The question is whether Abe will change course and begin pushing for his controversial right-wing hobbyhorses after July parliamentary elections that could help his Liberal Democratic Party build an overwhelming majority and leave Abe emboldened. One concern is that Abe could revise earlier government apologies for atrocities committed by Japan’s World War II-era military. Abe, in the interview, said he would someday like to make a “future-oriented” statement aimed at Japan’s neighbors, but he did not elaborate on what its message would be.
Beijing has responded to Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands by sending surveillance ships and aircraft into Japanese territory, drawing Japan into a risky showdown in which the neighbors chase each other around the waters and airspace of uninhabited rocky outcroppings. Any armed conflict could draw in the United States, which is treaty-bound to protect Japan.
The 35-year shift
While historical animosities are at the root of Japan’s territorial dispute with China, the maritime conflict is relatively new. During the interview, Abe portrayed China’s actions as part of a 35-year shift that began when the Communist Party opened its once-controlled economy. China’s government has since had to abandon the hope of nationwide economic equality — “one of its pillars of legitimacy,” Abe said — forcing it to create “some different pillars,” including rapid economic growth and patriotism.
“What is unfortunate, however,” Abe added, “is that in the case of China, teaching patriotism [is equivalent to] teaching anti-Japanese sentiment. In other words, their education policy of teaching patriotism has become even more pronounced as they started the reform and opening policy.”
Abe said China’s tactics at sea are yielding “strong support” domestically. Those tactics, some analysts say, also could prove financially lucrative if China gains control of shipping lanes and access to rich fishing territory, and extracts hydrocarbon reserves.
But Abe warned that China’s sparring with its neighbors could backfire, potentially undermining trade partnerships and causing skittishness among foreign investors.
“Such behavior is going to have an effect on their economic activity at the end of the day,” he said, “because it will lead to losing the confidence of the international community, which will result in less investments in China. I believe it is fully possible to have China to change their policy once they gain that recognition.”
Yuki Oda contributed to this report.