In the first essay of the year published by the PacNet Newsletter, former Ambassador to the Netherlands, Russia specialist and academic wanderer Togo Kazuhiko elaborates upon a point that Okumura Jun made a two weeks ago (Link) -- that contrary to fears expressed before the December 16 election, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is working to assuage regional and international worries about his return to power. (Link)
Abe's commitment to his program has been admirable. He could have flown off the handle in response to the South Korean Supreme Court's decision, handed down just as his envoy to South Korea Nukaga Fukushiro was meeting President-elect Park Geun-hye (Link) to not extradite a Chinese national who set fire to Yasukuni Shrine (Link). The reasoning used by the Court, that the Japan-South Korea mutual extradition treaty falls into abeyance because the man had attacked a symbol of Japan's militarist/imperialist past, was worthy of a rant and a sharp reduction in government-to-government contacts. Abe let the storm pass, though, saying only that his government will vigorously protest the outcome.
Let us be honest: having maundered and thundered during the campaign about Japan's need to stand up military to regional threats, Abe comes into office with very low expectations. We are, sadly enough, being asked to clap for his not starting an armed conflict with China or South Korea during his first two weeks in office. His reputation of militancy wins him a free pass on every concession he makes to the political needs of other governments or his every failure to react to provocations.
In other words, when he acts like someone other than himself, he wins accolades.
It also bears noticing that none of the envoys are card-carrying Friends of Shinzo. Abe probably does not trust his closest allies with important relationships. The FOS certainly have no credibility on the international stage. So instead of the usual pattern of dispatching of loyal retainers with close personal connections to sound out other governments, Abe is sending as his representatives senior politicians who have their own agendas.
It will be up to the other governments to either listen to these envoys or lend them only half an ear out of recognition that they are not part of Abe's inner circle.
An Abe administration pushback against other governments will likely remain on hold until after the House of Councillors election in July. The LDP-New Komeito alliance's defeat in the 2007 House of Councillors election spiked Abe's first premiership. If Abe learned anything from his first turn as prime minister, it is to win the House of Councillors election first, then unleash the hounds of his reactionary, revisionist revolution. Given that the onus will be on the Democratic Party of Japan to defend seats traditionally held by the LDP, the obvious strategy is to sit tight for the next seven months in anticipation of the DPJ's almost certain electoral implosion.
Finally, one should avoid getting too hopped up about Abe's appointing smart and sober persons to advisory posts and advisory councils. Yes, he is surrounding himself with well-regarded academics and former bureaucrats. No, he does not have to listen to any of them.