Thursday, 28 August 2014

Japan’s right wing: Unwelcome change

Nguồn tin:

SHINZO ABE, Japan’s prime minister, has reason to feel chuffed ahead of his first cabinet reshuffle on September 3rd. He has the same 18-member team he began with in late 2012: a record of continuity unmatched in post-war Japanese politics. But as he now succumbs to pressure from members of his party to inject new blood, he also has reason to worry: about the possibility that the cabinet’s cohesion may unravel and that right-wingers, if appointed, might push him into even greater dispute with the country’s neighbours over Japan’s wartime atrocities.

The current cabinet’s longevity is remarkable given that Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) shares power with New Komeito: a party that disagrees with most of his policies, not least those that reopen war wounds in China and South Korea. The coming months, it is safe to bet, will not be so smooth. Recent polls suggest Mr Abe’s popularity is falling, largely because of concerns about the economy. His decision in July to reinterpret Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow for “collective self-defence”, in other words for Japan to help its allies should they be attacked, has not helped either.

Pressure from the right is already growing. Shigeru Ishiba, a powerful hawk in the LDP and a rival to the prime minister, believes Mr Abe’s approach to collective self-defence is wishy-washy. Mr Ishiba is likely to reject an offer by Mr Abe that he step down as the LDP’s secretary general in exchange for a security portfolio in the cabinet. Many analysts believe Mr Ishiba, who is popular with rank-and-file party members, is preparing to challenge Mr Abe for the leadership of the LDP next year.

The right has been emboldened by a stunning admission this month in the Asahi, a flagship liberal newspaper, that some of its reporting on “comfort women” (those forced into prostitution for Japanese soldiers during the war) was wrong. It published now-discredited testimony by a former soldier in the wartime army who said he had helped to abduct 200 women on South Korea’s Jeju Island during the conflict. Some influential politicians in the LDP, including Mr Ishiba, want a revision of a statement issued by the government in 1993 that accepted Japan’s responsibility for corralling thousands of Asian women into wartime military brothels. Worryingly, one likely appointment to the cabinet is Sanae Takaichi, who is head of the LDP’s policy research council. Mr Abe sees her as an asset, not least because he has made such a big fuss over the need to boost female participation in the workforce (there are already two women in the cabinet; Mr Abe reportedly wants half a dozen). But Ms Takaichi has publicly called for a new statement on “comfort women” next year, the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. She has said the rewrite must “dispel false information” that “undermines Japan’s honour”.

Doing so would plunge deeply troubled relations with China and South Korea to new depths. Asahi may have been wrong on the Jeju Island case, but Japan’s responsibility for forcing women into prostitution during the war is beyond doubt. Sensitive to the risk, Mr Abe has tried to stay aloof. But he is no dove himself and has a long history of sympathy with the revisionists. He told the Sankei newspaper that “many people had suffered” because of the Asahi’s reporting.

Mr Abe is hoping to mend fences with Japan’s neighbours at a regional summit in Beijing in November. The annual meeting is a chance for him to hold his first talks with China’s President Xi Jinping since the two leaders came to power in 2012. But Mr Xi will be in no mood to talk if Japan’s hard-line revisionists get their way. Prospects will not have been improved after an admission by Mr Abe’s spokesman on August 27th that the prime minister sent a message of condolence to a ceremony at a Buddhist temple in April honouring wartime soldiers. Some of the “martyrs” were convicted war criminals.

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