by Jon Day, Liu Tian
TOKYO, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has brought dramatic change to Japan's political arena since he took office almost a year ago.
However, relations between Japan and its neighbors have remained strained during the period as regional tensions mount over territorial disputes and discontent over Japan's refusal to reflect on its wartime history.
JAPAN IN RIGHT-DEVIATION
Abe, long known as a hawkish leader, has been sending dangerous mixed messages to his Asian neighbors.
In his previous, albeit brief, tenure as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, Abe tried to ease Japan's strained relations with its neighbors, which had been exacerbated by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, by promoting effective diplomacy for the strategic, security and economic benefit of the region as one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy.
Following his resignation and a string of leaders being briskly whisked in and out of Japan's revolving prime ministerial door, Abe once again finds himself at the helm -- but, as the electorate and Japan's neighbors are now discovering, it's a new Abe rekindling some very old, risky ideas.
Abe's right-leaning stance has come as no surprise to both the public and local political observers.
Up until now, Abe has personally refrained from visiting the controversial war-linked Yasukuni shrine, but he acquiesced to worship by his ministers and LDP lawmakers to the chagrin of Japan's neighbors, including China and South Korea. Both countries suffered at the brutal imperialistic hands of Japan's army during World War II and see the shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals, as a constant reminder of Japan's wartime atrocity.
Local analysts and observers believed Abe and his policies are shifting from neo-conservatism to ultra neo-nationalism.
"Japan is undergoing a political shift from center-right to ultra-right, in some respects, and while this new ideology may be a response to a perceived shift in geopolitics in the region, it's unsettling for the majority of citizens here who have been delighted by the initial success of 'Abenomics', as the economy here emerges from deflation, but are becoming increasingly concerned about the state's military posturing," Japanese Affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua in an interview.
He said Abe's moves over the past year had done little to improve relations in East Asia and were a "throwback" to Japan's militaristic history, which saw the masses blinded by disinformation and rise up against "enemies" that, in fact, didn't exist.
"History tells us that the path Abe is treading will not end well for Japan, as even the most minor accidental skirmish could quickly escalate, and all regular citizens here want is for its government to reduce this risk through diplomacy, rather than domestic fear-mongering and military muscle-flexing to the very neighbors Japan should be looking to keep the peace with," Imori said.
"Long story short, Japan can and should find a way to get the relevant parties to hold ministerial level talks and overcome this diplomatic impasse, which is of no good to anyone and will only get worse, and that time is now," he said.
Meanwhile, some political observers say Japan must bear the most responsibility for its strained ties with neighboring countries, including China and South Korea, as it has been sending "mixed messages" to its neighbors with each new administration.
"To a degree, it's somewhat understandable that China and South Korea are vexed by Japan, as leaders here, who are typically in and out of office in about a year, tend to send out a different message to their neighbors with every new administration," political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua.
"In the past three years, Japan has gone from hailing China as its closest ally in the region, in a relationship founded on the collaborative economic prowess of both countries, to developing military mechanisms, including those of a legislative nature, to give it the autonomy to boost the scope of its engagements way beyond a constitution that calls for pacifism," Muramatsu said.
"Abe's well-coined 'active pacifism' phraseology is a contradiction in terms, and it's these mixed messages that lead other countries to react in a manner they deem fit. And then Japan reacts to these reactions and so the cycle of tension continues to escalate," he said.
GROWING PUBLIC DISCONTENT
"There has never been a time in recent history that Japan hasn't had certain problems with its neighbors, including Russia, South Korea and China, and a lot of these matters are grounded in issues of territory and disputes over their sovereignty," Imori said.
"The fact of the matter is we should not be made to feel this way, as the true picture is very different and recently people are speaking out about this in protest to the new secrecy bill and National Security Council," he said.
The secrecy bill was enacted amid strong public opposition and triggered protests in front of the Japanese parliament for days. Recent national surveys found more than 50 percent of Japanese believed the law required more debate, with 22 percent insisting the bill be withdrawn entirely.
Abe's approval rating dropped below 50 percent for the first time since he took office last December, following the controversial bill being steamrolled through the parliament and before its enactment, according to a poll by Asahi Shimbun.
With opposition arguing Abe's recent moves undermine the nation's democratic ideals and are reminiscent of Japan's wartime military secrecy initiatives, 63 percent of the respondents said they "cannot trust" the government.
Commentary: "Abe-military" on stage, region on alert
TOKYO, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Forget about Abenomics! Watch out, "Abe-military" is making its debut.
Led by nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government approved its first national security strategy Tuesday. Based on it, new defense program guidelines and a mid-term defense buildup plan were adopted.
Setting the tone for Japan's security policy and military buildup in the next five to 10 years, the security package is considered a turning point in Tokyo's understanding of security and a signal that the dangerous "Abe-military" has come on stage. Full story
Commentary: China is able to weather storms in Pacific
BEIJING, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Recently the Pacific Ocean has been witnessing a number of storms in high seas close to China.
Apart from quarrels on China's decision to set up an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, media has reported a near collision when a U.S. warship was monitoring a Chinese fleet in the South China Sea. Moreover, Japan adopted new defense program guidelines and boosted its mid-term defense budget for the first time in 11 years. Full story
Japan passes new defense policy package amid regional concerns
TOKYO, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese cabinet approved a defense policy package Tuesday to further expand its military might amid increasing regional concerns about its right-leaning politics and surging nationalism.
The defense package includes the national security strategy, the defense program guidelines and a five-year defense buildup plan that envisions 24.7 trillion yen (240 billion U.S. dollars) of military spending in 2014-2019, a 5-percent increase over the five years ending March 2014. Full story