by Jon Day
TOKYO, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Serious questions are being raised of late regarding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) heavy-handed approach towards regional tensions the nation is currently embroiled in and the future militaristic course Japan is reverting to.
Abe himself is an unabashed, pugnacious nationalist, but during his first short stint as prime minister in 2006 he managed to veil the degree of his right-wing fundamentalism, and as he wooed the electorate for a second term when he took office a year ago, it was based on his aggressive attitude towards reviving the economy and Japan's fiscal health. But that stance has shifted and political pundits and regular citizens here are gravely concerned.
Political commentators have remarked that Abe, in particular, and his LDP allies are charting a course for Japan towards a "new nationalism," which for many is an uncomfortable reminder of a nation whose Imperial Army wreaked havoc in Asia during WWII, with the atrocities caused far from forgotten.
"Abe is very right-wing by traditional measures, which makes him a potentially dangerous figure. He is a historical revisionist at heart and a nationalist pursuing his new nationalism," Akio Takahara, professor of international relations and law at Tokyo University was quoted as saying in a recent editorial on the matter.
Takahara also intimated that Abe's recent defense and security maneuvers were reminiscent of a bygone, militaristic era, that most ordinary Japanese would sooner forget, and in terms of dealing with ongoing territorial disputes and misperceptions of history, are entirely ill-advised.
It has been suggested that by way of his relatively successful "Abenomics" economic agenda, the Japanese leader has also cunningly pushed his own autonomous defense and security agenda forward, methodically, but with increasing fervor, with his ultimate goal being the revision of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution.
Under the current Constitution, Japan cannot maintain an army, navy or air force and instead has "Self-Defense Forces" with supposedly bounded powers, as the nation falls under the U.S. defense umbrella.
But for a nation with no bona fide military, Japan's defense spending is somewhat astronomical, to the point many pundits have drooped the term "self-defense" and refer to Japan's forces as its "military."
This year, Japan's military spending has been on a par with that of Britain and France at around 60 billion U.S. dollars, making Japan the world's fifth-largest military spender, with the shopping list for new hardware expanding at an alarming rate, for a so-called "pacifist" nation, analysts have noted.
Under Japan's new mid and long-term national security strategy and defense policy package spearheaded by Abe and launched this week under the maxim of Japan becoming a "proactive peacekeeper," a budget of 230 billion U.S. dollars for the buildup of Japan's forces over the next five years has been earmarked, and the planned shopping list is extensive.
Twenty-eight F-35 stealth fighters, 17 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, 52 amphibious assault vehicles and 99 light combat vehicles, are just some of the hardware on Abe's defense ministry' s "wish list."
"There are two prominent viewpoints at the moment among political insiders and related experts. The first being Japan's expansion of its military role has been welcomed by the U.S. and that this further underscores the Japan-U.S. alliance, which has always expounded a peaceful and prosperous approach to issues in the Asia Pacific region," Japanese Affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.
"That said, concern is growing that Abe might be using the current geopolitical situation, with specific regard to the territorial dispute with China, to further push his nationalistic envelope and, essentially, remilitarize Japan," said Imori.
"With regard to South Korea as well, if summits between the nation's leaders are not held soon, tensions will continue to escalate and Abe and his administration may further use the situation to broaden and deepen the scope of his emerging nationalist agenda," he added.
Imori went on to say that there is increasing concern in a number of political camps, including the ruling LDP and opposition factions as well, that Abe's military buildup and its legislative backdrop in the form of the National Security Council (NSC) and State Secrecy Law that were strategically rammed through an LDP- controlled parliament without enough debate and despite a massive political and public backlash to the moves, that Abe's ulterior, nationalistic motives are not in Japan's best interests and could end badly.
"Abe has consistently throughout his career called for the overturning of Japan's pacifist Constitution and many of us think that moves by his administration in the past month may suggest that this is a goal that the ruling bloc want to achieve, despite this being a monumental parliamentary hurdle -- monumental but not impossible," Imori said.
"To achieve this referendum agenda, Abe would need to win a two- thirds majority vote in both houses of parliament, which is no small feat, but, as we've seen with recent contentious legislation, Abe is quite adept at bringing people around to his way of thinking, and playing the China card is one way he might look to do this," he said.
Abe in particular and his administration have thus far been ambivalent about facing up to Japan's war-time atrocities and crimes committed against Chinese and South Korean people during Japan's colonial rule, and permits his Cabinet ministers and lawmakers to visit the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A convicted war criminals and has paid his own respects by way of proxies, which further drives a diplomatic wedge between Japan and its neighbors and prolongs any possibility of summit level talks towards a peaceful resolution to the ongoing disputes.
Added to the fact that Abe wants to revise textbooks in schools to teach a glossed-over view of Japan's war-time actions, Imori and others believe that the notion of Abe's surreptitious remilitarizing of Japan under a new nationalist ideology, may soon be the reality, as opposed to just current conjecture.
Further evidence, analysts have asserted, that Abe is pushing an alternative militaristic agenda that is not focused on economic revival or "proactive peacekeeping" has been his skillful manipulation of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- the 10-member countries of which he has visited personally, which is a first for a Japanese leader.
During last week's ASEAN summit hosted by Abe in Tokyo to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties in the region, Abe again played the China card to garner support from many of Asia's less economically and militarily developed countries, for his aggressive military buildup plans and overall anti-China sentiment, analysts have said.
Financial, logistical, cultural and educational support offered to some ASEAN member countries have essentially bought their support for Japan's ideological shift from economic powerhouse in the region, to military padrone, which, along with other recent strategic maneuvers have made pundits fear that Abe, far from previous overtures to China and South Korea for increased diplomacy, is creating a powder keg in the East China Sea, that could go off at any time, if Abe is left unchecked.
Such is the concern about Abe and the autonomy the LDP currently has, that the opposition bloc has seen one of its party' s disintegrate with its defectors intent on realigning the opposition camp to better stand against an autocratic regime that is heading down a potentially dangerous nationalistic and militaristic path, that Japan has trodden once before to disastrous effect.
Japan's Your Party defectors launch new party to counter LDP autocracy
TOKYO, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- A group of former Your Party members headed by its previous Secretary-General Kenji Eda launched a new political party Wednesday with 14 supporters united in creating a viable opposition force to counter Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's autocratic ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Under the provisional party name "Yui no to" which translates to Unity Party, Eda is seeking to draw in other opposition party lawmakers to "effectively govern the country," Eda was quoted as telling his new coterie at the party's inaugural meeting. Full story