I can't believe anyone who bothers to read this blog has missed this one, but here it is anyway. Newsweek (Asia version) Mar. 5 issue has a fairly lengthy cover story about how almost nothing has gone right for Prime Minister Abe after the stunning diplomatic coup at the start of his administration. It's mostly a compendium of conventional wisdom you see in the Japanese domestic press. That's not Newsweek's fault though. The Abe administration is turning into a CW compendium.
Looking at this article and using my impeccable 20/20 hindsight, I realize now that the trip to Beijing was a snap, and Seoul could not afford to be left behind. His two other early, major political victories were also much less difficult than they seemed to be at first glance. In amending the Education Basic Law to include promoting patriotism among other things, the DPJ proposed language that was even stronger than the Komeito-moderated administration version. The DPJ also came to support the Agency-to-Ministry makeover for the self-defense bureaucracy. And I say the Beijing (and Seoul) trip was easy because the trip had been a long time in preparation. China badly wanted to make up, going so far as not to extract promise form Mr. Abe not to go to the Yasukuni Shrine, instead embarking on a coy pas de deux that enabled Mr. Abe (and of course Hu Jintao) to sidestep the question.
So, early in his tenure, Mr. Abe picked the low-hanging fruit. But now, he is saddled with the hard questions. (Isn't hindsight a wonderful skill to have?) What is he going to do with the nitty-gritty of education? The economic disparities, attributed in the political narrative to Prime Minister Koizumi's economic reform policies? The national pension and healthcare systems? How does what are you going to do with the make over help us deal with the nuclear threat?
And speaking of North Korea, Mr., Abe seems to be trapped between a rock and a hard place on the abductees issue. A core constituency of his demands a hard line on North Korea on this issue, while the US will not make this an obstacle to improvements on the nuclear issue. In purely political terms, Mr. Abe will be best served by a collapse of the Six-Party deal due to North Korean intransigence. That way, he can postpone the tough decisions.
(Shisaku reminds us by way of Shukan Shincho that patience may be wearing thin among some of the families of the abductees.)