Tracking the Big Shift in Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking toward Asia, 2013-2016

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Tracking the Big Shift in Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking toward Asia, 2013-2016
Gilbert Rozman

Taking office at the end of 2012, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo set Japan’s foreign policy on a new course. In 2013 to 2016, he faced challenges different from those he had encountered in his prior year in the top post or from those he and his successors would face across the remainder of the first decade of the redirection he set in motion. Looking back at these years, we can discern an unprecedented way of reflecting on Japan’s place in Asia. Tracing the thinking behind Japanese policymaking, we follow, year-by-year, how attitudes evolved. This overview is to be followed by similar retrospective assessments for the periods 2017-19 and 2020-22 as well as a series of country-specific analyses of evolving Japanese thinking covering the entire decade until 2022.

Unlike any other time since the Yoshida Doctrine set Japan’s foreign policy course six decades earlier, a consensus had formed that the country was under siege. Abe confidently insisted he had the answers through bold moves worthy of a great power. If certain of them proved elusive, he won support to empower him more than any other Japanese leader since the 1950s. His agenda combined vigorous domestic policies with implications for security and bold external initiatives. At the core of his thinking was transforming the Japan-US alliance into a regional framework in which Japan played a more equal role in both collective defense and multilateral diplomacy. If some results were inconclusive to 2016, the foundation Abe built proved decisive into the 2020s.

Abe’s approach can be contrasted with past LDP leadership and with Hatoyama Yukio’s moves in 2009-10. The former was largely passive and tethered to a constitutional interpretation that led to explaining how Japan was limited in how much support it could give to the US. Hatoyama was guided, instead, by idealism to rebalance to Asia through “fraternal relations” and plans for an “East Asian community.” Abe sought a stronger alliance with the United States, but Hatoyama tilted away from the alliance. Hatoyama left the door open to distinctive regional values, Abe gave universal values his strong endorsement. Dithering over the US plan for the Futenma airbase and lacking conviction on matters of national defense, Hatoyama damaged the alliance. Abe rebuilt it. Hatoyama discredited the left on the Japanese political spectrum, easing the way for Abe’s agenda.

Taking a “panoramic” view of maritime Asia, Abe showcased relations with Southeast Asia, India, and Australia, while launching new initiatives with Taiwan and Russia and also approaching both sides of the Korean Peninsula in new ways. He experienced failures as well as successes with no full scorecard possible until he and his successors faced the growing standoff of the US and China in 2020-22. It was this rivalry that shaped Abe’s thinking and which he played a role in reshaping.

Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking in 2013

Abe’s “pro-active diplomacy” in 2013 conflicted with Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye’s activist impulses, found some alignment with Vladimir Putin’s “Turn to the East,” proved very appealing to Barack Obama’s “rebalance to Asia,” and made a strong impression in Asia’s southern tier from India to Southeast Asia to Australia. This was a transformative year for Japanese foreign policy after seven years of rotating prime ministers and the chaotic reception of DPJ leadership in 2009-12. The foundation was clear: an ever-closer alliance with the United States and a shift to “collective defense” and away from Japan’s pacifist, postwar self-restrictions. Abe’s agenda was made possible by the widespread sensation that Japan was under duress. After the 3/11 tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011 and the “August 2012” double shock of President Lee Myung-bak visiting Dokdo (Takeshima) Island and China signaling a shift to send military ships and aircraft to what Japan regarded as its territorial waters and airspace, Japanese welcomed a vigorous foreign and security policy bolstering national pride, and Abe quickly delivered on this.

A siege mentality led to extreme speculation: Would China stop at the Senkakus (Diaoyudao) or seek to make the East China Sea its own with a possible eye to changing the status of Okinawa? Would South Korea switch sides and cozy up to China while treating Japan as its enemy? Some even wondered if Obama would consent to Xi’s appeal for a G2 dividing up the Western Pacific. The Obama-Xi June summit and Park-Xi summit shortly afterwards raised some alarm. Yet the reassurances offered by Abe from his February visit to Obama to his active diplomacy around China’s periphery boosted US trust. From his May call to establish a national security council to measures to strengthen the Self-Defense Forces, Abe won support for self-strengthening within the confines of the alliance while also promoting a different sort of regionalism than the “East Asian community” proposed several years earlier. Gone was past idealism about China. In the forefront were security ties to rally states while prodding the US to do more to confront China.

