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Abe sidesteps economy, stays visible at G-20 with anti-terrorism rhetoric

by Kakumi Kobayashi

Kyodo

At the first multilateral summit after Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his presence felt by pledging Japan’s commitment to stemming further acts of terrorism as it hosts major meetings of world leaders and ministers next year.

The assaults in the French capital stole much of the leaders’ attention away from the traditional topics of global economic and financial challenges at the meeting of Group of 20 major economies, held in the Turkish resort of Antalya.

Abe would have otherwise faced increased skepticism at the G-20 meeting about his ability to reinvigorate the slackening Japanese economy.

The government just released data Monday in Tokyo showing that activity contracted for the second quarter in a row in the July-September period, technically signaling a recession.

But with terrorism under the spotlight at the summit, Abe was able time and again to express “solidarity” with France and brand the attacks as “a challenge to values we share and try to protect.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the other G-20 leaders also devoted themselves to pondering anti-terrorism efforts, including how to help French President Francois Hollande, who skipped the G-20 event to cope with the aftermath of the attacks that killed well over 100 people.

As Tokyo hosts a series of events leading up the summit of the Group of Seven industrial economies in May, Abe also tried to convince many of his G-20 counterparts of Japan’s intention to stand with the international community, including through bilateral meetings with leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

“Mr. Abe’s remarks were perfectly appropriate and hit exactly the right notes for a multilateral summit such as the G-20,” said Arthur Herman, an expert on U.S.-Japan security issues at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington.

The attacks in Paris “should inspire other democratic governments, including in Asia, to realize that they all must band together to resist terrorism and aggression wherever it occurs,” Herman said.

While the G-20 leaders ended up issuing a statement condemning “the heinous terrorist attacks” in Paris over the weekend and in Ankara in October, questions remain over how Tokyo can contribute to anti-terrorism efforts.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the series of apparently coordinated attacks in Paris. France immediately launched airstrikes on strongholds of the jihadi group in Syria.

Abe also blasted the extremist group after journalist Kenji Goto and fellow Japanese Haruna Yukawa were beheaded by Islamic State members earlier this year, which triggered debate in Japan on whether Tokyo should do more than only asking other countries to help when a Japanese national is taken hostage by terrorists overseas.

The Diet passed a law in September that enables the Self-Defense Forces to play greater roles in security operations overseas.

The Abe administration, however, has no plan to use the SDF for any form of anti-terrorism operation despite the enactment of the new law. But in a session of the G-20 summit, Abe offered to help developing countries keep better control of their borders.

Herman said the new security laws will have no direct bearing on Japan’s role in combating terrorism.

The laws will, however, encourage other countries such as the United States to “feel more confident in partnering with Japan in developing key security technologies, from cyber and space defense to unmanned systems for persistent surveillance,” Herman said.