Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Old Attitudes in Japan's New Leadership: Stuart McMillan Examines the Abe Government's Approach to International Affairs and Finds Some Worrying Aspects

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Old Attitudes in Japan's New Leadership: Stuart McMillan Examines the Abe Government's Approach to International Affairs and Finds Some Worrying Aspects

Article excerpt

International hopes were high that Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, with his 'Abenomics' plan, would revive Japan's stagnant economy, but he also brought with him some nationalist leanings that have complicated security relationships within the Asian region. Eis visit to the Yasukuni Shrine is one of several actions that have caused some strong reactions. Others have included passing a state secrets law which enabled officials to decide what should or should not be published and having Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution reinterpreted. His suggestion for an Asian security organisation may have significant implications for New Zealand.

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In December 2012 Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, was elected as Japanese prime minister on economic grounds. At the same time he was known to want revision of constitutional restraints on the use of Japan's defence forces. His views on this subject had been expressed many times and he had sought such changes in his earlier short term as prime minister in 2006 and 2007.

During the first year after re-election he concentrated on seeking to revive Japan's economy, but in December 2013 he made a visit as prime minister to the Yasukuni Shrine, a war memorial in Tokyo which has a profoundly symbolic significance for Japan and its neighbours. During 2014 he managed to have the Diet pass a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. While this reinterpretation did not alter the Constitution it is not unreasonable to conclude that it went quite some distance towards gutting Article 9, which reads:

   Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice
   and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign
   right of the nation and the threat or use of force as
   means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish
   the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces,
   as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The
   right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

This article looks at some of the changes within Japan including the Constitution reinterpretation, makes an assessment of the security and strategic effects of the changes in the region and examines effects on New Zealand.

Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine is only one action that has caused some strong reactions but it crystallised attitudes and is worth dwelling on. The visit was kept secret until he had made it. The Shinto shrine is viewed as housing the souls of those who have died fighting in Japan's wars. Some fourteen Class A war criminals are also listed there. A museum in the same grounds as the shrine contains some versions of history of Japan's part in the Second World War that are pronouncedly nationalist and revisionist. Visits by Japanese prime ministers and ministers are interpreted by some of Japan's neighbours as evidence that Japan has not repented for its actions during the Second World War nor renounced its conduct. For China, a part of which was colonised by Japan, and for the Korean peninsula, which was ruled by Japan from 1910 until 1943, the memories extend further than Second World War years.

Strong response

The strongest reactions to the visit came from South Korea and China. But Russia and Singapore also expressed regret. Without directly referring to the Yasukuni visit Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general and a South Korean himself, said that it was regrettable that tensions from the past still plagued the region. But it was the reaction of the United States, which said that it was 'disappointed', that rocked the Japanese government. The Japanese government at first suggested that this was not a considered response. The United States had asked Abe not to visit the shrine and some high American officials had paid their respects to another war memorial. They were hoping to encourage Abe to do the same. The United States had read correctly how some of Japan's neighbours would react. …

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