2013 was also a year of Abe’s lack of restraint, whether in allowing historical revisionism to cloud the realist drift in foreign policy, sending an emissary to Pyongyang to explore progress on the abductions issue despite the more belligerent rhetoric toward South Korea and the US, and energetically wooing Putin in spite of his growing animus toward the US. Above all, in 2013 Abe seemed to be baiting South Korea rather than working to bridge differences. The results of Abe’s wide-ranging diplomacy were uncertain, not relieving concern about greater isolation. Yet his very activism, e.g., visiting all ten ASEAN states in a year, conveyed a new national image.

At home Abe bolstered Japan’s defensecapabilities, national security strategizing, and support for the US alliance. In Asia, he triangulated with the United States on values and in maritime arenas from Australia to India, especially in Southeast Asia. Indeed, Abe often took the lead, as in moves toward India. Abe’s national security council advisor Yachi Shotaro made it clear that Japan seeks to go beyond bilateralism to formulate strategic diplomacy from a panoramic perspective of the world. He listed as elements of “values diplomacy” on the axis of the Japan-US alliance, freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, while taking pride in Japanese national character, rooted in history, tradition, and culture. Yachi rejected charges that this was directed at containing China, saying it is about peaceful means of combining values in the pursuit of joint development. Instead, Yachi shifted responsibility to a hardline faction in China gaining power, willing even to risk a clash at sea, even as Japan sought healthier relations. Whereas Chinese warned that Abe was replacing the peace constitution with militarism akin to pre-1945, rejecting the defensive logic in use in Japan, Japanese made the case that it would not back down if China kept up its aggression. Yet Japan remained selective in pushing value diplomacy and kept pursuing an Abe-Xi summit.

Standing firmly with the United States broke down only in Northeast Asia. Japan was downcast on South Korea in ways that offered little hope, but upbeat on Russia despite little evidence. The two relations were presented strictly in bilateral terms with history in the forefront, if later multilateral security was a focus. An Asian strategy of working around South Korea, countering China without a lot of fanfare, and looking for every possible opening on its periphery, while hugging the US, meant a lack of coordination in Northeast Asia, despite close coordination in Southeast and South Asia. In Abe’s campaign promises and his early leadership, sources of conflict with Seoul had multiplied.1

Japan’s Asian diplomacy from the 1950s to the 2000s had prioritized economics and downplayed universal values. Indeed, there was a competitive element with the United States on both of these dimensions. Abe dispensed with that and put the priority on economic and military security fully in support of greater US engagement in the region. If there was a time when Asian values or Japanese-style capitalism was intimated to suggest Japanese regional leadership, distinct from the US one, the new emphasis was on aligning with the US and opposing Chinese practices. Having lost the mantle of chief sponsor of Asian regionalism to China after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Japan regained it as the champion of a strong ASEAN after China was perceived by 2012 as a divisive force when ASEAN could no longer reach consensus on matters of security. With Abe’s interest in joining Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), in accord with Obama’s leadership, economic, security, and values were all closely aligned.

Both in his 2013 lively historical revisionism and in his stress on distinctive relations with such countries as India and Australia, as well as in Northeast Asia, Abe conveyed the image that Japan was not just piggybacking on Obama’s “rebalance to Asia.” There was an element of “Asianism” in Abe’s thinking, but to the extent Japan was nervous about US abandonment (through lack of resources for Obama’s rebalance or eagerness for compromise with China) or about a further Chinese shift toward aggression (the bounds of Xi Jinping’s hostility to Japan were unclear), Abe prioritized the Japan-US alliance. He reassured Washington by committing to do more with it.

In September 2013, Kitaoka Shinichi rebutted critics of “collective defense” by explaining what is different from the postwar era for a “peace state” now subjected to serious threats.2 Pointing to similarities between today’s China and Japan in the 1930s but not present-day Japan, he said that in our free-market era Japan does not think that geographical expansion is a source of either security or prosperity. Moreover, Japan did not now consider its rivals weak, but China had confidence, as Japan once did, that in East Asia it has military superiority. Also, Japan today found protection through international society, whereas in the 1930s it saw few sanctions being imposed, as does China today with its Security Council veto and great economic clout, allowing it to ignore international law. Another similarity was between prewar Japan’s weak control over the military and the growing influence of the military now in China—both being in sharp contrast to today’s Japan. Finally, freedom of speech puts a check on Japan going to war today, unlike in the prewar era or in China. Kitaoka voiced widespread concern about the danger of China, as he also explained that “collective defense” gives the US confidence in Japan, which had been noticeably missing since Japan’s response to the Gulf War in 1991 was downplayed as “too little, too late.”

