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With Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe’s formal announcement of candidacy in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election, the tripartite race between Mr. Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has heated up. Given Mr. Abe’s great popularity, it is likely that he will be elected as LDP president and consequently the next prime minister. Thus it is all the more important for both LDP members and the general public to carefully examine Mr. Abe’s policy platform and the ideology behind it.

Mr. Abe’s nationalist orientation is clear. In his platform, titled “A Beautiful Country — Japan,” “building a nation that cherishes its culture, traditions, nature and history” comes first. Under this same heading, he calls for revising the Constitution to make it one “that is conducive to a Japan that cuts open a new age,” among other things. It is clear that he is targeting the pacifist principle of the Constitution embodied in the Preamble and the war-renouncing Article 9 — a principle that has restrained Japan’s military activities and helped it to gain a respected position in the international community.

Mr. Abe’s antipathy toward the Constitution’s Preamble has been expressed in his book “Toward a Beautiful Country,” which plainly discloses his ideology. Certain phrases in the Constitution’s Preamble — “We have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world” and “We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society, striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth”– are characterized by Mr. Abe as a degrading “signed deed of apology” (wabi jomon) from Japan to the Allied Powers.

Mr. Abe ignores the fact that the Preamble as a whole expresses postwar Japan’s resolution to discard its militarist and colonialist past and that this resolution has been the pillar of Japan’s efforts to reconstruct itself and to gain a trusted position in the international community. A departure from this resolution would harm Japan’s national interests and cause other nations to become suspicious of its intentions.

On the diplomatic front, Mr. Abe calls for “establishing strong fraternity in an open Asia” and promises to strengthen “trustful relations with neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.” While it is clear that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine — which enshrines not only Japan’s war dead but also 14 Class-A war criminals — have led to deterioration of Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, Mr. Abe refuses to treat the Yasukuni problem as an issue in the LDP presidential race. He has not yet made public what he will do with Yasukuni if he becomes prime minister, and this silence only deepens suspicions concerning his basic view of Japan’s wartime behavior — a matter closely related to the basic orientation of Japan under Mr. Abe’s leadership. During the LDP presidential election campaign, he should clearly express his views on such matters as the Class-A war criminals, the decisions of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and Japan’s wars in the 1930s and 40s. So far, he has only said that foreign countries should not dictate what Japan’s prime minister should do with Yasukuni.

Mr. Abe also calls for strengthening “the Japan-U.S. alliance for the sake of the world and Asia” and establishing a system in which “both Japan and the United States sweat blood.” He needs to elaborate on this so that the candidates can meaningfully discuss how to shape the future of the ties between the two countries and what roles Japan should and should not play in the bilateral security arrangement.

As for the nation’s financial rehabilitation — an issue vital to the nation’s economic health, Mr. Abe and Mr. Aso give priority to reduction of spending while Mr. Tanigaki proposes raising the consumption tax rate to at least 10 percent by the latter half the 2010s. Mr. Abe and Mr. Aso are not clear on the size of spending cuts and what effects such cuts would have on the economy while Mr. Tanigaki does not talk about the possibility of a higher consumption-tax rate dampening the economic recovery. All three candidates also fail to convey a strong message on how to rectify the gap between the rich and the poor, which has emerged as a result of Mr. Koizumi’s deregulation-oriented reform politics. They should realize that what is needed is not piecemeal measures but a broad policy orientation that will contribute to rectifying overall social imbalances and instability. The candidates should discuss policy measures based on their philosophies on government and politics.

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