Updated July. 07, 2014 06:31
During my stint as Tokyo correspondent I was surprised by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe multiple times.
First is his playing golf. On January 3, 2013, the last day of the long weekend, I first saw Abe play golf on TV news. He said stress had dissipated completely and that he would work hard from the next day. It was fascinating to see the contrast with Korea, which considers that a high-ranking public official playing golf is a sin, to see Abe talking to the press at a golf course. Thereafter, Abe played golf during each vacation. Most Japanese people said it was not a bad thing that the Prime Minister played golf during vacation.
Second is the economy. Late last year, I interviewed a chief economist at the Dai-ichi Seimei Research Institute. He said Abe is known as a pugnacious conservative politician. He said he had never imagined Abe would concentrate on the economy and generate this much result. The coining of the word Abenomics was a surprising piece of news to the Japanese as well.
Third is passion. Abes hurriedly walking or running somewhere is frequently seen on TV. He hurries to save time in transport, as he lives in 10-minute segments. As I was used to dignified Korean presidents, Abes running was highly refreshing. He often has two dinners as well, as he meets so many people he makes two dinner appointments and eats each time.
His passion shows in his news conferences as well. When explaining the right to collective self-defense on May 15, he displayed a panel of a picture of a sad-faced mother and child, which he had expressly ordered to show. Although Abe has a short tongue and as such his pronunciation is slightly inaccurate, he sounds normal during news conferences. Even a layperson can see he practices a lot.
Fourth is his long run. As lately as early 2012, Abe was a forgotten politician. Yet that August, he rose rapidly as a hawkish politician on the surfacing of various territorial disputes such as Korean President Lee Myung-baks visit to the Dokdo islets and the issue of Senkaku Islands (Chinese name Diaoyudao). He even became Prime Minister in December that year.
Although Abe repeated his place as Prime Minister due to unexpected variables, in September 2007, he voluntarily withdrew from his first stint citing health issues. His weak public base made us expect this second term would be short-lived as well. The expectation missed by a mile. The Japanese economy currently maintains a one-party system of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In particular, Abes long run appears set into the House of Councilors election in summer 2016 as he is the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Yet there has emerged a variable in Abes long run. In late 2013, the Liberal Democratic Party forced a controversial state secrets bill through the parliament, which made approval ratings of the Abe Cabinet plunge. Abe apologized in a news conference, saying that he should have explained more politely to the public. The right to collective self-defense likewise was used to strongly pressure the ruling coalition by setting the conclusion of permitting the exercise, within the regular parliamentary session. This made approval ratings begin dropping again.
Recently in Japan, there are comments that Japan is in a similar situation to immediately before World War II. As such, the Japanese publics sentiment is unstable. Their basis for the rule of order is also shaking due to the idea that Japan should respond to crisis. Under the issues of threat from China and a strong Japan, the constitution is being ignored, with only Prime Minister Abes commands appearing to exist. If Abe continues unchecked, surprise at his long run appears possible to change.