A campaign poster from Abe’s first tilt at the Premiership, in 2007. Image credit: @m-louis.
We described Shinzo Abe as the “least catastrophic” choice in the eyes of many Japanese voters, but it was always predictable that Abe, who has taken a stridently nationalistic tone lately, would never be popular with the Chinese government or its state media mouthpieces.
The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan’s won an emphatic election victory, but tension with China will continue if party chief Shinzo Abe ditches pragmatism and follows his hawkish campaign rhetoric, experts said.
Abe will have to tread carefully as he cannot afford to sacrifice Japan’s economic interests in China and may have to pursue a dual policy of being tough on territorial issues while promoting business ties, experts said.
The Japanese economy has taken a toll after ties with China, one of its largest export markets, chilled following Tokyo’s move to “buy” the Diaoyu Islands, an integral part of China’s territory.
For Japan’s new leadership, it is of more urgency for them to save the Japanese economy, which has been plagued by decades of deflation and in its fourth recession since 2000, than pick fights with its neighbors.
It was short-sighted and dangerous for any political party to play the card of nationalism in an election.
The CPC of course would never stoop to playing the nationalism card in order to drum up public support.
There are two limitations that Abe has to deal with. One is the right-wing tendency within Japanese society. Nationalism has become a slogan of politicians. The other is China’s rising strength. The Japanese economy is dependent on that of China.
The two have opposing impacts on Japan, and Abe is likely to seek a balance between the two.
Right after Abe’s win, he claimed that the Diaoyu Islands belong to Japan. Such a hasty acclamation is pandering to the first limitation. Abe knows better than anyone else about the complexity of the Diaoyu Islands dispute, but his speech did not deliver this nuance.
China’s strong reaction against Japan’s provocations over the Diaoyu Islands dispute in recent months has shocked Japan. Once Abe takes office, China should let him know about its firm stance.
Only with such pressure will Abe hold China in esteem, otherwise he will think China is in a weak position. In recent years, every time Japan has switched to moderate policy toward China, it has been the result of China’s strong stance rather than its concessions.