A Leaner, Meaner Japan

Meet the new prime minister.

“It’s the beginning of the new era under Abe,” ruling party Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa declared. Elected decisively on September 26, Shinzo Abe comes to office as a champion of “revision of the pacifist Constitution, a more outspoken foreign policy, and more patriotic education” (Associated Press, September 26).

To pursue what he envisions as a more nationalistic and militarist direction for Japan, Abe wasted no time in consolidating and empowering his government. Not only has he stacked his cabinet with conservatives, but he has strengthened his own position. “His government immediately declared that the prime minister—not the powerful bureaucracy—would direct policy” (ibid.). “The prime minister’s office,” according to incoming Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, “should be strengthened as the control center for the whole state” (ibid.).

It is no wonder Abe’s ascendance to power, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “raises fears that the nation’s long-repressed well of virulent nationalism, buried just beneath the surface, could again rise up …” (September 25). Indeed, even prior to Abe becoming prime minister, his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi was laying the groundwork for a more nationalistic Japanese foreign policy, to be underpinned by a more assertive military.

Throughout his time as prime minister, Koizumi ruffled feathers (most notably China’s) by visiting a shrine honoring Japanese war criminals, proposing changes to Japan’s pacifist Constitution, and tampering with textbooks to gloss over Japan’s wartime record. Mr. Abe, as the Washington Post noted, “promises an extreme version of this formula” (September 25; emphasis mine). With the world having grown used to Japan’s new nationalist direction under Koizumi, Abe can dramatically accelerate the speed of Japan’s evolution into nationalism and militarism.

These issues are quite personal to Mr. Abe, whose grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was a member of Japan’s wartime cabinet, later jailed by the U.S. as a war criminal.

As Abe begins his prime-ministership, we should watch two specific trends.

First, we can expect Abe to finally rewrite Japan’s pacifist Constitution, enhance the Japanese military as an offensive force and promote that military to the world as the dominant and powerful force it is. As Japan’s military mindset evolves from being predominantly defensive to overtly offensive, it is also likely the nation will begin to develop its own cache of nuclear weapons. This idea is already circulating among Japanese statesmen and politicians and being pushed particularly by Abe (see “Pressure Mounts to Go Nuclear,” page 22).

Second, we can expect Abe to repair relations with fellow Asian states, specifically China. This prospect, often brushed over, has the potential to be more dangerous than even the rise of a more nationalistic Japan.

Nakagawa, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party policy chief and a key adviser to the new pm, vowed that Abe, as prime minister, would seek to “repair damaged ties with China” (International Herald Tribune, September 24). He said the new government would push hard for a Tokyo-Beijing summit. On a public talk show, Nakagawa stated, “Relations [with China] will definitely begin to improve” under Abe’s leadership, and that they are moving toward a “brighter era.”

Much of the Western media is distracted by reports about territorial disputes and periodic offenses between China and Japan. Many people fail to see the depth of political and economic cohesion already existent between these nations. As America’s economic influence subsides and as it becomes geopolitically isolated, and as the world (especially Asia) begins to revolve more around China, we should expect Japan to distance itself from the U.S. and align more closely with the giant next door.

Added to the growing economic and political factors pushing China and Japan together, these nations are also more aligned culturally and religiously with each other than with the United States. Both share Confucian and Buddhist traditions, and a culture that values hierarchical government, the importance of “saving face” and the “supremacy of the state over society and of society over the individual” (Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations). The fact is, nations just tend to align with other nations of similar heritage, religion and culture.

While Japan and China have many cultural and ideological similarities, few exist with the U.S. Though relations between Japan and America appear rosy, fundamental schisms exist between American and Asian cultures. Huntington identifies another key difference between Asian and American cultures as revealed in past conflicts and subsequent relations: “The Asians … tended to regard the United States as ‘an international nanny, if not bully.’ Deep imperatives within American culture, however, impel the United States to be at least a nanny if not a bully … and as a result American expectations were increasingly at odds with Asian ones” (ibid.). Economics and politics are not enough to hold America and Japan together. Japan’s future does not lie with America!

This is why Shinzo Abe’s desire to repair relations between Japan and China is significant. We must watch for a strengthening in Sino-Japanese relations.

If you would like to understand more about the immediate future of Asia, read our free booklet Russia and China in Prophecy.

With reporting by Donna Grieves