Shinzo Abe’s Asian Challenge
Published: September 27, 2006
If Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, hopes to be as popular and successful as his departing predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, he needs to be equally daring in breaking with failed policies of the past. The obvious place to start is by rebuilding Japan’s badly damaged relations with China.
Nothing is more important to Japan’s prosperity and security than normal relations with its giant neighbor. An ugly, but increasingly distant, history of Japanese aggression and war crimes stands in the way. Mr. Koizumi, in one of the greatest errors of his administration, deliberately glorified this history, playing into the hands of Chinese leaders who often use nationalism to distract their people from official corruption and political repression.
Mr. Abe needs to extricate Japan from this destructive dynamic. The first step should be declaring that he will not continue Mr. Koizumi’s provocative practice of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of convicted war criminals are honored. The shrine controversy, and the failure of Japanese textbooks to deal honestly with the wartime behavior of Japanese troops, complicate the nation’s ability to handle contemporary military issues, like the emerging debate over amending the pacifist constitution that America imposed on it after World War II. There is no reason Japan should not be able to make that change. But unless it first comes to terms with its history and its neighbors, such a step would be poorly received by other Asian nations.
Japan has a great deal to be proud of, including an increasingly vital democracy, a revived economy and the difficult but necessary economic reforms that Mr. Koizumi began to push through and that Mr. Abe will now need to take further. It does not need to glorify the darkest period of its recent history and the war criminals most responsible for that terrible aberration.
« | HOME | »