A Civilizational Perspective
Donald Trump is pressing his idea of “America First,” which could have deep civilizational implications, undercutting “universal values” and adding momentum to recent assertiveness about distinctive civilizations by the leaders of the other great power players in Northeast Asia. Putting the emphasis on Abe Shinzo, this article considers the impact of what each leader is advocating and Abe’s responses, and makes a determination of whether civilizational differences are widening.
The leaders of Japan, China, the United States, and Russia have each expressed his primary national goal in the form of a simplistic slogan: Abe’s “Take Back Japan”; Trump’s “America First”; Xi’s “China Dream”; and Putin’s “Gosudarstvennost” Each is aimed at creating a strong, rich country, where power is less checked and can be wielded more forcefully. In order to understand this situation, realism based on power analysis is no doubt useful, but here I look at it from the perspective of identity, arguing that, on this basis, we may be able to understand the reality with greater nuance, where countries may differ more profoundly or find some possibility of greater commonality in a shared civilization.
Abe Shinzo: “Take Back Japan”
Abe is not a prolific writer. He has published only one book to present his vision as prime minister, Toward a Beautiful Country, in 2006 just before he became prime minister for the first time, and a supplemental version, Toward a New Country in January 2013, immediately after he took the post for the second time. He added only one chapter at the very end in the newer book, describing the new policy arenas he had chosen for his second tenure, but basically, he reaffirmed the agenda he outlined in his first book. In the new chapter, the last sub-heading is entitled “Take Back Japan.”1 Fundamentally, Abe sees himself realizing the vision of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) created by the leadership of his grandfather Kishi Nobusuke in 1955: namely that Japan will overcome the consequences of a defeated country both mentally and economically. To achieve this requires getting out from the legacy of the occupation period and becoming a prosperous and autonomous (self-standing) power and civilization.
Abe’s Power-Identity Politics in Defense, Security, and Foreign Policy
According to Abe, the LDP realized pretty well the objective of Japan becoming a prosperous country but failed to realize the second objective of becoming an autonomous country, free from the occupied country’s mentality. One of the last paragraphs of Toward a New Country reads:
“Japan is facing real problems because it has just enjoyed the fruits of becoming a rich country just postponing the resolution of difficult issues without clear consciousness that life and property of the Japanese people and the territory of Japan shall be protected by the hands of the Japanese government itself.”2
To achieve the objective of Japan becoming an autonomous country, Abe’s priority lies in the areas of defense, security, and foreign policy, bringing into play relations with the United States, China, and North Korea. These issues are profoundly connected with identity concerns, namely “Japan becoming Japan again,” rife with realist power responses to contemporary developments in East Asia.
- The United States
Soeya Yoshihide in his security-foreign policy analysis of postwar Japan astutely explained that Article Nine—the strongly pacifist clause of the Japanese Constitution—and Japan’s dependency on the military power of the United States based on their Security Treaty, have become an inescapable framework of postwar Japan as the essence of the Yoshida doctrine. However much Kishi, through revision of the Security Treaty in 1960, Sato, through the reversion of Okinawa in 1969-72, and now Abe, through the introduction of “Peace and Security Preservation Legislation” in 2014-16, all endeavored to promote greater autonomy,3 they could never achieve complete autonomy outside the “Article Nine-Security Treaty” framework.
Nevertheless, even within this framework, Abe succeeded in taking a clear step forward in strengthening Japan’s greater autonomy, through the revision of the interpretation of the Article Nine. This revision was particularly necessary, because the combination of Article Five of the revised Security Treaty of 1960 (that the United States is obligated to defend Japan if it is attacked) and the interpretation of Article Nine established around this period (that Japan is not able to exert the right of collective self-defense because this violates the spirit of its pacifist constitution) created a severe asymmetry in favor of Japan. The new interpretation based on the “Peace and Security Preservation Legislation” now allows Japan to act if the country with which Japan shares close security relations is attacked but only when the threat caused amounts to the same level as if Japan itself is attacked. This combination of individual and collective right of self-defense is unique in the practice of international law. It lays the foundation for asserting a more autonomous identity as well as realist foreign policy.
