‘Sengo 70nen hoshu no Ajiakan’ [‘The Asian Views of Conservatives over the Postwar 70 Years’]

Wakamiya Yoshibumi, Sengo 70nen hoshu no Ajiakan, [The Asian Views of Conservatives over the Postwar 70 Years] (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun shuppan, December 25, 2014)

In the face of an unrelenting onslaught of criticism from Japanese conservatives, the progressive side, led by Asahi Shimbun, continues to make its case. Unlike the era of the Cold War, when the principal foreign policy divide was the United States, the focus of the counterattack is the other side’s ongoing perspective on Asia. As in the conservative critique, current thinking is framed in a long-term historical narrative. A 444-page book published at the end of 2014 details the progressive case, linking Abe Shinzo’s agenda to longstanding objectives, especially those of his grandfather Prime Minister Kishi Nobosuke. Yet, it is careful to put the problems in a broader perspective, starting with recognition that 2012 was a nightmare year as relations with China and South Korea plunged simultaneously—prior to Abe’s ascendancy—for reasons such as China’s power struggle and Korea’s besieged lame duck leader. The introduction to the book notes that in 1995 and 2006 earlier books also focused on postwar conservative thinking on Asia, making this the third in a regular series.

A central concept of the book is hereditary leadership, infused with the legacies of the fathers or grandfathers of a new crop of leaders, including the relationship that existed between Park Geun-hye’s father and Abe’s grandfather. The book, however, concentrates only on continuity between Kishi and Abe, covering foreign leaders to the degree only that they respond to Japan’s thinking and policies. Thus, Abe’s first steps in 2013 toward Park, which deeply displeased her, are noted, e.g., the stance of Abe’s emissary to her inauguration, Deputy Premier Aso Taro, that it is natural for countries to have different views of history, as if Japan has no further reason to view itself as a victimizer. The book presents a chronology of back-and-forth statements by Abe and Park, who was psychologically intent on not being called the daughter of the “shinilpa” (pro-Japan faction, exposed by progressives as collaborators). In these circumstances, Park followed her May visit to the United States with a “honeymoon” style visit to China, even giving a speech at Tsinghua University in Chinese. Whereas Japanese conservatives largely blame Park for “anti-Japanese” views, this coverage showcases the provocations from the Japanese side that drove Park’s reactions.

A second theme is how Abe managed to divert the growing international criticism of China with his Yasukuni Shrine visit into a slugfest between Chinese and Japanese ambassadors in Western media that did not redound to Japan’s credit, as its conduct became the focus rather than China’s, and South Koreans found cause to sympathize with the Chinese side. It seems to suggest that Abe’s insistence on mixing revisionist goals with realist ones undercuts Japan’s realist agenda in the face of assertiveness by China. Yet, the progressive penchant to confuse the two approaches, objecting to realist steps such as pursuit of the right of collective self-defense, muddies this line of analysis. Concentrating on conservative revisionism toward history tells only one side of the story, while the conservative quest for realism complicates the narrative.

The book traces the confrontation between Abe and Murayama to the time of the Murayama statement in 1995, when a fierce struggle occurred in the Diet over the nature of any Japanese apology to Asian states. The fiftieth anniversary statement was a victory for diplomacy in Asia, using such terms as “invasion,” “colonial control,” “national policy mistakes,” and “apology from the heart.” Yet, it was fiercely resisted in the Lower House of the Diet, where affirmation of the “liberation of Asia” from the colonies of white men and stabilization of Asia in a war against the United States had strong support. First-year Diet member Abe abstained, as did others who opposed the Murayama statement. In the run-up to this divisive moment for the LDP, the book describes the views of such figures as Kono Yohei and Hashimoto Ryutaro and the responses of those who insisted that Japan was not an aggressor country. While the moderates’ intent on strengthening Japan’s diplomacy in Asia won the battle, the right wing conservatives opposed to apologizing and determined to alter the verdict on Japan’s historical conduct were gaining ground in the LDP. Despite Abe’s lack of seniority, as Kishi’s grandson, he was already a celebrity and their “hope” in defense of Japan. Not yet the mainstream in the LDP, Abe’s group directly confronted the line of Kono and others, organizing around such issues as new history textbooks as they waited for their chance to pursue a wide-ranging agenda to defend tradition, to alter the postwar system, and to restore Japan as a country “respected” in international society. Their preoccupation was not with pride in postwar Japan’s achievements, but with the honor of wartime and imperialist Japan. Abe’s record is less that of a realist striving to increase Japan’s power in the face of growing threats, than of a man obsessed with revisionist goals without concern for any impact on other states.

