Shinzo Abe: Friend or Foe of the United States?
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Shinzo Abe: Friend or Foe of the United States?

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to project the image of a steadfast friend and ally of America, in contrast to his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) predecessors.  

Though it is unfair to claim that the DPJ was anti-American, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are indeed focused on a firmer political and military partnership with Washington. The Japanese cabinet has pushed forward the Transpacific Partnership (TPP), seeks to solve the Okinawa basing issues, and emphasizes the vital importance of Japan-US Security Treaty.

But ironically, at the same the time, the Abe team’s inclinations threaten the Japan-US alliance.

Abe wants to take Japan away from the “postwar regime.”  But what is the postwar order? Fundamentally, it is the constitution and a set of liberal reforms enacted under the US occupation. American officials under General Douglas MacArthur worked closely with Japanese reformers. They built on the achievements of the Meiji Restoration to transform the dysfunctional imperial state into a more effective and stable parliamentary democracy that has been Japan’s most successful regime ever. Abe’s dislike of this regime is a clear rejection of American ideas.

The United States has many partners whose norms are incompatible with current American values. For example, Saudi Arabia, an intolerant theocracy whose practices are antithetical to nearly all Americans, works closely with the U.S. Nevertheless, the closest American allies have generally been with states that share the same liberal democratic orientation of the U.S.

Abe is not about to bring despotism to Japan. But his virulent hatred of the American-drafted basic law reflects a heartfelt desire to move back to some of the prewar principles that most Americans, rightly or wrongly, find unappealing.

Abe also has a very different understanding of Japan’s 1931-45 history from most foreigners (and many Japanese). One aspect is a devotion to the Yasukuni Shrine, whose deities include Japanese leaders executed for war crimes by the United States, and doubts about whether Japan invaded neighboring countries during that period. Though Abe himself has not – so far – set foot at Yasukuni as prime minister, he sent an offering to the shrine. Abe has not formally repudiated the “Kono statement,” whereby Japan admitted that its wartime military had enslaved foreign women, or former premier Murayama’s declaration expressing remorse for past Japanese actions. But though every Abe utterance is followed by some damage-control declaration by his spokespersons, he and his supporters have made it explicitly clear that they dislike this “masochistic” perception of Japanese history.  

Abe’s contempt for the legacy of General MacArthur and his “revisionist” views on history are perhaps not, at least in his own mind, incompatible with a pro-American stance. They follow in the footsteps of the object of his worship, his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi. Kishi served in General Tojo’s cabinet, was arrested as a suspected war criminal, but was later released and ended his career as prime minister and a stalwart defender of the American alliance. But the inescapable fact is that Abe’s behavior undermine U.S. goals, and for that matter Japanese ones as well, for several reasons.

First, Japan and the United States seek to build as large a coalition as possible to contain China. It may be that the Chinese menace will prove ephemeral, but understandably Tokyo and Washington must prepare for the worst. Abe’s pronouncements on history make it harder to bring South Korea, the most valuable partner in dealing with China in Northeast Asia, into this coalition, given the sensitivity in Korea of Japanese attitudes towards the past. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s pilgrimage to Yasukuni, after having attended to inauguration of President Park Geun-hye in Seoul, was a slap in the face of Korea.

Second, although it is hard to believe that the Communist autocrats in Beijing are morally outraged about these questions given their own party's history, there will still be over a billion Chinese after the Communist Party is gone. The United States and Japan have a stake in good relations with post-communist China. It is thus critical that the Chinese people perceive Japan as a friendly nation, rather than as a country ruled by men who feel pride rather than shame about Japanese deeds in China during the 1931-45 war.

Third, and most important, Abe is laying the groundwork for diminishing American support for Japan. Experts know that, despite his rhetoric, he is no warmonger. Japanese hawks like Abe are in fact more reluctant to resort to force than American doves. The world would surely be a better place if every country on the planet were as peaceful as Japan. But their words make them seem particularly nefarious. Already, his efforts have earned him a nasty editorial about his “inability to face history” in the Washington Post on April 26. A well-orchestrated media campaign by China, or by various activists in the U.S., would find it easy to use Abe to link today’s Japan with the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanjing, and by association with Auschwitz and the Holocaust. This could have dreadful consequences for Japan’s image in the United States and ultimately sabotage the alliance with the United States.