In December 2012, Abe inherited from Prime Minister Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) an unprecedentedly dangerous situation. As the result of the Japanese government’s purchase of three major islands of the Senkakus from a private owner in accordance with Japan’s property law in September 2012, the Chinese government exploded with a rebuke that Japan “nationalized” these islands. Since then China has sent its coast guard ships at the level of 10-15 monthly in 2012-13, then 5-10 in 2014-17. Whatever claim China might have, this is not a situation tolerable to a country exercising full sovereignty over the Senkakus from 1895, just prior to the conclusion of the Shimonoseki Treaty which ended the Sino-Japanese War.
Clearly for Abe, who declared that his major national goal is that “the territory of Japan shall be protected by the hands of the Japanese government itself,” this infringement of territorial jurisdiction was not a situation he could tolerate. Thus, an effort for “deterrence” first, and then, combined with it, “dialogue” became Abe’s active policy toward China. Here again his security-foreign policy became inseparable from his policy of identity. So in 2013 Abe put his major effort into concentrating decision making power on security in the prime minister’s office, establishing the new mechanism of a national security council with a secretariat, an advisor, and a strategy of proactive pacifism. He also started steadily increasing defense spending, and relocating troops in the direction of the southern islands. In order to leave no misunderstanding that these deterrent efforts were done so as to avoid any possibility of armed conflict, Abe’s other responsibility was to enhance dialogue. Abe’s dialogue with Xi Jinping started from 2014 with a once-a-year pace under the auspices of multilateral conferences in Beijing (2014), Jakarta (2015), Hangzhou (2016) and Hamburg (2017). Such dialogue is not meant to undercut a strong identity response to China’s challenge.
- North Korea
Abe already had the bitter experience of taking a hard decision in 2002 when serving as deputy chief cabinet secretary for Prime Minister Koizumi in his visit to Pyongyang in September. Eight abductees were recognized and returned to Japan with Koizumi by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il, but Japanese public opinion exploded with this evidence of gross violations of human rights, and Abe took the lead in not returning these abductees to North Korea.
Fifteen years later in 2017, after North Korea had expressly shifted course toward possessing nuclear weapons, failing to persuade it to change course through the Six-Party Talks, and the succession of a young supreme leader Kim Jong-un, Abe is now faced with a real security danger if war breaks out between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. From February to November 2017, North Korea conducted 16 missile launches and, in September, its sixth nuclear weapons test. By now it is close to having inter-continental ballistic missiles with operational nuclear warheads.
Trump and North Korea’s harsh rhetoric suggests that some miscalculation might ignite a small collision which eventually might become a real calamity, potentially causing greater destruction in Japan than the Pacific War of 1941-45. Abe now faces a situation where Japan’s territory should, in real terms, be protected by the hands of the Japanese government itself, as he had written in January 2013. But how? In a situation where Japan’s military power has no impact against North Korea, Abe’s realist policy dictates that he acts energetically so that the voices of the international community are united to pressure North Korea to change course. Thus, Abe keeps on stating that “Now it is time to pressure North Korea.” In identity terms this showcases a pro-active leader.
Historical Memory Issues and Abe’s Identity Consciousness
For “Taking Back Japan,” what kind of vision Abe has for his country is critically important. In domestic policy, he has given important directions. In the revised Basic Education Law adopted on December 22, 2006, he added four new factors in article 2 prescribing the “purpose of education”: “public value, nature, tradition and culture.” In January 2013, in the added chapter of Toward a New Country, he declared that he would build a market economy “respecting tradition, culture and region.”4 While these domestic policy areas have not been seen as particularly objectionable, it is doubtful whether they have been really implemented effectively. But in the area of foreign policy, the issue of honor and identity has drawn widespread attention. Abe has been known to have a somewhat simplistic conception of “protecting pre-war Japan’s honor,” for instance, through a parliamentary association which he and his colleague Nakagwa Shoichi initiated to study the Nanjing massacre and “comfort women” issues in the late 1990s. But Abe’s behavior as prime minister far exceeded expectations in revealing what kind of identity he is attributing to “take back Japan” in relation to historical memory. That includes his approach to the United States, China (and South Korea which is perceived as increasingly under the shadow of China), and Russia.