Japanese felt betrayed by China, having seen their country as the principal supporter of Deng Xiaoping’s open door and reform policy, the source of massive official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI), and the unwavering supporter of stable, friendly relations.3 Yet China had cast that aside, recalling instead Japan’s earlier invasion, which Japan had expected would be left behind, and breaking with assurances that it would respect international law and norms. Japan had been the first developed country to back China’s entry into the WTO, assuming it would boost respect for the liberal, international order, but that too was in serious doubt for China. After 2012, the verdict on China was set for the strategic group around Abe, despite protests in some LDP/Komeito and business circles.

While factions of the LDP differed in their strategies for dealing with China, the driving force in Japanese regional thinking was a definitive assessment of threat from China. Park Geun-hye was considered gullible in the face of China’s presumed strategy. Other states, perceived as leaning to China, were seen as still amenable to persuasion, given China’s ongoing aggressive behavior. In most cases, Japanese calculated that wariness of China would be conducive to more cooperation.

2013 was a year of policy change, responding to attitude changes due to the tectonic shifts of 2012, when Japanese awakened to a dangerous region. In the annual Yoron chosa survey, issued in November, one read of further improvement in relations with and friendly feelings toward the United States, already at record high levels, and also slight improvement in these measures with Russia, starting from a low level and still leaving a ratio of 2:1 thinking relations are not good. Yet, one got a sense that Japanese feel almost friendless: 37 percent unambiguously feel friendly to the United States, but the figure is 16 percent for ASEAN, 8 percent for India and South Korea, 4 percent for China, and 3 percent for Russia.4 Clearly, the bloom was still off in relations with South Korea, amid comments about the end of the “Korea wave” and a drop-off in tourists after forty years when Japan had been No. 1 only to lose that ranking to China in 2012 and then to see Park Geun-hye’s popularity result in a 48 percent jump in Chinese tourism to South Korea in one year.

While South Koreans and Chinese were putting the focus on Japan’s revisionism, the story in the Japanese media was heavily about security. As the threat from China grew, the preoccupation with national security kept increasing. True, there were some in Tokyo who saw a chance to redress the verdicts on history, arguing that stains on the honor of pre-1945 Japan equal stains on Japan today.5 But the more common message was that Japan was beleaguered again, regaining its confidence, ending its passivity for “active pacifism,” and making strategic thinking a priority. US “rebalance to Asia” was praised as not only essential to counter China, but also as the pathway to revitalize the alliance through collective defense with Japan doing its share. Yomiuri Shimbun interpreted “panoramic diplomacy” as drawing on a strengthened economy and entry into the TPP while linking up with India, Australia, and Southeast Asian states that together face the challenge of China through shared consciousness and cooperation with the United States. Japan, thus, appeared as a status quo power, committed to the postwar international order versus China’s rejection of the status quo, targeting Japan above all, due to unwavering Chinese strategic objectives colored by historical enmity. 6 

Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking in 2014

The year 2014 began on a troubled note for Japan, not only because the visit by Abe to Yasukuni at the end of 2013 cast a shadow on relations with the US as it led to redoubled Chinese criticisms, but due to doubts over Obama’s policies to both China and South Korea and the collapse of Russo-US relations over Crimea and attendant sanctions. Some asked why did Park treat Japan as the problem, not North Korea or China and why was Obama not failing to make a commitment to the Senkaku Islands and taking the threat from China seriously enough. Given this sense of isolation, glimmers of hope were seen in other isolated states now moving to boost ties to Japan: Kim Jong-un appeared to want to resume talks over the abductees, and Putin seemed as if he might need Japan for balance and economic objectives, and might, thereby, cut an island deal. With more attention to territorial symbolism, historical memories, and abductees, analysis of the main geopolitical forces at work stayed in the background.

