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Japanese foreign policy under the Abe administration.

The current Abe Shinzo administration started on December 26, 2012. This is the second time Abe has headed the government. Unlike his first premiership (September 2006 to September 2007), this time his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), dominates the more powerful lower house and, with the support of its coalition partner, the Komei Party, controls the upper house as well. This solid political base has given the Abe administration the power to do what it wants, with few constraints.

Abe has pursued a foreign policy that is based on certain values, calling it "value-based diplomacy." The values the prime minister subscribes to are conservative, nationalistic ones, attaching importance to national self-esteem and national strength in both military and economic terms.

Abe's Security Policy

The Abe administration has applied this value-based diplomacy to China and North Korea, which it has seen as serious and growing threats to Japan's national security. As countermeasures, the administration has pursued policies enhancing Japan's military capability, strengthening its alliance with the United States, and forging closer military ties with countries that share similar security concerns (particularly about China), such as Southeast Asian nations, India, Australia, South Korea, and Russia. This policy orientation actually began after the Cold War but has become more pronounced under the Abe administration. Japan's policy toward China largely overlaps with the U.S.'s China policy: to strengthen security ties with its allies and countries that also have security concerns about China.

In July 2013, at his summit meeting with President Benigno Aquino, Abe officially approved Aquino's request for ten patrol vessels to help the Philippines improve its maritime surveillance capability. This is the second such case, after the provision of three patrol vessels to Indonesia in 2007. A similar deal with Vietnam is also on Abe administration's agenda.

After the Cold War, Japan gradually eased its policy of exclusive self-defense, based on its war-renouncing and peaceful Constitution, and has enhanced its capacity to conduct overseas military operations. Under the Abe administration, the ruling LDP has made stronger calls for developing the capability to strike missile bases and other targets in a hostile country, in response to North Korea's missile development.

Japan's relations with China and North Korea have become more confrontational during the Abe administration. This is partly due to the military buildups by China and North Korea. But another factor is the administration's nationalistic interpretation of what imperial Japan did to China and Korea.

In fact, this nationalistic interpretation of history has soured Japan's relations with South Korea as well, particularly over the issues of so-called "comfort women" and the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands, making trilateral security corporation among the U.S., Japan, and South Korea difficult despite U.S. efforts to promote it.

Consequently, not only Chinese President Xi Jinping but also South Korean President Park Geun-hye has become unwilling to hold a summit meeting with Abe. Japan's relations with China and South Korea are widely seen as reaching their lowest point since diplomatic normalization in 1972 and 1965, respectively.

To strengthen its security ties with Washington, the Abe administration secured passage of a law to establish a National Security Council (NSC) on November 27, 2013 and a secrecy law to greatly toughen the penalty for leaking classified information on December 6, 2013, despite strong domestic and international criticism of potentially arbitrary punishment and classification of information. As another way to consolidate the Japan-U.S. alliance, the administration has shown a strong eagerness to ease the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, which is imposed by the Constitution.

The Abe administration's confrontational stance toward China and North Korea has escalated tensions with them, particularly China, as can be seen in China's designation of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, which overlaps Japan's due to their claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Reduction in tensions with China and North Korea is not in sight because the Abe administration has presented few measures to promote it.

Abe's Economic Policy

The Abe administration has been very eager to revitalize a Japanese economy that has lost its vigor. To realize this goal, the administration has adopted policy measures to promote exports.

One example is its attempt to reduce trade barriers among countries in the Asia-Pacific region by concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The administration effectively decided to reduce protection of weak industries such as agriculture in order to strengthen more competitive manufacturing industries.

In this context, the Abe administration has also made particularly strong efforts at promoting the export of nuclear power plants despite the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, as well as the environmental and ethical problems associated with disposal of nuclear waste. As a concrete step, Abe visited Turkey twice in May and October 2013 to persuade the Turkish government to purchase nuclear power plants from a Japanese consortium.

Besides supporting the nuclear power industry, the Abe administration has actively promoted weapons export by easing Japan's long-standing policy against it, which was based on the recognition that the spread of weapons may well promote conflicts rather than reducing them. Liberalization of weapons exporting will give a strong economic boost to Japan's defense industry, given its technology expertise, and is likely to transform Japan into a major weapons exporter.

The Abe administration has also supported the defense industry by increasing the defense budget and by using official development assistance (ODA) for export promotion. The latter can be seen in the provision of ODA to Indonesia and the Philippines to finance their purchase of patrol vessels, as described above.

Future Prospects

It is likely that the Abe administration will continue to pursue the security and economic policies discussed above, at least until the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for July 2007. Will the Abe administration adopt a more confrontational stance toward China in that time? It depends on a variety of factors, including China's policy choices regarding Japan. Still, it should be noted that the Abe administration's foreign policy is likely to remain under some constraint.

China is the world's second biggest economy and is likely to become economically and militarily stronger, while Japan's economic prowess is likely to decline further due to its aging and shrinking population. China is Japan's biggest trading partner, in both exports and imports. This economic dependence on China has prevented Abe and his five predecessors (Noda, Kan, Hatoyama, Aso, and Fukuda) from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines the war dead, including class-A war criminals such as Tojo Hideki. Strong opposition to a visit comes from South Korea as well as China. Antagonizing China is likely to hurt Japan's economic interests. These structural factors are likely to remain for many years to come and continue to constrain the foreign policy of the Abe administration and its successors.

*The Turkish version of this article was first published in the January 2013 issue of USAK's monthly journal, 'Analist'.

Kasede YOSHINORI (*)

(*) Assoc. Prof., Japan Kitakyushu University.
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Title Annotation:Abe Shinzo
Author:Yoshinori, Kasede
Publication:USAK Yearbook of Politics and International Relations
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Words:1155
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