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Abe charts new course for Japan

By Graham Cooke - posted Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The crushing victory of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party in Upper House elections in July, to match its capture of the Lower House last December, puts exceptional powers into the hands of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The indications are he will not be afraid to use them to remake the image that Japan has presented to the world since the establishment of the Yoshida Doctrine shortly after World War II.

Named after Japan's first post-war Prime Minister, Shigeru Yoshida, the doctrine stresses economic development and a low diplomatic profile, in keeping with Article Nine of the country's constitution which renounces war as a means of settling international disputes. Yoshida believed that all questions of Japan's defence against any future threats should be left to the United States.


Abe, variously described as a nationalist and the most right-wing Japanese leader of the post-war era, has said he would like to revise Article Nine. He has increased defence expenditure and been happy to allow himself to be photographed beside tanks and fighter aircraft.

Chair of Japan-US Relations at George Washington University, Mike Mochizuki, said Abe is accelerating a trend which has been developing since the 1980s when Japan was little more than a protectorate of the US.

"The country has emerged as an international security actor and is now playing an important role in United Nations peacekeeping programs," Professor Mochizuki said.

"This has resulted from incremental reactions to events. Initially it was the deployment of Soviet Union forces in the Pacific; then it responded to the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and later still the rise of China and the North Korean missile crisis. It has been pushing the envelope for a number of years."

But will the envelope finally tear? Professor Mochizuki believes for the moment it is still intact, but that could change. "It would be safe to say that as of now the Yoshida Doctrine has not been abandoned - but it is being recalibrated," he said.

"I believe we are approaching a turning point when there will be challenges to the doctrine."


It may be that Abe will first use the political capital he is gaining from his economic successes to prepare the way for fundamental changes in Japan's international profile. The country's first quarter 2013 growth of 3.5 per cent was the best in the developed world; the International Monetary Fund has predicted Japan's growth for the year will be two per cent, and 2.8 per cent in 2014 - well below the records set in the glory years pre-1990s, but still healthy by current international standards.

However, the Executive Director of the Pacific Forum Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Brad Glosserman, says Abe has a long way to go to shake free of the malaise created by the Global Financial Crisis and that some of his traditional views on Japan's society may get in the way.

"For instance, is he prepared to get more women into the workforce when he has very conservative views on the role of the family and women's place in it?" Glosserman asked.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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