Missing were candor on both the strength of the Putin-Xi Jinping relationship to Japan’s disadvantage and of the US-ROK alliance, which could have alleviated some anxiety. Conservatives were too obsessed with Park as a villain and too reluctant to credit Obama with restarting Japanese-ROK relations via a long-term strategy of strategic patience toward South Korea’s relations with China while keeping the focus on the imminent danger from North Korea. Progressives were too hostile to collective self-defense and secrecy laws to accept the urgency of bolstering Obama’s rebalance to Asia. A collective sigh of relief in late March with the trilateral Japan-US-ROK summit failed to be put in a broader geopolitical context. Yet the new NSC had prompted, at last, the start of soul-searching rethinking of the fundamentals of East Asian security.

Interspersed in Japanese articles were remarks about forces standing in the way of realist policies, especially South Korean emotions, Chinese ambitions, and US vacillation under the influence of interest groups. In contrast to past images of Japan from in and out of the country, Japanese now assumed that Japan is guided by realist thinking. Amid this self-reflection, more openly exposed was the contradiction of desiring autonomy for Japan and feeling the necessity of bolstering alliance ties with the United States. A turning point was reached on March 14 when Abe stated he would not seek any change in the Kono statement, a bedrock of Japan-ROK relations, to which Park quickly gave her approval. Following the trilateral summit, Japanese media shifted away from the troubled triangle to China. As Yomiuri Shimbun noted, finally Abe had acted. In doing so, he responded to US pressure, made a move that weakened China’s pursuit of a “united front,” and changed the tone of media articles. Obama needed this for his coming trip to the region and his rebalance. Yet, rather than indicating that this bodes well for relations with Park, Yomiuri’s editorial chastised her for anti-Japanese “scolding diplomacy” and ignoring the real problems of China and North Korea as well as the real opportunity of TPP.7 On both sides, expectations stayed low about the future of relations.

Japan-US relations in early 2014 were rockier than at any other time in the decade from 2013. They had hit a snag when Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine and Washington issued a rare rebuke. Glen Fukushima traced an arc from “honeymoon” after Abe’s February 2013 visit to Washington to “concern” over “revisionist” moves in the spring to real “disappointment” after the Yasukuni visit to “ambivalence.”8 Given the feeling that Abe was complicating the “rebalance to Asia,” not only for South Korean trilateralism but even for outreach to China, some doubted that realism to boost the alliance was really driving Abe.9 On the Japanese side, suspicions of Obama’s weakness before Seoul and Beijing were compounded by the strong push-back to his post-Yasukuni critical tone.

Japanese sources differed in their interpretation of international society, a term now widely invoked. Among progressives, this is the established order, from which Abe is isolating Japan. If Japan were a genuine status quo power, it would better serve this order is their assumption. For conservatives, the international order was being challenged above all by China, and Japan must meet this challenge to reaffirm that order. When the United States appealed for Japan to launch new policies on state secrets and collective defense, this clearly served the conservative argument. When, however, Abe “disappointed” his ally by actions such as visiting the Yasukuni Shrine or by the extremist statements of his appointees and close associates, that tended mostly to reinforce the progressive point of view.

International society was a positive standard, cited selectively, in sharp exchanges over foreign policy. The conservative side had a more compelling case, especially when in March Abe changed gears and made the trilateral summit possible. First, however, they had to fight off those in their ranks who argued that Washington was abandoning Tokyo by prioritizing ties with Beijing or weakening Abe. Former ambassador to the United States Fujisaki Ichiro on March 13 refuted doubts of US commitment and stressed the importance of collective self-defense in attaching Japan to the group of defense partners it was assembling.10 As China was intent on painting Abe as a “militarist” and Japan as the one challenging the postwar order, it was seen wrongly equating Japan with the Nazis.

Some argued that the “rebalance” was not real, saying that the Obama administration was sending mixed signals as if it may accept Xi’s “new type of great power relations.” Yet, it was difficult to separate such realist concerns from revisionist unhappiness with the US, which had pressed Park’s case on Yasukuni Shrine visits and on the need to retain the Kono and Murayama statements. They raised right-wing charges that Americans of Chinese descent with pro-Chinese thinking had been driving Obama’s pressure on Abe while actually urging a “Chimerica” era. Only in early April did a barrage of comments from high US officials critical of China’s attempt to isolate Japan provide the requisite reassurance to prepare the way for a visit by Obama later that month to calm these deep suspicions.

