Mr. Abe’s worrisome plan for Japan

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has been selected as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, roundly defeating his two rivals, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso. Within a week the Diet will elect him as the nation’s next prime minister.

Mr. Abe will inherit daunting problems from his predecessor, Mr. Junichiro Koizumi. These include the nation’s financial reconstruction and swelling social-security costs, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and Japan’s deteriorated relations with China and South Korea caused by Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

While Mr. Abe must tackle these problems, a grander theme will establish the character of his administration: a departure from the postwar regime and revision of the Constitution. Mr. Abe’s perception of Japan’s modern wars forms his basic political orientation. Because this orientation is closely related to diplomacy and the fundamental shape of Japan’s polity, including the basic relationship between the government and the citizenry and education policy, its effect on the future of Japan and the region must be closely scrutinized.

Although constitutional revision has been one of the main planks of the LDP’s platform since the party’s establishment in 1955, for many years the LDP accepted the postwar Constitution without making a big political fuss over it. Only last autumn did the LDP come up with a concrete proposal for revising the Constitution. Mr. Abe may simply be trying to live up to the party’s platform. But his basic orientation will greatly affect Japan’s position in the international community and may invite strong criticism and suspicion from other nations, including Japan’s neighbors and even countries that are regarded as close friends. This is because constitutional revision under the leadership of Mr. Abe, if realized, would lead to discarding of the pillar of postwar Japan — self-restraint on military activities — that has helped the nation gain trust and a respected position in the international community.

Mr. Abe does not hide his dislike of the war-renouncing Constitution. He views with disdain the core part of the Preamble of the Constitution, which sets forth Japan’s determination to “preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.” He calls it a degrading “signed deed of apology (wabi jomon)” from Japan to the Allied Powers.

It appears that Mr. Abe does not want to admit Japan’s war responsibility. He refuses to clarify whether he accepts the statement delivered by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, in which the Japanese government formally apologized for the damage and suffering Japan’s colonial rule and aggression caused to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Subsequent administrations, including Mr. Koizumi’s, issued similar statements, making it Japan’s official stance on its wars of the 1930s and 1940s. Mr. Abe refuses to disclose his views on Japan’s actions in those years when asked, saying judgments on such matters should be left to historians.

Mr. Abe said that the first summits he will have as prime minister will be with Asian leaders. But he has been a strong supporter of Mr. Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, and he himself paid a secret visit to the shrine in April. He has not made clear whether he will visit the shrine when he becomes prime minister, but says Japan-China relations should be pursued under the principle of keeping political and economic matters separate. This can be interpreted as meaning Mr. Abe thinks that Japan-China relations can be improved even if he visits Yasukuni as prime minister. It is highly questionable whether such an attitude can help Japan establish trustful relationships with its neighbors.

Mr. Abe’s nationalism and hawkishness may be attractive to a segment of Japanese people who feel Mr. Koizumi’s focus on deregulation has deprived them of vital social bonds and stability. But such a development is unhealthy for our nation and will likely only rekindle nationalism in neighboring nations, leading to a further deterioration in Japan’s relations with them.

Mr. Abe has to come up with a grand policy to rectify the economic gap between the nation’s haves and have-nots. As the basis for various economic measures, including financial reconstruction, Mr. Abe stresses the importance of Japan achieving high economic growth. But he has yet to announce specific means for attaining this goal.

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