What should the world expect from a leader who says ‘enough’ to the habit of Japan apologizing for its war crimes?
One can be forgiven for mistaking him for a mild and impeccably mannered Manager of a service or hospitality sector firm. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first Japanese leader born after World War II, is passionately ruthless about his agenda. To begin with, he is committed to tearing up the legacies of defeat.
The 52-year-old, dubbed “the prince” for his elite pedigree, became Japan’s youngest prime minister in September this year, fulfilling at an early age the ambitions of his family which has advanced conservative causes for generations.
“The time has come for our generation, who did not experience the war, to take the responsibility” to lead Japan, Abe said during the campaign.
Known to prefer Machintosh systems over Microsoft Windows, Abe is known to speak in quiet and complete sentences.
But, as the world is finding out slowly, not all of his quiet statements are about peace of mind. At a campaign rally, Abe had reportedly declared, “I want to write the constitution with my own hand.” The very obvious target of his belligerence was the pacifist constitution, which was imposed on a defeated Japan by the United States in 1947, seven years before he was born into a leading political family.
But what had caused the most panic across Japan’s neighbourhood was Abe’s very public mulling of a theoretical pre-emptive strike on North Korea! But it was precisely such talk on North Korea that Abe had first become a household name in Japan. The fodder for his approach was provided by North Korea itself, with its acceptance of having abducted Japanese people in the 1960s and 70s. In fact, but for his wife, a 44 year-old daughter of a businessman who is known for her love for Korean culture, one could have safely believed that Abe has an old score to settle with the Koreans.
Korea alone it might not have been, but history seems to have played a big role in shaping his passion.
Abe’s maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi served in the wartime cabinet and helped supervise the industrialisation of Manchukuo, the puppet state Japan set up in northeastern China. After the war, Kishi was jailed by US forces as a top war criminal although he was not tried. Kishi later became prime minister, fighting leftists to build the new alliance with Washington.
Not surprisingly, Abe has always backed his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine, which honours war dead and war criminals. Koizumi’s visits have infuriated neighbouring countries haunted by Japan’s aggression.
What might be discomforting for the world, however, is that Abe’s views are a bit too further to the right than those of Koizumi. He has rejected the legitimacy of post-war trials of war criminals and hinted he feels Japan has apologised enough for its war past.
Desire and decisiveness both run in his family. His father was Shintaro Abe, a foreign minister. Shintaro wanted to be a prime minister, but could not because of, firstly a scandal and then cancer, to which he later succumbed. But within a decade of taking over his father’s parliament seat Abe has fulfilled his family’s desire.