- The United States
Abe’s strengthening of defense and security ties with the United States succeeded in creating an impression that Abe is a person who can deliver, and this accumulated confidence paved the way to his speech on April 29, 2015 at a joint session of Congress. Abe’s ability to express his personal feelings at the side of surviving American soldiers whose buddies had died in WWII while fighting against the Japanese moved the audience, resulting in many standing ovations. One of the most moving parts was his narration on the World War II Memorial, which he had just visited:
“With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayers for some time. My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II.”5
Abe’s ability to stand beside those who had fought against Japan and express his humbleness on the most delicate issue of WWII was perhaps a triggering factor for Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima in May 2016 (naturally helped by Obama’s legacy as the first US president who tried to rally the world on behalf of a non-nuclear world) and Abe’s return visit to Pearl Harbor in December 2016. One important step was taken toward ultimate reconciliation between Japan and the United States. This sets aside the identity barrier that most seriously stood in the way of newly asserting Japan’s identity.
- China (and Korea)
The year 2015, the seventieth year after WWII, became an important year for Abe’s actions in relation to historical memory on Asia. Abe made his critical statement on August 14, and it attracted particular attention because Abe was known not to have been very sympathetic to Murayama Tomiichi’s statement made on August 15, 1995. But the Abe Statement could well be considered a continuation of the humble position toward Asia expressed in that statement. In particular, the following is worth quoting:
“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feeling of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war… Such a position articulated by previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future. […] We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come who have nothing to do with that war be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese across generations must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humility, and pass it to the future.”6
The August 14 statement paved the way to achieving a critically important reconciliation agreement on “comfort women” with South Korea on December 28 in Seoul, as statements were exchanged between Foreign Minister Kishida and Foreign Minister Yun. The similarity of the key section, which Kishida stated, to the Kono Statement of 1993 is obvious, and that was really surprising because Abe was known to be quite unsympathetic to it. Together with a one billion Yen (roughly $10 million) budgetary contribution to a Korean Fund, this matter looked as if it had, at last, been removed from the political strife between the two governments. But this effort at reconciliation did not work. Kishida’s words were:
“The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective. As Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.7
In relation to China, the most controversial issue of Yasukuni Shrine visits went through a rough process from December 2013 when Abe made an open visit. It was perhaps due to his commitment to his faithful supporters, who did not leave him at the time of his political difficulty. The two administrations made an effort to reach a tacit understanding in November 2014—that while Abe does not change his basic position, he knows China’s position, and that both sides would prevent escalating the situation, meaning Abe would not go again—to prepare for the first summit with Xi in Beijing that month.
Three years later, however, Abe is faced with the sudden proliferation of history-related initiatives led by China and followed by South Korea. They include: the opening of the “Tokyo Trial Research Center” at Shanghai’s Jiaotong University; the opening of the “Chinese Comfort Women Problem Study Center” at Shanghai Normal University; a further application to the UNESCO Memory of the World Program related to “comfort women” after its acceptance of a Nanjing massacre application in 2015; the shift of the Rape of Nanjing Redress Coalition (RNRC) to the Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC) in the United States; gradual proliferation of statues of Chinese and Korean “comfort women” and forced laborers in China, South Korea, the United States, Europe and elsewhere; and Moon Jae-in’s reexamination of the process behind the December 2015 agreement on “comfort women,” the South Korean Supreme Court’s verdict that the 1965 settlement on forced labor is invalid; and its High Court’s guilty verdict against Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University for defamation in November 2017.8
Arguably, the Sino-Korean war on history, now conducted and partially supported on a global scale, has reached its peak in the postwar era. We are likely to see in Abe’s further responses to Xi and Putin—and some would add Trump, given his three-decade old accusations against Japan for unfair trade and other transgressions—how Abe painfully strategizes against this apparent encirclement. The civilizational divide is widening just as Abe is intent on asserting pride in Japanese civilization in a new manner.
The most important factor which drives Japan-Russia territorial negotiations is the identity factor. The main objective for the Japanese government in pursuing this negotiation is to have justice prevail and redress Japan’s honor lost in 1945. Straightforward assertions of that position worked during the Cold War when Japan’s position was basically adversarial against Russia. But after the end of the Cold War and the emergence of democratic Russia, Japan realized that this concept of justice would not work for Russian logic, and more realist as well as interest-oriented approaches started to gain traction. The conclusion of a peace treaty began to be perceived as a symbol of bondage affecting both of the countries, which, if resolved, would bring strategic and economic benefit to both. There were several prime ministers who had a clear understanding of this change: Hashimoto Ryutaro, who was the initiator, and Mori Yoshiro, but principally, Abe.