Visiting Japan, Obama won approval for his strong statement that the Senkakus fall under the Security Treaty, his endorsement of collective self-defense, and his showcasing of a personal bond with Abe. His decision to declare unambiguously that the Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands was the key. Yomiuri Shimbun detected a convergence between Obama’s “rebalance” and Abe’s “proactive pacifism,” boosting the alliance and confirming overlapping national interests in reaching across to other countries in Asia.11 The Yasukuni shadow lingered, however, fueled by the gap over South Korea and signs that Japan still did not trust Obama to be tough enough with China. Obama was said to have changed course with China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone) and then the Russian moves toward Ukraine, leading to strengthened security ties with Japan. 

Arguing that the South Korea-Japan relationship was as troubled as any relationship in the world between mature liberal democracies, Sue Mi Terry traced a slew of problems while adding that given their shared interests a little US help could, if not soon, make the region more secure.12 Obama’s meeting with Park was seen as serving three purposes: jointly sending a tough message to North Korea on what would not be permitted; wiping away the South Korean image that Obama was favoring Abe over Park; and warning against Seoul drawing close to China while stressing that tightening the trilateral alliance with Japan is Obama’s priority in East Asia in the face of North Korean unpredictability and China’s rise. Xi Jinping’s strategy to isolate Japan and to split it from the United States was thwarted when Obama chose to step away from China’s divisive trap of a “new type of great power relations.” After months of consternation about relations with the Obama administration there was a degree of confidence that Obama stands with Abe against China. This carried over from their summit as the focus turned in May to joint support for Southeast Asian states in the face of China’s increasingly more aggressive actions in the South China Sea.

The main thrust in 2014 was getting collective defense across the finish line, not through any revision of the Constitution but through its reinterpretation in support of self-defense and full recognition that this was required for the international community and preparation for a new set of contingencies. This was seen as both complementing and encouraging the US “rebalance to Asia.”

One angle from which to view foreign policy was what Sankei Shimbun labeled the “history war” with South Korea, fought primarily in the US. It argued that Park’s “scold diplomacy” toward Japan was at a dead-end, leaving the US distrustful of her.13 Yet others saw Obama renewing “gaiatsu” to force Abe to change amid a massive public relations campaign against it. The same paper frowned on Abe’s overtures to Putin (the Vladimir-Shinzo talks) that had blossomed again in the fall, fearing that the G7 stand was being weakened, the wrong message was being sent over seizing land, and close Sino-Russian ties were being misjudged.14 Abe had little to show in 2014 for his ROK and Russia moves, which occupied a good deal of the bandwidth in discussions about his priorities.

There was a sense that Xi Jinping was intensifying his antagonistic regional activities and efforts to isolate Japan. While Xi pressed for Asians to manage their own problems and for alliances to be rejected as a Cold War vestige, Japanese saw these as nothing more than Sinocentrism to expel the US and allow China to dictate to Japan and others. Xi’s “peripheral diplomacy” stress was viewed as prioritizing sovereignty with economic power employed to enable China to have its way.15 Given Chinese views of Japan as the neighbor most at odds with it, Japanese felt a need to cling to the US even more closely. Alternatively, worrying that Obama was ending the US role as the world’s “policeman” and had been prioritizing China over Japan, some saw an opening for Japan to exert leadership in Asia, with ASEAN the main target and its military fears and economic dependency paramount. Yet, even if its heart was with Japan, its economic ties were with China.16

Whereas in 2006-08 China had backtracked from demonstrations to show respect for Japan, that was no longer conceivable. Indeed, Japanese perceived the narrative in China about history and security as no longer restrained by economic concerns, but driven by an agenda to dominate Asia, targeting Japan above all. Yet, as China alienated more Asian neighbors, Abe saw an opening, especially in Southeast Asia, warning that forging a “community of shared destiny” was just a blueprint to broaden Xi’s “China Dream” into a broader “Asia-Pacific Dream.” In 2014, Abe thought he was making headway with India and Southeast Asia. His January visit to India as the guest of honor at the Republic Day parade followed by Narendra Modi’s election raised hopes.

