Shinzo Abe beats economic drum to refrain that `Japan is back`
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s expected easy victory in Sunday`s general election marks another chapter in the career of a man who has enjoyed rare individual success in Japan`s consensus-driven politics.
Tokyo: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s expected easy victory in Sunday`s general election marks another chapter in the career of a man who has enjoyed rare individual success in Japan`s consensus-driven politics.
The conservative ideologue, written off in 2007 when his first stint as premier ended in scandal and illness, has brought a reformer`s zeal to the role since his return two years ago.
Japan`s long-slumbering economy has stirred under a flood of easy money and fiscal largesse that sent the yen plunging and the stock market soaring.
The deflation that has plagued manufacturers, depressing wages and hampering investment over more than a decade, has shown signs of easing.
But the cost of his pro-business initiatives, say critics, is growing inequality and a stupendous pile of public debt.
Sixty-year-old Abe swept to power in 2012 as a disillusioned public dumped a three-year experiment with the Democratic Party of Japan.
The DPJ`s promise to remake the country after more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party disappeared under a wave of scandal and ineptitude.
Abe`s promise of competence and vision for reinvigorating the world`s number-three economy was welcomed by voters, despite wariness over his nationalism that many centrist and liberal voters found distasteful.
For Abe, the grandson of a wartime cabinet minister who was briefly jailed -- but never charged -- for war crimes, a strong economy is a means to an end.
With a refrain of "Japan is Back", he has pushed for his nation to take a strong stance on the world stage, and has been a turbo-charged salesman-in-chief for Japan Inc., visiting dozens of countries to sell its wares.
Unable to muster public support for a revision of the US-imposed constitution that commits Japan to pacifism, he settled instead for re-interpreting the relevant clause and declaring the military should have more leeway to act.Abe has campaigned to "restore Japan`s honour" by redefining the narrative of its aggressive wartime behaviour and promising to instil patriotism among schoolchildren.
He has repeatedly picked at the diplomatic scab left by the institutionalised wartime system of sex slavery that saw up to 200,000 women from Korea, China and elsewhere forced into service.
Although he has stopped short of revoking Japan`s 1993 admission and apology, he has made clear his distaste and undermined it with an investigation of the evidence used.
Much to the annoyance of Beijing and Seoul, who see it as a symbol of Tokyo`s unrepentant imperialism, Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine, the supposed repository of millions of Japanese war dead, and has repeatedly sent offerings.
That, and his unwillingness to compromise on two separate territorial disputes Japan has with South Korea and China, have left a distinct chill on ties in the region.
The ice was broken with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a short summit in Beijing in November, although the po-faced picture of their initial handshake underlined just how much ground there is to make up.
While the spat with Seoul is a frustration for Washington, who issued a curt rebuke over his shrine visit, the United States has broadly welcomed the move for Japan to take more responsibility for its own security after decades under the American umbrella.
Abe`s hardline conservative rhetoric has not resonated with Japan`s largely moderate voters, but has fired up his core supporters at a time of surging nationalism in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul.
A third-generation politician, groomed from birth for the job by his elite conservative family, Abe was the country`s youngest-ever prime minister when he stepped into the role in 2006, aged 52, and the first one to be born after World War II.
At that time, he actively sought to forge close ties with China and South Korea.
But he left office abruptly 12 months later, citing illness with a bowel complaint after a series of scandals involving his ministers that led to an election defeat -- becoming the first in a series of short-lived premiers, each of whom lasted around a year.
Abe is the second person in modern Japan to serve as premier twice, after Shigeru Yoshida who led the nation in 1946-47 and 1948-54.