Who is Abe Shinzo? Is he a realist who happens to be an historical revisionist, or is he a revisionist whose realism carries the seeds of revived Japanese militarism? South Korean opinion leans toward the latter conclusion, while Americans largely hold the former. Divergent views on the Abe administration and its foreign policy orientations have emerged as a source of friction between Seoul and Washington as security allies.
After Abe clenched a decisive majority in the Upper House elections on July 21, 2013, giving his LDP coalition control over both houses for the first time in decades, US and ROK analyses regarding Japan’s emergent foreign policy have sharply diverged. To many Japan watchers in the United States, the electoral victory was eagerly welcomed for strategic as well as other reasons. After all, it sealed the mutual commitment between Tokyo and Washington to elevate their alliance, which had been expressed during Abe’s visit to Washington in February 2013. In personal correspondence, Gilbert Rozman observes that Abe represents four inviting qualities to Americans. First, he is a firm supporter of a stronger alliance, a sharp departure from the Hatoyama Yukio line of 2009-2010, and heir to half a century of LDP endorsement of this relationship with a new, more positive twist centered on upgrading collective defense. Second, he is a strategic thinker about changing security threats, whether from North Korea or China, and takes a supportive attitude toward US thinking on regional reorganization, such as military ties in Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific economic regionalism through the TPP. Third, Abe is perceived to be a bold leader with an unusual opportunity to command a majority in the two houses of the Diet for more than three years while serving as prime minister. Fourth, Abenomics draws at least cautious praise as the shock treatment that offers the first ray of hope in two decades for shaking Japan’s troubled economy from its stagnation, which is viewed as critical for Japan fulfilling its role in security. To US analysts, these merits well outweigh the lone demerit of making offensive remarks or gestures that complicate relations with Japan’s neighbors, especially South Korea.
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