Robert Dujarric runs the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University Japan, in Tokyo (robertdujarric@gmail.com)

Comments
19
Solomon Mitchell
March 6, 2014 at 23:50

I am using this article in a research paper, however I do not understand why the DPJ would want to harm the relations between US and Japan. I thought that the DPJ was meant to create a better alliance with the US. If anyone finds this message, can you please help me out here?
Thank you

Eduarde Jr
March 8, 2014 at 08:50

DPJ is not anti-US, but it is much less nationalistic than the current LDP adminstration under Abe. Having said that, not only Abe, but generally speaking the whole of Japan is moving to the right. This phenomenon has to do with the alarming rise of China which has a profound psychological effect on Japanese today, esp. the right-wingers. Besides, Abe’s family backgrd also has a part in this. (If you google facts on what Abe had said the past, you’ll see that he had shown frustration over allegations which identified him with his grandfather’s pasts. It also has to do with Japan’s school history education (the absence of historical knowledge of the 20th Century in school history texts).

momokura
December 28, 2013 at 21:24

The us is disliked by many Islam countries. South Korea is disputing over the ownership of ancient Koguryo dynasty with China. China has territorial disputes with many Asian countries. why is Japan always singled out and be criticized. I can’t understand. Maybe a racist ?

Euginelao
December 31, 2013 at 05:10

To understand China’s responses towards Japan, it is useful to be familiar with the atrocities committed by Japanese occupying troops against China before end of WWII and also the four Sino-Japanese political treaties since 1972. When Japanese politicians esp. PM observes the treaties, bilateral relationships between the two are quite friendly and economic ties are especially beneficial to both parties. However, it would be hard to expect nice Chinese responses whenever Japanese PM deliberately chooses to violate the spirit of the four treaties. I believe it is a matter of mutual respect.

Bambang
March 4, 2014 at 20:32

You seem to not understand how your country past aggression affect the people that in south east asia…Whatever the heavenly logic for themselves, they killed many of us..In indonesia, we are being conquered 350 years by holland..Thou we are only conquered 5 years by Japan, the cruelty and destruction was much2 than by Holland..So you can see urself how we feel about ourself n we have our own pride in our own country too..We are being treated worse than dog…The only country that done same or worse than that is German..But the difference is German OPENLY APOLOGIZE for their mistake..WHile Japan try to GLORIFY THEIR aggression..SO CAN U SEE WHY YOU’re being the main fcus? before ABE, i can assure you that Indonesia love japanese, so dont blame us…ABE just open the old WOUND..

While America hated by Islam is because they’re trying to push their ideal of democracy through peace or even war…but despite that, they try to build the world.

Hahaha
September 22, 2013 at 12:34

      I think you would agree if Japan become a country with 20,000 ICBM, it would certainly help the USA against China, even though ICBM launched from Hokkaido would likely to fall out of boundary of all Chinese territory because China is geographically too close to China, and the USA will laugh all the way.  I think you would also agree if Japan has a military 70% of the USA, the US will feel even more secure. BTW, you would also agree that the so called Japanese attack on Hawaii in 1942 is simply a fake story?

Zan
May 30, 2013 at 01:29

Ah, have the "net uyoku" found the comments section of the Diplomat?  How endearing. 

 

Bush proposed visiting Yasukuni?  You'll have to find a better source for that wild rumor than a Christian broadcasting site. 

Yasukuni being of no concern to the US?  Hardly, when right-wing visits there sabotage bilateral Japan-Korea and trilateral US-Japan-Korea security cooperation, as has been happening of late.  And perhaps the right-wing has forgotten that the US was also a party to the war with Japan, and also suffered under the imperial army? 

How very unsurprising that US visits were possible until the 1980's—-the enshrining of war criminals was kept secret until then, after all. 

The Washington Post a leftist mouthpiece?  Perhaps you have ignored its rightward tilt in recent years, initially as an effort to keep pace with the Washington Times back when it was in better shape.