The fall APEC summit was China’s show: Xi claiming that it marked a new historical stage in Asia-Pacific regional cooperation, more countries joining the AIIB and an FTA taking shape with South Korea. In contrast, the United States and Japan failed to announce success in TPP. Moreover, while Obama and Xi reached a number of agreements that strengthened bilateral cooperation, Japan was left on the sidelines, lacking any clear strategy with China beyond just a brief meeting of the leaders, which failed to signify a “reset” in relations. This situation showcased Xi’s focus on a “new type of major power relations” in the wider Asia-Pacific, while leaving him room to put China at the center, as Japanese fretted about their status and Sino-US ties in the final months of 2014.17

Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking in 2015

In advance of the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, Abe succeeded in navigating this milestone year of transition from a defeated state remaining on the defensive over its history left with a low strategic profile, to a proud and proactive force for the reorganization of Asia within the US-led international community. This put him on track to be recognized as the most successful prime minister in sixty years in accomplishing realist goals at the expense of still lingering passive pacifism and revisionist goals in place of defensive apologies. His triumph was marked by a speech to a joint session of Congress showcasing: the lessons the world should recall on the 70th anniversary; Japan’s consistent advocacy of peace in the postwar and post-postwar eras; the close friendship and partnership of the Japanese and American people now solidified by joint leadership of TPP, a new economic architecture for the Asia-Pacific region, and updated joint guidelines, leading the way to a new security architecture for an even broader Indo-Pacific region. Abe tilted sharply toward realism centered on collective defense led by the United States, as revisionism focused on overturning the verdicts from WWII was overshadowed. Riding a largely successful election outcome of December 2014 and even a slight positive shift in relations with China since November 2014, Abe was well positioned to build on momentum in economic and security ties with the US as he capitalized on a transformative spring visit to Washington, DC.

Emphasizing security, Abe’s vision for foreign policy consistently promoted international norms, supported the global commons, and made Japan a more effective US ally. He made good on his promise that “Japan is back,” realistically assessing the shifting balance of power and clarifying Japan’s priorities as a “proactive contributor to peace” through its US alliance and its policies in the Asia-Pacific region. His policy toward the US was successful, enhanced security cooperation with US allies was welcome, and his overtures to India and support for multilateralism centered on ASEAN served major strategic objectives shared with the United States.18 Obama followed Abe’s upgraded framework with Narendra Modi and regularization of joint maritime exercises with his own Republic Day visit in January 2015 to tighten economic and security ties. Critical to Abe’s deft handling of the 2015 transition (or US quiet use of gaiatsu) was achieving shared consciousness with the US on contributions to peace.19 The fact that in February 2015 the Self-Defense Forces were given the green light to join in non-military activities meant that Japan was able to step up its international contributions, showcasing how its military is educated in a peace-loving country. The revised ODA guidelines emphasized universal values, including support for the rule of law and human rights.20 Japan was assuming a leadership role in 2015.

Relations with South Korea began the year in difficulty but ended on a high note. The object of a tug-of-war as China strove to split the US-ROK-Japan framework, it appeared unlikely to move toward Japan in a key anniversary year, and China was pressing it, playing the “history card” at the March three-way foreign ministers’ meeting.21 Yet, patient US diplomacy and concessions by Abe turned things around, first navigating the August Abe Statement without exacerbating relations. Reports were glowing about the totally positive US response and more qualified in reporting the restrained South Korean and Chinese responses, pointing to Park’s insistence on one-sided Japanese concessions on the “comfort women” issue and China’s unjustified demand for more apologies. They called for tightening ties to the United States, Australia, and others that highly valued the statement based on shared historical consciousness—seemingly the key to security.22 Yet Park was outmaneuvered by Abe and unable to keep resisting US pressure to mend relations. 

Abe appointed a commission to deliberate on what his statement should and should not say. After five months of deliberations and posting summaries on the prime minister’s website, it made its recommendations: “The contrast in the messaging between Japan’s prime minister and China’s president is instructive. No longer seeking quiet reconciliation with each other, Abe and Xi sought a global audience for their narrative on the war. […] The Abe statemen […] was a complex rendering of contrition and reflection, while showing that Abe placed priority on considering how his message would affect Japan’s diplomacy in the region. Xi tied his seventieth anniversary message to his vision of the ‘Chinese Dream.’ Xi spoke to Chinese aspirations to break free from the humiliations of colonialism and war in the twentieth century, pointing out that China’s victory against Japanese aggression ‘opened up bright prospects for the great renewal of the Chinese nation.’”23

