Where will the nationalistic leader take Japan?
As expected, the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a landslide victory in Japan's parliamentary elections Sunday. Having maintained its two-thirds majority of the 475-seat lower house, Abe and the LDP will be able to push almost any agenda for the next four years.
The focus in Japan and the rest of Asia is how the Japanese leader will now use his renewed mandate. Unfortunately, Japan's nearest neighbors, including Korea, can hardly be optimistic in this regard, given the nationalistic politician's track record.
Since Premier Abe took office for the second time two years ago, he has pushed two major policy tasks. The first was waking up Japan's dormant economy by flooding it with cash printed by its central bank. The second target has been making Japan a "normal country," principally with its military as it reinterprets its peace constitution and whitewashes its wartime atrocities. Both tasks are uncomfortable for Seoul beyond measure.
Neighboring countries may complain about the Japanese leader's economic policies, dubbed ''Abenomics," which have aimed to boost Japanese products' competitiveness by weakening its currency, hurting regional rivals and possibly triggering a currency war, instead of undergoing more painful reforms through deregulation and market opening. There is little Japan's neighbors can do without causing controversy over meddling in another country's policy-making, however.
When it comes to Abe's attempts to rearm Japan and emerge as a global military power though, regional powers cannot just sit back and watch, not least because Tokyo has yet to fully repent for its wartime misdeeds.
Take the "comfort women" issue for example.
In a recent interview with the London-based Economist magazine, Abe reiterated his denial of forced conscription of Korean and other foreign women to serve at Japanese military brothels during World War II, citing that there was no ''written evidence." If Abe, encouraged by his prolonged mandate, decides to renounce Tokyo's 1993 statement apologizing for the sexual slavery of foreign women as many fear, the bilateral relationship with Korea will suffer a setback beyond reparation for a long, long time.
The Japanese leader will have to take extreme care to avoid turning not only his Asian neighbors, but his foreign partners into critics.
Prime Minister Abe should be urged to seriously think about what would be in Japan's best, long-term interests. Is it to continue pandering to his nationalist supporters, or is it to lead his country into becoming a more reasonable and harmonious partner with the rest of the world by stopping historical revisionism. Now that Abe has come to exercise nearly full authority over his country's policies, he should take up the mission of making Japan a truly repentant nation.
Government officials here say they will continue to separate historical and national security issues in dealing with Japan, checking Japan on the former but cooperating on the latter. This is far easier said than done.
Although Seoul should ally with conscientious Japanese citizens, it also has to take increasingly nationalistic Japan as a constant in shaping diplomatic policies, and hurry up strengthening national power to prepare for a worst-case scenario ― renewed conflict in Northeast Asia.