No Japanese concentration camps?  Perhaps not formally, but who needed them, when there was a 30% mortality rate among prisoners, and when there was human experimentation being carried out by Unit 731 and others?

RisingSun
May 24, 2013 at 17:08

Feb 2002. George Bush asked Koizumi to visit Yasukuni together but Koizumi took him to Meiji Shrine instead. I believe this was the way Bush trying to show the closeness to Japan back then, but this itself caused a quite stirs among Christians.  http://bit.ly/16YS9bZ

 

And this photos. Even Dalai Lama has been there. This was right before China started making fuss on Yasukuni in the 80's, and I think the one big reason why China is accusing Yasukuni is because of Dalai Lama’s visit. Before the Nakasone era in the 80's no one really cared if someone visited yasukuni, and it appears that foreign vistors thought Yasukuni as something of Arlington.  http://bit.ly/oKaWPv

 

I hope you would see the Yasukuni issue with fairer perspectives. You are one of the best Japan-watcher in the Diplomat but you still take ideas from China and Korean leftist newspapers.

 

Shinto is not about "worshipping gods". In Shinto, anyone can turn into "good spirits" after death, but those who died unnaturally with war or assassination or starvations, could turn into “bad spirits”. The bad spirits were thought to cause epidemics and earthquakes. It sounds silly today, but it was serious matter before the modernization. Do you know why Izumo Shrine was the tallest than any other buildings? Because the local god (or king), Ookuninushi, was probably assassinated by Yamato gods (kings). Tenmangu are everywhere because Sugawara-Michizane had the unfortunate life. Even Todaiji is built that high because Emperor Shomu and his wife thought the reason why Fujiwara brothers died of the epidemic was due to killing of one of the prince.

 

Japanese built the shrines not to warship gods, but to contain these “gods” (really the spirits) into the sacred areas and keep them there so they won’t come out and cause disturbance to the world. Having Yasukuni with these unfortunate souls is this important to the Japanese religion. The religion-forbidden China and pretty-Christianized Koreans won’t even try to understand this, but you, Mr. Dujarric the well-educated American, should know better. Bush knew better.

Robert Dujarric
May 24, 2013 at 09:58

It's unclear that Abe's time at USC had any impact on him.  

Reid
May 24, 2013 at 00:18

You forget that Abe lived in the United States, he went to the University of Southern California (USC).

Bankotsu
May 23, 2013 at 15:18

"He’s talking about a China not ruled by an Ethnic authoritarian cabal which persistantly manipulates its propaganda based media with the goal of stoking irredentist nationalism among its citizens."

This is why people hate America.

Bankotsu
May 23, 2013 at 15:05

Turkey wants to join SCO. Japan, South Korea, europe all will join SCO in the future.

Bankotsu
May 23, 2013 at 15:03

"for Japan to join the SCO would be an interesting case of reverse evolution, as if Meiji Japan had turned into the Tokugawa Shogunate."   

But Japan joining SCO is inevitable. The entire eurasia will be consolidated under SCO.

Robert Dujarric
May 23, 2013 at 11:54

Thank you for the comments.  Just a few replies: (a) I have been to Yasukuni and the Yushukan at least 15 times  (b) The Washington Post is surely not a communist mouthpiece (c) It's unthinkable that Bush would have visited Yasukuni  (d) China is not Maoist anymore but it surely is ruled by the Communist Party.  One day the Party will go down into the dustbin of history and China will enter it's post-communist era, though no one knows if its post-communist future will be better or worse  (e) for Japan to join the SCO would be an interesting case of reverse evolution, as if Meiji Japan had turned into the Tokugawa Shogunate.   

RisingSun
May 23, 2013 at 04:08

This article is so inaccurate. The Obama administration and Japan started losing the trust each other during the former Japanese administration, when the liberal Hatoyama, suddenly started to push the idea of moving the American military bases out of Okinawa. Hatoyama-Noda and Abe belongs to the different political party and Abe or LDP has kept the close relationship, and always recognize the US-Japan relationship as most important one. Too close (more to the republican) that some of the anti-LDP leftists consider LDP as the CIA puppets.

