- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

TOKYO — Shinzo Abe, elected prime minister of Japan on Tuesday by both chambers of the national Diet, said he seeks to strengthen relations with the United States, suggesting an expansion of Japan’s military role.

Mr. Abe, 52, the youngest postwar prime minister and the first born after World War II, said he will re-examine the issue of collective self-defense. Now also the president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Mr. Abe has insisted Japan change the current interpretation that international law gives the nation the right for collective self-defense, but Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution prohibits its exercise. A Japanese warship cannot come to the aid of an ally — such as the United States — attacked by a third country, according to Japanese law.

“I believe that is one of the first things he will work on,” said Toshiyuki Shikata, a law professor at Teikyo University in Tokyo.

“The step is one of Japan’s efforts to make the bilateral ties more equal, if only a little,” said Tadae Takubo, guest professor of international relations at Kyorin University in Tokyo, and a former Washington bureau chief for Jiji Press. Under the Abe Cabinet, “I expect Japan to forge closer ties with the U.S., especially in security terms. The ties between a stronger Japan and the strong United States could contribute to the stability of Asia.”

Those who support Mr. Abe hope Japan will establish in future relations such as those between the United States and Britain, he added.

U.N. Council seat eyed

At his first press conference as prime minister, Mr. Abe, a strong advocate of revising the pacifist Constitution to give Japan’s military more freedom of action, promised to develop an assertive diplomacy, adding that one of his goals is to win Japan a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Abe, first elected to the Diet in 1993, never had a Cabinet post, though he served as chief Cabinet secretary — in effect the government spokesman. He became popular by taking a strong stance against North Korea, especially North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. When North Korea test-fired several missiles in July, Mr. Abe also suggested the Japanese government discuss whether it could launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korean missile bases.

Since Tuesday, Mr. Abe has boosted the functions of the Prime Minister’s Office by increasing its staff. He established five new advisory posts in charge of such issues as North Korean abductions and national security. Some analysts said he is trying to make the office similar to the White House.

Mr. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, moved into the palatial building of the Prime Minister’s Office in April 2002, leaving the 73-year-old mansion that it replaced.

“It is the highest level of ‘intelligent building’ and has a crisis-management office in the basement. It’s sort of a new command center,” explained Mr. Shikata, the law professor, who is a retired ground self-defense force general. “Mr. Abe [who worked at the building as chief Cabinet secretary] knows he has to have a new organization to meet the functions.”

Cabinet called ‘chummy’

Meanwhile, critics note that the prime minister, now surrounded by his close allies, gave Cabinet seats and key party posts to those who helped him attain office. Some call his Cabinet “hawkish” or “chummy.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun, an influential daily with the country’s largest circulation, criticized the new Cabinet in an editorial, saying its membership “shows that what Abe actually did was to award many of the portfolios to those who helped him win the Liberal Democratic Party presidency.”

Akira Yamada, professor of modern Japanese history at Meiji University in Tokyo, went further, saying that while the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Koizumi was more balanced, the Abe Cabinet seems to share a single ideology.

“They look like jingoists” when it comes to a diplomatic strategy for Asia, he said.

Although Prime Minister Abe has declared he is willing to improve troubled relations with China and South Korea, “I don’t get the impression that the new Cabinet could turn [relations] around,” Mr. Yamada said. Mr. Abe reappointed Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who shares his conservative views, and appointed Shoichi Nakagawa, a close ally, to head the LDP’s Policy Research Council.

Mr. Abe and Mr. Nakagawa reportedly pressured NHK, Japan’s public television network, in 2001 to censor a documentary about a people’s tribunal set up to judge the use of sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The two men and NHK have repeatedly denied this.

Some Cabinet members, such as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura, known as a nationalist, belonged to a group of lawmakers that supported the introduction of new history textbooks that critics say whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities. Mr. Nakagawa headed the group and Mr. Abe, who now pushes patriotic education, was its secretary-general.

Japan’s relations with China and South Korea plunged to their lowest in decades because of territorial disputes and Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to the nation’s war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals.

Mr. Nakagawa, who served as agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister under the previous administration, supported Mr. Koizumi’s visits to the war memorial and described China as a “scary country” after anti-Japan riots there last year.

The Abe Cabinet appears to reflect Japan’s rightward tilt, especially since China’s rise, the 1998 launch of North Korea’s Taepodong Missile that overflew Japan’s main island and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Scholar voices criticism

In addition, the silence of President Bush about Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine contributed to the rise of “authoritarian conservatives such as Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe, and continued to let them pander to the Yasukuni neoconservatives who openly deny Imperial Japan’s wartime atrocities and aggression,” said Yoshi Tsurumi, professor of international business at Baruch College, City University of New York.

“From the Chinese point of view, Mr. Bush has fueled a conflict between China and Japan.” By remaining silent, Mr. Bush helped create the tensions in East Asia, Mr. Tsurumi said. “That is hurting the national security leadership of the U.S. in the region.”

Mr. Abe, who regularly worships at Yasukuni Shrine, refused to say whether he will continue to do so. In his campaign book for the recent LDP presidential election, “Toward a Beautiful Country,” he defended the visits of Japanese leaders to Yasukuni Shrine, questioned the legitimacy of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and refused to accept its classification of certain veterans as war criminals.

Those executed as war criminals by the Allies after World War II included Gen. Hideki Tojo, former Foreign Minister Koki Hirota, and five others. Several died in prison and two died before judgment was passed.

Mr. Abe’s father, Shintaro Abe, served as foreign minister, and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi — who was arrested as a suspected Class-A war criminal but later went free — was one of his grandfathers.

If Mr. Abe continues such claims, “Japan would be compared with Germany once again. They continue to track down war crimes committed by Nazi Germany without any time limit,” said Mr. Tsurumi.

“Japan cannot do that. Is it a ‘Beautiful Country’? I would say that is an ugly country.”

Japanese press reported yesterday Mr. Abe might meet next month with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Abe is to meet South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Mr. Bush separately in November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

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