop­u­lar: Shinzo Abe shakes hands with vot­ers in Tokyo dur­ing his fi­nal cam­paign of the Lower House elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 2017.

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