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.
For almost a year now after his thumping victory in December 2012 we have found ourselves surprised again and again by Shinzo Abe. We have asserted repeatedly that the Abe that we were witnessing was not the “real” Abe, and that the agenda he was pursuing was based on a tactical calculation about what was necessary to maintain public support, but not a reflection of his basic character.
Recent news from Southeast Asia has been dominated by maritime conflicts, and then trade negotiations in second place. However, nature has once again reminded us all that it is not just conflicts among nations that threaten the life and property of citizens. The reminder has come in the shape of a terrible typhoon, known as Haiyan or Yolanda.
More than two years after the Fukushima disaster, the effects of the government’s first efforts to reduce the nation’s dependency on nuclear power are clearly visible to the citizens of Anpachi in Gifu Prefecture, where Sanyo, now Panasonic, constructed its 315-meter-wide Solar Ark consisting of over 5,000 solar panels. Besides generating 530,000 kilowatt hours annually, the site also features a museum and several outdoor exhibitions.
The determination of the leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party to get tough on the Henoko base construction issue is becoming apparent to close observers. It has long been a question whether or not Tokyo was really willing to repress the popular will in Okinawa, which clearly opposes the construction of a new US Marine base, but the message is now coming through more openly: Let Okinawan opinions be damned! The base will be built!
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
As anyone who studies Japanese political history of the 1930s can attest, the rightwing forces in this nation can be a fractious lot. Once the spirit of nationalism rages, any sort of moderate, compromising behavior can be denounced as treason. Shinzo Abe came to power as a spokesman for the hard right, but after ten months of reasonably cautious behavior, a good chunk of this movement is ready to turn against him.
“Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is a far-sighted policy,” declared Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his Cabinet and journalists on Friday, “Japan should play a leading role toward a year-end deal.” The prime minister may be exactly right, but the fact is that very few independent observers have any firm basis for making a judgment. Not only are the TPP talks highly complex, they are also secret and moving very quickly.
During his recent visit to Canada and the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a number of interesting visits and public statements, once again demonstrating that he tends to give rather different messages to international audiences as compared to what he says at home.
The people who wrote this constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers, on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him, is to shred the distinction that makes us different.