Abe election victory points to little reconciliation with major neighbors

By Liu Tian and Jon Day Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-16 22:38:01

The passing year has witnessed a continued chill in Japan's relations with its most important neighbors.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and some other Japanese politicians have angered neighboring countries with ultra-rightist remarks and actions, such as whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities and attempting to revise its pacifist constitution.

Abe, who has just won a snap election after taking office for the second time in 2012, has since carried out "value diplomacy with a global perspective" by visiting some 50 countries in two years. However, the Achilles' heel of this ambitious diplomacy is that Abe has failed to properly handle ties with Japan's three most important neighbors, namely, its largest trade partner China, South Korea, an important US ally in the region, and Russia, Japan's potential fuel supplier.

Following Japan's "nationalization" of the disputed Diaoyu Islands, its relations with China had already sunk to a new low, with no formal bilateral meetings nor exchange of visits between state leaders ever since.

The ice was somewhat cracked when Abe, while attending the annual APEC leader's meeting, met briefly with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing after the two sides reached a four-point agreement.

However, Sino-Japanese ties remain far from normalization since the Japanese government has yet to fulfill its pledge to properly handle issues of war history and territorial disputes, observers say.

Japan's relations with South Korea are caught in a similar downward spiral. Save for a few courtesy talks on the sidelines of international conferences, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to hold a formal summit with Abe.

While all three countries have territorial disputes with Japan, what seems to worry them more is the rightward shift in Japan endorsed by Abe.

Abe, whose election victory was a test of voters' support for his economic policies and whose Liberal Democratic Party strengthened its House of Representatives majority, has an undeclared agenda to win the legislative battle over revising a key clause of the postwar constitution in his prolonged term.

Article 9 of the constitution maintains that Japan renounces the right to war or to resort to threat of force in settling international disputes.

Earlier this year, the Abe cabinet demonstrated the intention to skirt the clause by passing a resolution that permits Japan's forces "the right to collective self-defense," an euphemism for allowing a Japanese military buildup and participation in wars abroad.

"Abe's decision to have his cabinet reinterpret Article 9 of Japan's peace-promoting constitution certainly rocked relations between Japan and its neighbors," David McLellan, a former professor of Asian studies in Tokyo, told Xinhua.

"Remilitarizing the country is a vital part of Abe's legacy -one which sees an expanded role of Japanese troops both at home and overseas," he said.

To the outrage of South Korea, the Abe cabinet recently conducted a review and denied the facts underlining the Kono Statement, in which Japan apologized for and acknowledged its forced recruitment of Korean women as wartime sex slaves.

"Abe over the course of this year has unapologetically steered the nation further and further down a well-trodden path of nationalism that celebrates militaristic fundamentals and ideologies." Laurent Sinclair, a Pacific affairs analyst, told Xinhua.

Improving future ties are important for both Japan and its neighboring countries as they are closely intertwined economically, but the prospect of improvement depends on Japan's attitude toward its war-time history, which all three neighboring countries take seriously.

Hisashi Inoue, a history expert at Surugadai University in Japan's Saitama Prefecture, told Xinhua in a recent interview that "Japan and China will face a lot of new issues in many areas such as economics, but before handling new issues, the two countries have to properly deal with existing problems stemming from history."

The article is a commentary from Xinhua News Agency. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus