• Sun
  • Nov 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:01am

Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe is president of the Liberal Democratic Party and was elected prime minister of Japan in December 2012. He also served as prime minister in 2006 after being elected by a special session of Japan’s National Diet, but resigned after less than a year.

CommentInsight & Opinion

Abe's worrying tit-for-tat showdown with China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 January, 2013, 2:34am

A leader returning to office after a spell out of the limelight is bound to want to get done what was not achieved the first time around. Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, whose first term lasted exactly one year, without doubt has that in mind as he pushes an agenda as if his life depends on it. Since he was sworn in on December 26, a worrying tit-for-tat has been waged with China over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus. He has also announced a tougher defence strategy and embarked on a diplomatic offensive to boost relations with China's Southeast Asian neighbours. He should slow down and be pragmatic. Not only has he to be more mindful of history, but stability depends on his country's taking a constructive rather than aggressive role.

Abe is being prodded on by the nationalists who returned his conservative Liberal Democratic Party to power after its half-century of rule was broken in 2009. He was quick to take an assertive stance towards China's territorial claims by deploying navy boats and scrambling fighter jets in response to alleged Chinese maritime and airspace incursions. The defence budget is being increased for the first time in a decade and negotiations for revising the US-Japan partnership are being sped up. Diplomatically, a Japanese "return" to Asia is under way, much like that of the US with its so-called pivot.

In the wake of Japan's foreign and finance ministers making trips to the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and Myanmar, Abe today starts his first overseas visit with a four-day swing through Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Boosting Japanese economic growth with trade and investment are the stated goals, but checking China's rising power is also in mind. Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, while Indonesia is wary of Chinese intentions. Abe has suggested beefing up security co-operation with countries concerned about Beijing's activities and the Philippines has already been promised 10 patrol boats.

The Japanese approach is in marked contrast to the virtual silence from China's leaders. Communist Party chief Xi Jinping's low profile is understandable given he does not take over as president until March. But Xi also realises that pushing the envelope too far, as Abe is doing, is dangerous. China and Japan, as the world's second- and third-biggest economies, have too much to lose by increasing tensions. Abe has to be realistic and work with China, not against it.

Share

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Login

SCMP.com Account

or