Almost seventy years after the guns fell silent, the Pacific War still haunts Japan in many ways. While the country’s reconstruction took place successfully, and Tokyo found a place in the Pax Americana underpinning economic growth in the Pacific for decades, historical disputes often make headlines and act as an obstacle to deeper relationships with countries such as South Korea.
Faced with a complex and increasingly dangerous regional scenario, under growing demands for naval hardware and diplomatic support from countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, in the midst of complex domestic negotiations concerning the evolving interpretation of constitutional provisions on security and defense, and faced with the need for Japan to redefine its international image, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to have decided to emphasize the “rule of law” as a central tenet of Japanese foreign policy.
Abe steps into uncomfortable territory when he appeared at Rengo’s annual May Day rally in Yoyogi Park.
It is apparent that early 2014 has already been an exhilarating period for the Japanese hard right. They have one of their own as the nation’s prime minister, his popularity has been enduring, his coterie filled with fellow travelers, and the liberal opposition beset by a degree of disarray that has probably never been seen before in postwar Japan.
The script has all the right drama: Two former Japanese prime ministers, deeply disappointed by their bungling successors, rise from comfortable retirement to do political battle once more. And, yes, there is good cause too.
Senior members of the Shinzo Abe administration, from the prime minister on down, have already jumped into the Tokyo gubernatorial race to insist that candidates must not appeal to the public in terms of anti-nuclear policy, but instead according to what the government believes are the most “proper” subjects, namely preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and health care policy.
This should be the best of times for the New Komeito Party. Somehow they remained loyal partners of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) even after the crushing electoral defeat of August 2009, and they patiently weathered more than three years on the opposition benches while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) mismanaged the nation. By rights, the last two national elections should be judged a triumph in which this party performed well and its ally came to dominate the government ranks.
It has been little noticed in the mainstream media, but Japanese conservatives and their allies desiring to erase the painful history of the so-called Comfort Women have been taking their campaign of denial to the US White House. They are doing this through the “We the People” online petition section of the White House official webpage.
The Mainichi Shinbun has opened the year with a blockbuster exclusive news story that is likely to be underplayed, or even ignored, by most of the rest of the Japanese media. One of the biggest headlines in November 2013 was the public announcement by Beijing that it was establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a large swathe of the East China Sea.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima’s decision to approve construction of the planned US Marine air base at Henoko has won its fair share of admirers. Much of the international media has portrayed it as a “breakthrough” that resolves a long political “stalemate” that had plagued US-Japan relations for many years.