Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ise, Meiji Okay; But Not Yasukuni

Ise Jingu, Meiji Jingu Okay; But Not Yasukuni Jinja
On January 4th, Prime Minister Abe paid his respects at the Ise Jingu, the shrine of the imperial household. On the 6th, he visited the Meiji Jingu, where the Meiji Emperor and Empress are enshrined. Interestingly, Junichiro Koizumi never visited the Meiji Jingu during his five-year tenure. Of course, nobody knows if or when Mr. Abe is going, and he's not going to tell us either. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, will most likely be visiting Japan in March. The Big Kahuna will be on hold for another year.

In the meantime, the joint history commission has been rolled out, and calm waters prevail over the East China Sea gas fields. (Mssrs. Abe and Aso talked joint development with their counterparts at the November APEC Summit in Hanoi, and that was it). Nary a peep except a Chinese complaint over what Shisaku thinks is a red herring.

Hisahiko Okazaki, Mr. Abe's foreign policy guru, insists that Mr. Abe will go to Yasukuni. I continue to believe that there is a tacit deal. In any case, it's the undecided vote Mr. Abe needs in the Upper House general election later in the year, and mismanagement of external relations is a distraction that he cannot afford. After the election, he will be holding on to a diminished coalition majority, and the Komeito doves will become even more valuable to the LDP. My money is definitely on no Yasukuni visit during the Abe administration, and Hu in Tokyo in 2008.

Speaking of Yasukuni, I hope somebody bothered to snap photos at the exhibits before they changed the captions. No matter where you stand on the issues, the captions themselves had historical value. Not that the changes address Chinese complaints, if I have been informed correctly.

1 comment:

ross said...

You write of Abe:

"mismanagement of external relations is a distraction that he cannot afford"

but of course external relations are the only policy area where Abe has seen success that might give him the bump he needs ahead of July's upper house election, so it is not simply a possible distraction but a necessity. In other words, Abe actually needs the recent improvements in regional relations to be in place so he can trumpet the success as summer approaches.

On domestic policy has he had any successes that will help him electorally? He got his education bill and the defense agency upgraded but neither of those accomplishments means much to the typical unaligned voter. Rather, those changes are mostly enjoyed by people who would already vote LDP. So, besides improved relations with Beijing and Seoul, what will Abe have to show come July? He is not going to get traction on constitutional revision as the FT front page suggested Friday (and I will pass along more complete thoughts on that tomorrow).

Last, you state that Abe's coalition will have a much reduced majority after the July election. What are the odds the coalition holds on? I think the LDP and Komeito need 67 of the 121 seats up for grabs to keep a bare majority (122 of 242 seats). That is 10 more seats than the coalition won in 2004. (I don't know how the few independent representatives sort themselves out in the upper house but will need to figure that out before July as it likely tosses these numbers about some.)