Abe’s proactive Russian policy, driven by the identity factor but consolidated by the realist and interest-oriented approaches, had an energetic start in 2013, yet suffered a severe setback with the Ukrainian civil war in 2014-15, and was revived in 2016 with what the Japanese government regards as Putin’s successful visit to Yamaguchi-Tokyo in December. Despite some concern about the slowdown of negotiations during 2017, Abe’s priority on the conclusion of a peace treaty with Russia has persisted, unaltered by recent developments.
Trump, Xi, and Putin’s Identity Positions and Abe’s Latest Responses
Donald Trump and “America First”
The policies implemented by Trump in eleven months under the slogan of “America First” have been uniquely and exclusively oriented to “actual problem solving.” This may not be surprising because his life-long experience is with asset transactions, and converting these to national objectives probably means seeking immediate tangible results. But from the point of view of identity, that analysis needs to be supplemented by some background information. Aida Hirotsugu made an initial effort to clarify the thinking of Steve Bannon, who left the administration in August but played an influential role leading to Trump’s election victory and introduced some of his policy directions. The following is what he found to be the essence of Bannon’s thinking:9
“The height of civilization of the world is a combination of Jewish/Christian religion and capitalism based on them. Islam is the most eccentric world, and the United States is fighting a collision of civilizations, which may develop into large-scale warfare in the Middle East. In five to ten years there could be a war in the South China Sea. […] The state should protect its citizens from immigrants (legal or illegal) and withdraw from multilateralism and protect sovereignty. American society is polarized between those in the rising America, who live in a cosmopolitan world, and those left behind, the falling America. For those left behind, employment and economic nationalism is everything.”
Based on this identity thinking, actual policies implemented are explainable in fairly simple terms. First, in the area of foreign-security policy, “America First” actually means protection and enhancement of American national interests, and different from Obama’s policy, greater readiness to use military power. It so happened that the first country which could pose a real threat to American national interests seemed to be North Korea. Hence, there emerged provocative exchanges between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Second, on economic issues, “America First” meant almost exclusive reliance on bilateral negotiations and withdrawal from multilateral ones, exemplified by withdrawals from the TPP and the Paris Agreement.
Abe’s Response to Donald Trump’s “America First”
Abe’s objective was to establish good personal relations with Trump, allowing him both to cope with difficult issues and to be engaged in some future-oriented talks. He did achieve this well. But in policy areas, Abe had to broaden his scope. On North Korea, Abe’s primary thinking was to pressure Kim Jong-un. But in addition to Trump’s support, he needed other partners who could effectively pressure Kim. But who?
On economic matters Trump’s sudden withdrawal from multilateralism created real confusion, if not anger. Japan tried to become a good student of multilateral cooperation of the Bretton Woods organization, ranging from GATT, World Bank, IMF, and WTO to cooperation at the regional level. The new multilateral regional vehicle, namely TPP, which Japan had just managed to join in March 2013, nearly fell apart with Trump’s decision to withdraw. Japan could not simply abandon multilateralism and now needed to give more serious consideration to other regional multilateralism. But where?
Some analysis of Steve Bannon may be useful to cast light on Trump’s identity thinking. But at the time of writing this, Trump’s presidency is domestically so unstable that talking about his identity thinking and possible commonalities or differences with Abe’s thinking may be premature. This question may be addressed in the future.
Xi Jinping and the “China Dream”
Xi Jinping expressed his first views on the “China Dream” on November 29, 2012 at his visit to the Chinese National Museum, only a half-month after his election as general secretary: “I consider the realization of ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people’ as the greatest dream of Chinese people after modernity.” Five years later, in his report “Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to the 19th Party Congress on October 18, 2017, Xi described the dream more fully. Most impressive is the precise time frame and the fundamental objectives to achieve within this frame: “The period between now and 2020 will be decisive in finishing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects”10 And then there will be the fifteen-year period from 2020 to 2035, followed by 2035 to the middle of the century, by which time China will have achieved its objectives.