 

1) Moving away from the post-war regime, and modernizing the 65 years old constitution has nothing to do with “the rejection of American ideology”.  What is the American ideology the author talking about here anyway? Disarming Japan permanently? The problem is that the Obama administration at least in the beginning had tried to strengthen ties with China, neglecting the importance of Okinawa and the safety of the Asian region. On his presidential speeches, Japan has been constantly left out. Japan now realize that deficit-ridden US is indeed weakening its military powers in the region, and Japan needs to get ready for the outcome of US ditching the 70 years agreement with Japan. The US administration finally realize how serious Japan is on the regional safety, and that's why US Defence Secretary Hagel announced “the islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law, and that Japan is determined to protect its land, water and air.” back in April.

 

2) Yasukuni has nothing to do with the US-Japan relationship. If this author really lives in Japan, he should visit Yasukuni Shrine and see who has been visiting there before. US marines and many officers are among the many official foreign visitors to Yasukuni until the late 80’s when the Japan stop the official foreign visitors disliking the further political involvement. It’s well known fact that Bush even tried to visit Yasukuni on his first visit during the Koizumi Administration. The Yasukuni  is the issue between Japan and CCP, and not US and Japan.

 

3) The “inability to face history” is such a shameful editorial work done by the liberal WP without the signature of the author. It’s as if a CCP agent writes for the once prestigious but always leftist newspaper.  There will be more chance for Obama to drop an atomic bomb to Syria or Iran than Japan commits something close to Auschwitz. Japan didn’t have a concentration camp but US did. Are you forgetting the history?

 

In the end, Japan is more worry that US is infested with the liberal leftist propaganda and turns back against Japan. Japan has no intensions or interests to expand the territory further but as long as US allow CCP’s aggressions, Japan need the option to protect themselves.

Takahiro Katsumi
May 23, 2013 at 02:12

I completely agree with your "third and most important" point suggesting, 

"Abe is laying the groundwork for diminishing American support for Japan."

In fact I've been playing with the assumption that Abe could be 'testing the waters' with the U.S. and the rest of the world by deliberately raising controversial historical issues, while also making great compromise on major U.S. foreign policy agenda such as TPP, as you've suggested. As I recall, the first statement Abe made on the definition of "aggression" (4/23) was a session with his LDP colleague and lawyer, Maruyama. You would question why a colleague and legal expert would put their leader in a position that will spark criticism in and out of Japan. You could say the session was carefully staged.

Of the two points you have made on Korea and China, I'm assuming that Abe is trying to reach a compromise with the U.S. in excluding Korea from the coalition against China and instead allowing Abe to settle once and for all the issue of comfort women and war reparations. While doing so, Japan will cooperate with the U.S. in containing China through a different apparatus–which is yet to be revealed. This is a very pragmatic approach given the relative weight of trade relations between Korean and China. China is definitely more siginificant for both Japan and the U.S. So U.S. might be face with a choice. But as you know the Korean lobby has a large presence in several U.S. state legislatures. Abe wants this political infulence to be either eliminated or minimized so he can fulfill at least part of his 'ideal' to leap out of the postwar regime; i.e., repealing of the Kono Statement and eliminating Korean influence from U.S. politics on historical issues. So U.S. will be faced with the choice to allow Abe to do as he please on historical matters, or not.

Well, I just may be giving too much credit to Abe for his master plan. At least I hope so.

ImperiumVita
May 23, 2013 at 00:02

He’s talking about a China not ruled by an Ethnic authoritarian cabal which persistantly manipulates its propaganda based media with the goal of stoking irredentist nationalism among its citizens.

Bankotsu
May 22, 2013 at 22:58

"The United States and Japan have a stake in good relations with post-communist China."

What do you mean by "post-communist" China? China does not currently practice communist ideology, so in a sense, China is already post communist. Or are you talking about something else? I hope americans don't daydream too much about China. 

 

Bankotsu
May 22, 2013 at 22:52

I support Shinzo Abe and his moves to turn Japan back into a full flegded independent asian power. I also welcome Japan to join SCO and BRICS.

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