Abe’s Times

As I rose this morning on a mild and gloomy boxing day, I read of PM Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine, making him the first sitting PM to visit the shrine since his LDP predecessor Koizumi in 2006. The blowback was immediate and potent. Beijing and Seoul condemned Abe’s visit and Washington chimed in with a rare rebuke. As the region descends into geopolitical deadlock with a rising China deploying its muscle to create new regulative zones around air travel and seafaring, a bellicose North Korea that is internally dysfunctional and outwardly hostile with a nervous Seoul on it’s guard, the Japanese premier’s visit complicates an already toxic regional climate. However, looking from a Japanese point of view, Abe’s visit is unsurprising and arguably on deck as he commenced his second term in office, which has been nothing short of dynamic and determined. Indeed, the visit arrives in the wake of buoyant economic progress under Abenomics that manifests through renewed focus on the fiscal, monetary and trade policy fronts, intermittent political triumphs within the Diet and increased military spending under the slogan of ‘proactive pacifism.’ Having the domestic winds in his favour, Abe’s visit stands to bolster his domestic standing and that of the LDP whilst undermining efforts to advance amity in East Asia. Few months earlier, in an interview with Foreign Affairs, Abe compared, rather disconcertingly, the Yasukuni issue to the confederate war dead at Arlington National Cemetery and how that has not yet deterred presidential visits to Arlington. The writings on the wall were perhaps clear at that juncture of a possible visit and it has come.


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