Abe and Xi shake hands – the two leaders came to power in 2012 and are now the two most powerful Asian leaders in recent history – Picture credit: By 内閣官房内閣広報室 (kantei.go.jp – APEC首脳会議出席等 -2日目-)
Japan’s Shinzo Abe’s cementing his power is a feat never seen in the country’s modern political history. It is a revolution by itself and has deep meaning for East Asia.
It is a major transformational development in Japan. But why is his revolution as phenomenal as that of China’s Xi Jinping?
There is a parallel to be drawn in Xi’s rise to absolute stardom in Beijing against Abe’s absolute control of Japan’s future. At least for the next three years, but with possible effects in the next decade.
The two men rose into prominence in diverse circumstances. In Tokyo, it started with Abe setting the stage through a shift in Japan’s foreign policy.
This changed the country’s anti-war pledge, turning Japan into a military machine. The west supported this move, with the United States pledging support for a militarised Japan.
Then there is Japan’s growing influence in the simmering anti-China sentiments within the Southeast Asia region.
The Asean is leaning towards Japan for obvious reasons. China’s rise and the consolidation of its position in some Asean countries aroused fears in the Western world.
It gripped Japan to the point that Abe worked his way through to build a strong anti-China push.
China’s seemingly growing dominance brought the Barack Obama administration to start its Asia-Pacific pivot. Abe’s rise was instrumental in the pivot strategy. It helped in consolidating his grip on power in Tokyo.
But with President Donald Trump ditching the ‘pivot’, Japan needed an even stronger leadership. Last month, the Japanese ruling party voted for Abe to remain in power.
In the geopolitical warfare, it is a sign that Japan is not giving up on its counter-Chinese offensive. Softer in the Asean, the anti-China moves take a different tone on the international stage.
The US dumping of the Japanese in the build-up to the Asian Pivot and Trump’s trashing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also meant that Japan had to consolidate.
The American move resulted in the further rise of Abe as the strongest man in Japan’s recent political history.
Abe has been prime minister since December 2012. In his final three-year term as the Liberal Democratic Party leader, he pledges to revise Japan’s constitution. A crucial move that will help integrate the country in the league of ‘warring’ nations.
Abe is proposing to amend the US-drafted 1947 constitution of Japan, to add a clause which bans the use of force in settling international disputes.
But ironically, the clause will also allow for the existence of Japan’s military, now called the Self-Defense Force. It will mean rebuilding Japan’s military forces for offensive actions. Something the world thought was over after the massive Japanese defeat in World War 2.
But the Americans want it that way.
Believe it or not, Abe’s continuous rise is also linked to the disruptions caused by China’s in East Asia and in Southeast Asia. China’s continued support to the North in the Korean peninsula is also of concern to Japan.
Similarly, Xi’s consolidation of power has been unprecedented. He came to power in 2012, the same year with Abe’s rise as Japan’s leader. However, Xi sealed his rise to power with amendments to the Chinese communist party rules. He won big.
But while Abe believes Japan’s soft power needs a bit of sting to help it counter China’s rise in its own turfs, Xi has a different dream.
China has grown rapidly under Xi, with the belief that its new-found thrust in its global reach, that is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will bring the world to its feet.
China’s strongman Xi has grown in stature too, stealing the limelight with his mesmerising of the Communist Party leadership into submission.
But under Xi, China is failing its minorities and is creating a society under constant surveillance. This is not for the security of the people, but more or less to keep the Communist Party of China in power.
Xi’s China is also inert to the crimes committed by ally Myanmar against minorities. It looks like China has no regards for minorities across the globe. Not at all, And this pose serious problems to the world, as Xi’s supporters seem blinded by their loyalty to the rising dictate in Beijing.
The recent developments in China should be treated with caution. So does Xi’s bulldozing to the top as the strongest man after Mao Ze Dong. China is the most populated nation on earth (1.4 million people) and is building a formidable army to ‘defend’ its territories, including the territories it has snatched from Asean member states in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea remains a thorny conflict. This week Japan sealed a deal with Vietnam to keep the South China Sea peaceful. But we all know this cannot happen unless China is confronted on its abuses and illegal islet grabbing in the waters.
While some countries are not too happy with Japan’s pro-American stance on the global stage, the Southeast Asian region is not wary of a rising Japan.
The world has changed. The Americans are now the most disruptive component in the globalisation process, right after the Chinese. The US was not able to take advantage of globalisation, hence it shifted to protectionism.
China is still riding on the premises of globalisation but the disrupted trade rules will surely bring it back to reality.
This will create another conflicting situation involving Japan.
The rise of Xi in a one-man-rule in China is as dangerous as China’s military invasion of the South China Sea. Both do not augur well for the Asean. It presents the potential for constant tensions in East Asia altogether.
Abe’s rejection of US pulling out its troops in South Korea is indicative of the intensity of the drive to curb China’s bullish rise in Asia.
But Abe needs more than the anti-Chinese rhetoric on the international stage to achieve Japan’s aims. He needs to rally the nation to adopt a new constitution that will allow it to contain China with the help of global allies.