The book explores whether conservative thinking is pro-US or anti-US. It argues that the postwar left Japan as a country that prizes peace and democracy. In Murayama’s view Japan should be grateful to the US occupation for this result, and he was eager to shake off the image of an anti-US socialist, reassuring Bill Clinton of continuity in Japan’s foreign policy. Yet, before the end of the occupation, GHQ switched its focus to anti-communism, turning Kishi from war criminal to pro-American partner and giving the socialists an anti-US image. In seeking to escape from the postwar regime, Abe is casting doubt on whether the conservative pro-American stance will endure. The struggle over Asia has figured into conservative ambivalence toward US moves since the divide over joining the US opening to China and sticking with support of Taiwan, which lingered as an intra-party battleground over the following decades. After all, Taiwan became a symbol of support or at least acquiescence to Japan’s righteous history of liberating and modernizing Asia. In contrast, South Korea’s lack of sympathy for Japan’s contributions to its modernization made it the focal point for conservative distrust and hostility, persisting after normalization in 1965. The challenge of following a realist foreign policy toward Asia was exacerbated by these revisionist viewpoints on Taiwan (influencing China policy) and on South Korea too.

Tracing Abe’s outlook to Kishi’s unfinished agenda—crediting him with success only in overcoming mass demonstrations and resistance by signing the Japan-US Security Treaty—, it pictures Abe as a five-year old besieged in his grandfather’s home while the protestors shouted their opposition to the treaty, and attentive to Kishi’s unrealized quest for changing Japan’s Constitution with its humiliating Article 9. This is Abe’s quest too, but for the necessary two-thirds majority he needs to rely on Komeito and, as in the case of Kishi, it is proving easier to change the alliance than to revise the Constitution, given 60-70 percent opposition to removing Article 9. The mission with which Abe was entrusted by Kishi is not only to revise the Constitution but also to make the alliance with the United States equal and to restore the honor of those who were labeled war criminals. According to the book, Kishi strongly despised the US occupational system, and Abe continues his ambivalence about the United States.

Another dimension of continuity is in policy toward India and Southeast Asia, which Kishi visited before going to the United States to put Asia at the center of Japanese diplomacy. Nehru told him that Japan’s victory over Russia gave India the courage to seek independence. Sukarno asserted that by driving out both England and Holland, Japan had made possible Indonesia’s independence. Basking even in successes of the Pacific War, Kishi could qualify the need to be apologetic, and Abe is copying him in going to India and Southeast Asia to boost Japan’s self-respect, as his steps in favor of collective self-defense are welcomed in a manner similar to the welcome given to Kishi’s alliance boosting steps at another time of deepening tension in East Asia. The book suggests that Abe is looking for more in this region than approval for the joint Japan-US appeal for shared, universal values and shared security priorities.

The Asahi Shimbun book describes how Abe ignored US entreaties to visit Yasukuni at the end of 2014. After meeting with him on December 3, Biden told Park when he saw her that Abe was not going to Yasukuni, as he strove hard to improve bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul, but this angered Abe. When John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in October had visited the alternative burial site for fallen soldiers to Yasukuni, suggesting that it is the closest thing to Arlington, that was taken as a rebuke to Abe’s May Foreign Affairs article, suggesting a parallel between the Yasukuni Shrine and Arlington National Cemetery. The impression is left that Abe had something to prove to the United States, as well as to China and South Korea and the Japanese people, in his defiant decision. Japan is distancing its national identity from the US postwar image of Japan, even as it is insisting on overlapping values as the foundation of the regional and global reach of the alliance. This obscures the duality of thinking about values: versus traditional communism and now China’s challenge to the world order and versus the prevailing image of postwar Japan and South Korea’s insistence on its persistence, in full awareness that US thinking is close to the Korean outlook.