These objectives are to create “a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.”11 By the time “Common Prosperity for everyone is basically achieved,” and also “by the mid-21st century, our People’s armed forces have been fully transformed into world-class forces.”12
Indeed, the report gives two analyses for the future. The economic section states, “We should pursue the Belt and Road Initiative as a priority, give equal emphasis to “bringing in” and “going global,”13 follow the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, and increase openness and cooperation in building innovation capacity.”14 Another analysis comes from the foreign policy section, which states, “China will actively promote international cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative. In doing so, we hope to achieve policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity and thus build a new platform for international cooperation to create new drives of shared development.”15
Abe’s Responses to Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”
Given Trump’s exclusive bilateralism in defending “America First” at the expense of multilateralism—exemplified by the collapse of the TPP—Abe needed to find a new avenue for regional multilateralism. What China has been achieving with its BRI in the economic sphere emerged for the first time as an important area for consideration.
Security-wise, given the rising tensions between the Trump administration and the Kim Jong-un regime, and given Abe’s position that “now is the time for pressure,” China’s cooperation has become indispensable to manage North Korea. Searching for areas of common interest is a natural policy choice to narrow the differences between Japan and China and ensure more effective dialogue. In this respect, BRI seems to have attracted Abe’s attention. Thus, from May to June, despite his difficult domestic situation, Abe began taking concrete steps to express his interest in a more cooperative policy toward BRI. Adoption of this strategic policy was taken, despite, or perhaps because, of the rising tensions on historical memory between Japan and China.
On May 16, General Secretary of the LDP, Nikai Toshihiro, participated in the “BRI International Cooperation Forum” held in Beijing, met with Xi Jinping and apparently stated that “The BRI has a superb viewpoint. The majority view in Japan is to observe its future development with sympathy.” On June 5, the 23rd International Exchange Conference “Future of Asia” was held in Tokyo, where Abe gave a banquet speech: “The BRI has a potentiality to connect East and West, and variety of regions in between. Japan is willing to cooperate in such projects, […] taking into account shared views of international society.”16
On July 8, at the summit meeting with Xi Jinping under the auspices of the G20 in Hamburg, Abe reconfirmed the statement made in June. Xi responded that ‘Economic and trade relations are a vehicle of advancement of China-Japan relations. I welcome Japan cooperating in the framework of BRI.”17 On November 11, Abe and Xi held a summit in Danang under the auspices of APEC, marking the height of bilateral relations under their leadership. Japanese media invariably reported that new momentum for the improvement of the relationship started from this meeting.18
Cooperation on BRI is just the first step in expected efforts by both countries to find common areas for a possible win-win solution to their existing problems. This would be a more strategically-oriented option, where power and interests count, as Japan faces a newly emerging encirclement by China and Korea from a global perspective. Whether China and Japan will be able to detect some commonality in the area of identity, pointing to examples such as the treasures kept in Shosoin in Nara leaving cultural traces of eighth century Eurasia, remains to be determined.
Vladimir Putin and “Gosudarstvennost’”
Fiona Hill identified six personas in her seminal book analyzing “Who is Mr. Putin?”: statist, history man, survivalist, outsider, free marketeer, and case officer. Probably her description of Putin as statist most convincingly describes the fundamental nature of his identity. She introduces some of his thinking as expressed in his “millennium message” posted on the prime minister’s website on December 29, 1999, two days before Yeltsin anointed him as his formal heir to assume power when the new millennium started from January 1 2000. These descriptions are self-explanatory:
“The Russian state lost its status when its people were divided, when Russians lost sight of the common values that united them and distinguished them from all others. […] Universal values were fine, but they were not “Russian.” […] There were other, distinctly Russians values that were at the core of what Putin called the “Russian Idea.” Those values were patriotism, collectivism, solidarity, derzhavnostj—the belief that Russia is destined always to be a great power (derzhava) exerting its influence abroad—and the untranslatable gosudarstvennichestvo.19 […] For us, the state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and the people. For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly to fight against. Quite the contrary, it is the source and guarantor of order, the initiator and the main driving force of any change. […] Society desires the resurrection of the guiding and regulating role of the state.”20
Abe’s Responses to Vladimir Putin’s “Gosudarstvennost’”
While for Abe, resolving the territorial issue and concluding a peace treaty are important parts of the diplomatic agenda based on identity, his approach has been transformed into a complex agenda which has strategic and interest-oriented considerations. If he succeeds in concluding the peace treaty, it would surely be a gigantic achievement having identity, strategy, and interest-based implications. However, when it comes to the real question of commonalities and differences, Japan and Russia have just started to give serious attention primarily at the level of academics. In the long course of history, Russia developed as a border region of Byzantine civilization and Japan as a border region of Chinese civilization. Then somewhere in the early 18th century, Russia faced a powerful wave of Westernization under Peter the Great, and Japan more than a century later, underwent another powerful wave of Westernization under the Meiji Restoration. In the twentieth century, both countries went through extremely turbulent periods. Presently facing the common issue of the rise of China, Putin seems to be distancing Russia from the United States and Abe seems to be narrowing that distance for Japan. But both are leaders who value the importance of conducting an autonomous policy, meaning Russia wanting to become Russia and Japan wanting to become Japan.21 Where it leads, the answer has yet to be found.
