Power with responsibility
The overwhelming success of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the latest elections for members of the Japanese 'Diet' appears to be portending the hardening of tensions and priorities in northeast Asia. Defying his critics and proving himself to be one of the most adroit Japanese politicians, Abe has once again emerged as a hero of the post-war era. Not only did he opt for a head-on attack on the scandals eroding his popular support and the voice of dissidence in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he also took advantage of the vague sense of surrounding impending crisis by calling in for early elections. After this overwhelming victory, fingers are virtually crossed about Abe's intentions and corresponding actions with the refreshed authority. While pundits of international politics predict that he might consume this mandate on a possibly chimerical quest of his life-long goal of constitutional revision, it cannot be ruled out that he would complete the pending part of his wartime time history agenda of drawing a peace treaty deal with Russia.
Abe, in fact, would also have to focus on handling the pertinent mess created by US President Donald Trump, expected to visit Tokyo soon. Besides dealing with Pyongyang, the most important part of his agenda would be fulfilling his promises of an economic revitalisation of Japan, as the ruling coalition's victory was a victory for stability and continuity. As a result, it is expected, Abe would give preference to formulate a development-oriented budget over making the constitutional revision. Not to forget, it would always be a daunting task to revise Japan's post-war 'peace constitution', whose Article 9 declares "land, sea and air forces … will never be maintained" and "belligerency of the state will not be recognised." Using the term "self-defence forces" for Japan's military establishment in his agenda, Abe had faced widespread opposition for his plan to revise the Constitution, foisted on Japan by the victorious American general, Douglas MacArthur, during the US occupation that followed Japan's defeat in World War II. For sure, Japanese rightists believe it is high time to discard this vestige of American power, but the Japanese are also habituated to the assurance that Japanese troops would never again rampage across Asia as they did in the 35 years of Japanese rule over Korea and the takeover of large parts of China, most of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Surprisingly, the well-equipped Japanese 'self-defense forces' had not fired even a single shot in retaliation, after Emperor Hirohito accepted his surrender on August 15, 1945. The recent forceful emergence of right-wing ideologies in Japan is mainly a consequence of North Korean president Kim Jong-un, who had been rude enough to send long-range missiles high above the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Notably, Abe has to ram the new version through some formidable obstacles, while revising the Constitution.
Not only would he need the approval of two-thirds of the Diet – controlled by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in alliance with the Komeito, rather, he must persuade more than 50 per cent of the nation's voters to endorse it. Though North Korea has greeted Abe's electoral success with a warning of Japanese reinvasion of the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang apparently wants to tear into the bond formed between Abe and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, who supports the trilateral cooperation with the United States and Japan as indispensable in countering Kim Jong-un's threats against US, Japan and also the Republic of Korea. And, that would raise doubts in the minds of China and Russia that rising Japanese military power is a menace to their own security. And, both these global giants would consider several times to free Japan from Article 9. Not only that, when it comes to foreign and security policy, a somewhat similar dilemma exists, particularly in relations with Japan's only ally, the United States. As Abe enjoys an almost unique position among American allies with a very cordial relationship with President Trump, one cannot rule out that his influence would disappear the moment he crosses US foreign policies. It may be noted that the view of Trump inside the senior levels of Japanese officialdom is typically pragmatic.
It is clear that Trump has never shown respect for the sovereignty of other countries, including Japan. However, the US-Japan relationship would be put on full display on November 5, when Trump arrives for his brief visit to Japan. Under the present cool surface of Tokyo – all set to welcome Trump lays the iceberg of North Korea. Despite the talk of war that one hears increasingly in Washington – whether it is a preventive strike on North Korean missiles or other scenarios for conflict – it appears mainly as a tool to press the Chinese into action on one hand and to deter the North Koreans from doing anything too provocative, on the other. Abe needs to let Trump understand that the US cannot destroy Japan. Not to forget, the recent win has once again put Abe in a position of almost unchallenged power. And, if he gets the great power, he must be ready to shoulder the greater responsibility too.