Issei Kato / Courtesy Reuters Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, July 21, 2013.

No About-Face for Abe

Why Japan's Prime Minister Won't Turn Hawkish

For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the recent electoral triumph of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in upper-house elections was a personal redemption; he has come a long way since his political downfall in 2007, when he resigned as prime minister after serving only a year in office. More importantly, though, the victory gave his party and its coalition partner control of both chambers of the legislature. For the better part of the last six years, Japanese politics had been locked in a standoff between the upper and lower houses, which different parties controlled. The battle now won, the conservative prime minister will, in theory, be able to pass legislation at will.

That has caused some anxiety in the international press that Abe, who has thus far focused on fixing his country’s troubled economy, will shed his sheep’s skin and reveal his inner wolf. In light of the LDP victory, the argument goes, Abe will put economic reforms on the backburner and instead focus on amending Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which renounces the country’s right to threaten or use force to settle international disputes. In turn, he will return his pacifist nation to its old imperial ways. Worried, The New York Times warned the prime minister not to view his win as an “endorsement of his disturbingly right-wing foreign-policy views, which include a nationalistic revision of World War II history, overheated rhetoric toward China and attempts to rewrite Japan’s Constitution to permit more assertive military actions.”

There are several problems with this line of thinking. Abe is not the hard-core nationalist that the international press makes him out to be. The New York Times editorial is full of erroneous suggestions: Since returning to the prime minister’s office in December, Abe -- to the best of the knowledge of the two authors of this article -- has simply not made “disturbing” foreign-policy statements or used “overheated rhetoric toward China.” In reality, Abe is a pragmatist. He might have made provocative remarks in the past

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