While power and realism are indispensable tools of analysis, the identity factor adds another dimension to understanding today’s world. Each leader of the four countries under this analysis has introduced a clear-cut logo of his state’s identity. But having a logo does not mean that the content is clear nor does it mean that the content has been well-implemented. From the point of view of identity and civilization, analysis so far made in this paper shows that each leader’s pursuit of his own logo is either neutral or widening the divide in their countries’ relations with others. This in turn means that each is not yet able to grasp the opportunity of finding some commonalities with others; either they are completely hidden or in an embryonic form. Starting from the rankings of the domestically stronger to the weaker, this mixed picture is as follows.
Xi Jinping with his “China Dream” is in a powerful position. His country is on the rise, he has authoritative power inside the country. Outwardly, he is playing a very successful game with Putin, but with Trump, uncertainty prevails, and with Abe, despite recent warming, relations continue to be beset with tension. From the point of view of identity and civilization, Xi emphasizes BRI’s inclusiveness and readiness to accept others, but this is a dividing factor vis-a-vis Trump’s “America First.” That applies to Japan as well, and recent minimal improvement of China’s relations with Japan certainly does not yet signify a common Asian identity.
Putin is also in a commanding position in his own country with the powerful hand of “gosudarstvennost’.” His relationship with Xi is sound, but with Abe, he finds himself at an uncertain crossroads, and with Trump, despite personal willingness for a warm relationship, state-to-state relations remain tense. From the point of view of identity and civilization, a Russian leader is perhaps best positioned to find commonality with the rest: with America and Europe, based on its tradition from Peter the Great’s Europeanization; with China, mixing Russia ‘s expansion toward the East with some kind of Slavophil tradition; and with Japan, detecting commonality in the dualism of being split between two great civilizations. Reflecting the order of state-to-state relations, Putin is not finding any commonality to pursue with a hamstrung Trump; at a crossing point with Japan, with the peripheral exception of his appeal to judo; and has some constant words of respect to China, but they are limited to the sphere of politics and, arguably, neutral in the area of identity.
Abe’s “Take Back Japan” seems to be working reasonably well. His position is strong domestically, though he is still criticized on some exclusively domestic issues. Identity-wise, it is not certain whether his domestic agenda is well implemented. In the area of defense–security he has put Japan in a more assertive and stronger position. He succeeded in consolidating Japan’s alliance with the United States. In the area of historical memory, Abe is at a crossroads over whether he will be able to crash through the past barriers with Russia. He also has made a lot of effort to find the optimal point between narrowly-defined destructive nationalism and harmonious identity with China. His efforts have not met with good results, other than a little warmth, which has emerged recently. From the point of view of identity and civilization, relations with the United States remained neutral, with Russia, uncertain and as yet unable to detect commonalities, and negative factors prevail with China (and South Korea), completely missing the opportunity of detecting a common Asian identity.22
Trump’s leadership in the area of civilizations is weakest, because he is unable to define strategically what he really means by “America First” other than prioritizing immediate gains. His domestic command is weak, which makes his identity position even weaker. So far, the best relationship he has is with Abe; then there is uncertainty with Xi; and, despite some personal warmth, state-to-state relations with Putin are difficult. From the point of view of identity and civilization, Trump’s way of seeking immediate gains is widening the divide with Xi, stepping back as accumulating factors may be contributing to a wider divide with Putin, and keeping Abe in a neutral position.