26 January 2013

Recommended Articles: Week 4

This blog will regularly recommend interesting newspaper and journal articles for you to read. This week's topics are: China's soft power, the China-Mexico relationship, Shinzo Abe's pragmatism, Russia and China's reaction to the Mali intervention, and Japan's interest in easing rules on foreign intervention.

  1. Asia Times Online - Russia, China grapple with Mali's future
    Focuses on China and Russia's role in the French intervention in Mali, while comparing their current role to their reaction in the crisis in Syria.

  2. Asia Times Online - When soft power fails
    Discusses the failure of China's soft power in the Asian region, juxtaposing it with the soft power of the United States.

  3. Time Magazine - Ready or Not, Japan to Ease Rules on Foreign Intervention
    Highlights how, after the raid in Algeria, Japanese leaders may ease to rules on Japanese foreign intervention to protect Japanese citizens abroad.

  4. Asia Times Online - China-Mexico ties hitting 'all-time low'
    Focuses on the troubled China-Mexico bilateral relation.

  5. Foreign Affairs - Japan Keeps Its Cool: Why Tokyo's Government is More Pragmatic Than Hawkish
    Discusses how Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party have pursued a pragmatic stance in Japan's affairs with China, South-Korea and South-Asian states.

20 January 2013

Commentary - Japanese Politics Moves to the Right?

Recently, international newspapers and International Relations journals have published a slew of articles discussing Japan's move to the right in domestic politics. In December 2012, Japan held a general election that removed the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) from power, and reinstated the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), which dominated Japanese politics for nearly 50 years before the DPJ came into power in 2009. The articles all discussed the aggressive rhetoric which newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used in the run-up to the election. This rhetoric focused on Tokyo's recent disputes with China and South-Korea over disputed islands. During election time, Abe took an assertive stance towards a rising China, including over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands (Chinese/Japanese name) which both China and Japan claim. He also took a tough position on the issue of Japan's World War II atrocities, which keeps resurfacing in Japan's bilateral relations with China and Japan. The fact that the Japanese electorate has voted Shinzo Abe and the LDP into power, these articles argue, is proof of Japan's move to the right in domestic politics.

 However, this argument does not agree with reality for two reasons. First, it disregards the pragmatic stance of Prime Minister Abe towards China when he was first Prime Minister in 2007. Due to his administration's conciliatory approach in the bilateral relationship, Tokyo's relations with Beijing steadily improved. We therefore have reason to believe that such pragmatism will be a hallmark of his current administration, too, and that Prime Minister Abe will tone down the aggressive rhetoric once in office. Abe's first actions since becoming Prime Minister have confirmed this belief: he has sought rapprochement with the newly elected South Korean president Park Guen-Hye, and has sent senior officials to Beijing to mend ties following the recent flare-up of the Diaoyu/Senkaku island dispute. This shows that the new Tokyo government will at the very least mix an assertive stance in regional politics with pragmatism.
Second, talking about a  move to the right in domestic politics disregards the fact that the new Abe government has very low rates of approval among Japanese citizens. Abe's party, the LDP, largely won the December elections because the Japanese citizens voted against the incumbent DPJ, and not necessarily for the LDP and its policies. It is true that the new nationalistic right party of Toru Hashimoto and Shintaro Ishihara, the Japan Restoration Party, gained a considerable amount of votes in the election. However, at the same time it should be noted that the large amount of new parties on the left side of the political spectrum fragmented the vote of leftists. To talk of a shift to the right in Japanese society is to misrepresent these forces among voters.

When looking at these two points, it then becomes clear that we should not be quick to assume that Japanese society has become more right-wing since the December elections. Instead, this commentary shows that tough stances are likely election talk and that the electorate is not necessarily accepting of right-wing beliefs.

In Reaction To:

  1.  Michael Cucek - 5 Reasons the Japanese Elections Matter (Foreign Policy)
  2. Elias Groll - Morning Brief: Japan's Liberal Democratic Party Returns to Power (Foreign Policy)
  3. Jeff Kingston - Tokyo Hawks (Foreign Policy)