Japan’s evolving attitude toward Asia emerges as an underlying theme in sections of this book. It has gone through stages of “leaving Asia and entering Europe,” “great Asianism,” and “modernizing Asia” as turning points were reached, such as in 1915 when the “21 demands” turned Japan on the wrong course, according to one critic, or in 1931 when Japan turned its back on Europe and the United States through the invasion of Manchuria. While some argue that global thinking about imperialism and war changed after WWI, as the book explains, Japan did not recognize such a transformation, grounding its own policies along these lines in the justification that it was the country bringing change to the world order. This remains the essence of the historical worldview permeating conservative thinking even today. Even if there is little likelihood that the West, including the United States, will accept this logic, the strategy of Abe and others with similar reasoning seems to be that Japanese will, countries in Southeast and South Asia—India in the forefront—may be sympathetic, and US anxieties over China and relative indifference to Asian history may at least leave it on the sidelines. While the Tokyo Tribunal, the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Pearl Harbor, and other symbols of enduring significance to Americans could pose a problem, keeping them in the background for now may suffice, while emphasis is put on shared values between Japan and the West, which are solidifying security and cultural ties across Asia. The hope is that Japan can reclaim its historical honor without causing a rift with the United States, in spite of the fact that a primary target of revisionism is the US and Western view of Japan’s launching of WWII in Asia.

At present, those standing in the way of this revisionist strategy are: Southeast and South Asia—still too distant from Japan; South Korea—treated with much too much respect in the West; China—not demonized enough in the West; and liberals in the West—perceived as having a worldview hostile to Japanese revisionist arguments. Because the book does not analyze how realism enters the picture in relations to other countries in the 2010s, its coverage in chapters five through seven of conservative thinking about various countries in Asia has mostly an historical flavor. Abe’s opportunities depend not only on views of historical justice, but even more on clashing narratives linked to the present and on calculations about growing threats and how to manage them.

In the brief focus in the conclusion on whether a “sea of peace” is possible, there is a reversion to progressive idealism. Fukuda Kazuo is praised for explaining to China (achieving a thaw in relations) how postwar Japan has followed the path of peace, as if “new thinking” in China in 2007-2008 was genuine or sustainable. The DPJ call for an East Asian community in 2009 along with adherence to the Murayama statement and restraint on historical revisionism such as visits to the Yasukuni Shrine is not put in the context of China’s increasing demonization of Japan as well as other sharp shifts in thinking occurring simultaneously. The conclusion points to a dichotomy of postwar figures; some who put friendship with China in the foreground, recognizing the damage Japan had done through war and colonialism; and others driven by anti-communism and following in Kishi’s wake in opposing normalization with China, remaining cool to Sino-Japanese friendship, and leaning to Taiwan. The situation in which Japan finds itself is blamed largely on the victory of the latter group over the former one. Kishi, readers are told, counted on “friendship” with South Korea, but that was thwarted by democratization, in which public alienation rose against the historical consciousness sought by Kishi. Whereas the prime ministers Hosokawa, Hatoyama, and Kan are examples of the former group in recognizing the meaning of the annexation of Korea, the LDP is rejecting that path. The message is unmistakable that only a return to leadership by those opposed to the LDP and those battling for the past seven decades against Kishi and others like him will bring peace to Asia.

However much one may agree with the argument that the Murayama and Kono statements set Japan on a desirable path toward Asia and that Abe’s revisionism is a disruptive force that makes regional cooperation more difficult, it would be a big mistake to accept the idealistic premises of this book, given its two principal failings. First, it looks only at what is happening in Japan without any effort to understand the shifts in policy and driving forces in other countries, especially China and South Korea. Indeed, failure to differentiate the strikingly different situations in these two neighboring states may be justifiable from the point of view of Japan’s revisionist opposition to both, but it does a disservice to analysis of thinking about history and values in foreign relations. Second, the omission of any framework to understand the role of realism in foreign policy is an echo of the idealist inattention to the force of geopolitics among progressive Japanese during the Cold War. Conservatives still have the advantage in pursuing a realist agenda. If their critics only concentrate on the revisionist agenda of Abe and ignore the shortcomings of past Japanese leaders who failed to appreciate realist requirements, then they will increasingly be seen as out of touch with our times. For all the merits of this book in helping to understand Abe’s place in the tradition of Japanese conservatism since the 1950s, it falls far short as a study of thinking about Asia. It pays little heed to the changes in progress in Asia, to how Japan fits into US strategy toward Asia, and to international relations in general. Just as many conservatives are obsessed with history at the expense of strategic diplomatic choices, so too are progressives obsessed with history to the degree they cannot even recognize the difficult choices that now face Japan. Studies in Japan of linkages between historical memory and geopolitics are still divided to such a degree that readers can rarely find analysis worthy of global scholarship.