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Abenomics and Abenomistake

Posted May. 02, 2013 07:00,   


Several days ago, I was taken aback to see the big headline “Concurrently pressuring North Korea, Japan” in The Dong-A Ilbo. The headline was also subtitled “South Korea, U.S., China triangle catches on.” The story sought to convey the message to urge South Korea, the U.S, and China to cooperate to pressure not only North Korea but also Japan.

Though I was accustomed to criticisms against Japan, I wondered if Japan is such a dangerous country to be treated as the same level of North Korea? Thinking to myself that it is not the case, I nevertheless decided to examine the reality of Japan’s Abe Shinzo government, which is isolating itself from the international community due to its ill-advised recognition of history.

The “Japan-China-South Korea” summit, which was being prepared in Seoul to take place in late May, has been postponed due to China’s objection. Amid this development, the “South Korea-China-Japan symposium,” co-hosted by Dongseo University of Korea, Keio University of Japan and others, was successfully convened in Seoul on April 26. Due to timing, however, discussions at the symposium naturally focused on Japan. Seoul’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se delivered a congratulatory speech at the Symposium, but I could hardly afford to be pleased when I heard that his attending the event was possible due to cancellation of his scheduled visit to Japan.

I also feel headache due to the recent visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Japanese lawmakers, plus remarks by Abe who ambiguously spoke of Japan’s aggression in the past. This is because I feel like the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy, suggesting “Painful reflection of aggressions and colonial rule, and apology from the heart,” which had been established through Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama`s official statement in 1995, the 50th year since the end of the Second World War, is being destroyed.

Not only China and South Korea, but also Western media have lashed out criticism against Prime Minister Abe’s remarks. The Wall Street Journal said, “Japan is a democracy and an ally, but Mr. Abe`s disgraceful remark will make his country no more friends abroad,” while The New York Times reported that Japanese Prime Minister should not rekindle historical scar and instead focus on planning Japan’s future. The Financial Times made even harsher criticism. To hear this criticism as a Japanese citizen is too much to bear.

Prime Minister Abe and his aides frequently say, “Views of history differ from country to country.” Deputy Prime Minister Aso also stressed this in his meeting with Korean President Park Geun-hye after attending Park’s inaugural ceremony on February 25. Nevertheless, nothing can be done even though we hear that “Japan will have no more friends,” if Japan, which returned to the international community by accepting the Tokyo trial that harshly judged Japan’s aggression, only now ambiguously say of it. Even former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stubbornly continued his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in the past, used to comment several times that he respect the Murayama Statement. He issued the Koizumi Statement that is similar to the Murayama Statement around the 60th anniversary of the World War II.

Nothing is more inacceptable than foreign countries criticizing our government. Because it is wrong to believe that just because the Abe administration enjoys high approval rating, most Japanese support his view of past history, and this is the very reason I am writing this piece in a frank fashion. As a Japanese citizen, I hope that “Abenomistake (Abe’s mistake) be revised, irrespective of whether Abenomics (Abe’s economic policy) is right or wrong.

From here, I would like to call on Korea to consider the following. Do you know that Prime Minister Abe is urging diplomacy that is based on the universal value of “Freedom, democracy and rule of law”? It is true that this principle strongly reflects his bid to keep China at bay, but on the other hand, it is also true that it implicitly reflects sense of solidarity with South Korea, which became a democratized country long time ago. Former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan refrained from pompously urging freedom and democracy in Asia despite the name of the party, partly because it gave consideration to the military regime in South Korea. Prime Minister Abe’s a current message of support (to South Korea) would also constitute a gesture of respect.

The biggest problem, however, is that the “universal view of history” is not contained in the “universal view of value” that Prime Minister Abe is calling for. It is understandable that this angers South Korea, but would it be okay for South Korea to disregard universal values such as "freedom, democracy, and the rule of law”? It would never be the case.

Commenting on recent Japan-South Korea relations, President Park Geun-hye said, “It is important in all aspects including security and economy,” but added, “If scars from the past relapse, we cannot move to the future. Japan’s rightward move renders its relationship with Asian countries tougher, which is hardly desirable for Japan.”

I fully agree with this view, but I hope that South Korea also refrains from taking acts that could prompt Japan to move rightward, if at all possible. Even for the sake of herself, it is hoped that South Korean President Park visits Japan on the earliest day possible, and have coolheaded talks about “common view of values” with Prime Minister Abe. At the meeting, it would be nice if President Park proposes Prime Minster Abe to stand on the same stage for Asian wrestling within the scope of global common sense concerning past history as well. Then, Prime Minister Abe will have no choice to listen. Needless to say, most Japanese will fully agree with this.

South Korea, which is geographically positioned between Japan and China, would be more apt to join hands with China regarding recognition of past history, but it would also have issues to team up with Japan to raise complaints against China. They should discuss each other the future of Japan, China and South Korea on such ground, and unconditionally isolating Japan would hardly constitute the best strategy. I would like to kindly ask President Park to keep this in mind.

Yoshibumi Wakamiya,

senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange and former editor-in-chief of The Asahi Shimbun