Shinzo Abe has been in office for nearly five months. The Abe economics seems to have stimulated the market, leading to rising asset prices and winning him higher support. But the Abe politics has apparently not operated as smoothly. On the one hand, the constitutional revision proposition has been questioned in the Diet and resisted by the public. On the other hand, US public opinions do not approve of Abe’s right-tilting conception of history and Asia, forcing him to readjust the political program on the grounds that revising the constitution will need a popular vote.
On the surface, questions in the Diet focused on the concepts of constitutional revision and history because of Abe’s wild talk about revising Article 96 of the Japanese Constitution so as to pave the way for further revisions concerning status of the Self-Defense Force and about revising the Kono Statement and the Murayama Statement. He even questioned the definition of aggression and negated the world’s understanding of the word.
The roots are actually in the US. The Abe politics attempts to challenge common sense of the US, alerting both public opinion and political circles. It has also caused a sense of insecurity in the Japanese society, which has been rare since the end of World War II.
The public may have resisted constitutional revision because the people cherish the path of peace and worry about losing security of Japan. Deeper meanings can be deducted from American criticism and vigilance.
Abe put forward economic policies, vowing to reinvigorate the Japanese economy and territory, restore Japan’s competitiveness and rally patriotic spirit. The Japanese market that was sluggish for 20 years has been stimulated with financial indicators on the comprehensive rise. Japanese enterprises and rich people are quite elated by this and the Abe cabinet has since enjoyed high support.
Apparently quite complacent with the immediate effects of his economic policies, Abe started to attempt political and diplomatic breakthrough. The Abe politics can be summed up as three points: first, to revise the constitution, deny aggression, distort history and change the post-World War II system; second, to visit the US, Russia, Middle East and Southeast Asia to assert Japan’s dominant role in the region and participate in global affairs; third, to pursue a robust economic diplomacy to seize strategic markets and geographical stronghold and touch global zones of strategic interests. Such a political doctrine seems like playing with fire.
Danger of constitutional revision and historical negation aside, walking the tightrope of US-Russia energy and geopolitical strategies is already beyond Abe’s accomplishment. After resignation, Abe spent five years restudying the Ronald Reagan economics and Yasuhiro Nakasone’s conservative soul. Now, he is following Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s conservative rally and pushing for the evolution of Asian values. However, Mr. Abe has failed to note the historical changes in world political and economic structures and his political economy thus seems rather metaphysical, lacking material and historical thought.
The shale gas revolution directly intensifies energy and geo-strategic contradictions between the US and Russia. As a key energy consumer, Japan has laid down its bid price to both the US and Russia. But stuck in the geopolitical chess of the Pacific, Japan is in no position to balance the two powers. Abe’s naivety moved the US-Russia strategic balance board.
Vladimir Putin came back to the Kremlin with a strategy to make Russia great again by expanding energy supply capability for more consolidated national strength and moving eastward towards the Pacific to be part of the world’s growth centre. The shale gas revolution and rebalancing strategy of the US actually constitutes a hedge against the Russian strategy. The two dynamics have formed a vortex of high risks. Abe’s visits to the US and Russia seem to be testing the level of risks.
During the US visit, Abe attempted to use the US shale gas to force Putin into more favourable energy supply conditions. However, President Obama laid down three cards: shale gas, nuclear power station and TPP. None of which can be dispensed with, tying up Abe’s ability to maneuver. During the Russian visit, he tabled a combined offer involving territory, energy and technical cooperation in disregard of the geo-strategic confrontation between the US and Russia. Actually, the two countries not only confront each other in the periphery of Europe but also have a silent competition in their Asia Pacific strategy. In 2012, when Obama hosted the G8 summit in Camp David, Putin was not there. Last September, when Putin hosted APEC in Vladivostok, Obama did not appear. With opposing strategies, the US and Russia are in a rather dangerous posture, to which Abe has burst in with eyes folded and ears covered.
As to the territorial issue, even though Putin may need to consider territory for a more cooperative Japan in Russia’s eastward strategy, the Kunashir water lane has long been the strategic gateway to the Okhotsk Sea. With no change in the US-Japan alliance, there is actually no change in the regional security structure. Therefore, the territorial plan of Russia can hardly change fundamentally solely because of Japan’s energy demands and technical cooperation. Abe’s pursuit in this regard demonstrated a lacking of basic historical view and realistic judgment.
Abe’s even more reckless economic diplomacy was conducted in American and Russian strategic interest zones by selling nuclear power in Turkey and talking about infrastructural exports to Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Even if he is not familiar with international politics, three concentric circles with Istanbul at the centre will fully disclose the region’s strategic location. The shale gas revolution has not taken the US away from the Middle East. The country has on the contrary increased attention to the Caspian Sea and Black Sea oil and gas belt. Obviously Abe’s diplomacy is so wistful that it not only scares the Japanese people but also surprises the US and Russia. As such, the Abe politics can hardly identify a political direction for Japan.
Liu Junhong is a Research fellow at the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations.