Shinzo Abe, 58, who becomes prime minister again Wednesday, is regarded overseas, particularly in Asia, as one of the most-known — and probably most notorious — hawkish politicians in Tokyo.
But what made him so hawkish?
One can point to experiences he encountered in childhood and adolescence. In a book he wrote and published in 2006 shortly before he became prime minister the first time around, he confessed to feeling stigmatized as the grandson of rightwing politician Nobusuke Kishi, an ex-wartime industry minister who was arrested by the Allied Occupation forces for being a suspected Class-A war criminal.
Kishi, Abe’s maternal grandfather, was a former high-ranking official in Japan’s puppet state of Manchukuo in northern China and served as a Cabinet member under wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. The Occupation authorities never charged Kishi and he was released.
“Some people used to point to my grandfather as a ‘Class-A war criminal suspect,’ and I felt strong repulsion. Because of that experience, I may have become emotionally attached to ‘conservatism,’ on the contrary,” Abe wrote in the book titled “Utsukushii Kuni e” (“Toward a Beautiful Country”).
Kishi eventually staged a political comeback and became prime minister in 1957. He was regarded by then left-leaning mainstream Japanese intellectuals as a ghost of Japan’s past militarism and prewar political system.
“I knew my grandfather was called the ‘embodiment of reactionary conservatism’ and a ‘backroom fixer of political circles,’ Abe recalled.
When Abe was in high school, he recalled that anyone who was identified as being conservative was tantamount to being progovernment, and good for nothing.
“Since my childhood, in my eyes, my grandfather was a sincere statesman who only thought about the future of this country,” Abe wrote.
Kishi, who died in 1987, had long been Abe’s No. 1 role model as a politician. In fact, most of Abe’s key positions are said to be surprisingly identical to those originally espoused by Kishi.
Those “conservative” and “hawkish” stances include a desire to amend the Constitution, to end the government’s ban on collective defense, to strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance and to even “reform” the education system by weeding out “problematic” left-leaning teachers.
Abe is now probably convinced Kishi’s goal to strengthen Japan’s military commitment with the U.S. was the right course and one that helped Japan achieve its postwar rapid economic growth.
As prime minister, Kishi strengthened Japan’s military alliance with the U.S. by revising the Japanese-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960.
But many mainstream Japanese intellectuals at the time, who sympathized with socialist countries, were particularly critical of Japan’s military alliance with the United States and its creation of the Self-Defense Forces, claiming both the alliance and the presence of the military violate the war-renouncing Constitution.
But most observers today, including liberal, left-leaning intellectuals, admit the military alliance has enabled Japan to keep focusing its resources on economic development and helped maintain a stable security environment in Asia throughout the Cold War years.
“Mr. Kishi accomplished the great achievement of revising the Japanese-U.S. Security Treaty,” Abe reportedly said Saturday in his hometown in Yamaguchi Prefecture after he visited Kishi’s tomb. “I’d like to succeed his wish to ‘recover the true independence’ (of Japan).”
Before entering politics, Abe served as a secretary to his father, the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe. The young Abe accompanied his father on some 20 diplomatic trips and directly witnessed Japan’s talks with world leaders, including then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Thus Shinzo Abe’s main focuses appear to be diplomacy and nationalism, a sentiment that subsided amid the postwar left-leaning society’s pacifism.
But Abe is apparently not just a simple-minded nationalist. Depending on the diplomatic situation, he can show a realistic flexibility in how he carries himself.
During his campaign for the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race in September, he upped his hawkish rhetoric apparently to cater to nationalistic supporters.
But by the time of the Dec. 16 Lower House election, in which the LDP was set to emerge as the strong victor and it was clear he would again become prime minister, he dialed down the hawkishness apparently to avoid further exacerbating already-strained diplomatic ties with China and South Korea.
He has shelved most of his earlier provocative diplomatic proposals, including his call to station government officials on the Senkaku Islands, and the sponsoring of a national ceremony to mark the day of Japan’s 1905 incorporation of Takeshima — rocky islets midway between Japan and South Korea held by the South, which calls them Dokdo.
And it’s only been recently that Abe has been associated with proposed strong economic measures, as it was apparently not a topic of key interest to him earlier.
In his 232-page book, Abe made little mention of macroeconomic or financial policies.
He dedicated six of the seven chapters to his discussion on diplomacy, nationalism and education. The remaining one looks at the nation’s social security system and low birthrate.
“Frankly speaking, my specialized area was social security and I was not particularly familiar with financial issues,” Abe was quoted as saying in an interview published Nov. 29 on the news website Gendai Business.
Abe’s financial policy ideas apparently came from his advisers, most notably Yoichi Takahashi, a former Finance Ministry official who is now a professor at Kaetsu University in Tokyo, and Koichi Hamada, a professor emeritus at Yale University.