Hosoya Yuichi reviewed two debates that had consumed Japan over the summer and suggested that sober discussion was now possible. One on the Abe Statement had fully committed Japan to universal values. More contentious was the debate over the security-related laws, and Hosoya found, after a revival of the Cold War ideological confrontation over national security, the issue had now been resolved despite vocal opposition.24 Together, these had a transformative effect. Hosoya praised Abe’s achievements but warned that more must be done to respect the spirit of internationalism and ensure that Japan occupies an honored place in international society, as stated in its Constitution. He posited two time-frames: (1) since 1989, when there had been an intensification of conflict over values, different from conflict over national interests, in the midst of globalization and the rise of non-state actors, forcing fundamental changes in national security policy; and (2) since 1945, as Japan struggled to recognize the main trends of the time, embracing internationalism, unlike pre-1945. Building on past shifts, Japan is advancing internationalization. 

Given technical changes in the nature of warfare, the rising role of values in alliances, and the multitude of US alliances and defense partnerships, many saw new laws as urgent for building Japan-US trust. For trust there must be mutual sacrifice. In the late 1990s, Japanese public opinion was not ready. The “arc of freedom and prosperity” theme in the mid-2000s also came before the public was ready. One problem was the split in the conservative camp between pro and anti-Americans, as the latter focused not only on security, but on economics and culture.25 The Abe administration’s greatest mission, it was suggested, is to overcome such views, which are linked to a lack of internationalism and to deep attitudes toward national character. Rather than stress the opposition of progressives to the new laws, some point to the split within the conservative camp centered on the distrust of globalism despite the fact that there is no alternative in today’s world.

After August 15, Abe could turn his attention to the timing of meetings with Xi and Putin in apparent expectations of breakthroughs in relations. In Yomiuri Shimbun of August 25, Abe’s delay in pursuing Putin due to Medvedev’s recent visit to Etorofu and decision not to go to Beijing on September 3 due to the anti-Japan contents of the occasion were interpreted as setbacks that could be overcome with renewed ties between leaders at international meetings this fall as well as diplomatic overtures in the wake of Yachi Shotaro’s trips to Beijing and Moscow in July. Yet, Sankei Shimbun two days earlier had warned that Medvedev’s island visit, Sino-Russian joint naval exercises near Vladivostok, and Putin’s impending visit to the anti-Japan war victory celebrations were indications of a new posture to Japan, already evident on May 9 when Putin had lumped Japanese militarism with Nazism and sung the same tune as China on historical issues. Building up its military on the islands, Russia sees the Okhotsk Sea as a base for its nuclear forces and as the gateway to opening the Arctic Ocean. No hope was expressed for overtures to Putin. Putin’s prominence at Xi’s parade drew commentaries on the right and the left that differences rooted in historical memory were working to solidify Sino-Russian relations in opposition to Japan.

The September 3 victory parade in Beijing brought criticism of China, Russia, and South Korea. Ignoring the US role in WWII, Xi Jinping was trying to exclude it from the Asian order. Stressing along with Russia the “anti-fascist” war victory, the event showcased how these countries mix history and current ambitions, linked to one-sided aggression in the East and South China seas and Ukraine. Some insisted that Park’s words suggested that on history Seoul leans to Beijing. Since Xi was showcasing military power, challenging the international order, and targeting today’s Japan, many expressed relief that Abe had chosen not to attend the ceremony.26

In 2015, polarization over history and security widened sharply. As Sheila Smith wrote, “Abe visited Washington in April, beginning a year of diplomacy designed to counter Chinese efforts to paint Japan as a revisionist power. In his address to a joint session of Congress, Abe spoke to the legacy of war with the United States: ‘Enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit.14 In May, Xi attended President Putin’s commemoration of the end of World War II in Moscow, lending his support not only to Putin’s effort to reframe Russia’s wartime experience,” but leading inexorably to his own, far-reaching September 3 historical assessment.

Abe anticipated becoming the “go-between” for Obama and Putin to work together despite US suspicions that he will actually serve as the “troublemaker” undermining the unity of the G7 countries. What was dividing Abe and Obama was a fundamental difference on geopolitics—Abe viewed China in a more negative light than Obama and obsessed with splitting Russia and China; and Obama viewed Russia in a more negative light and not thinking it possible to split them apart. Abe’s logic: was: (1) America could no longer fulfill the role of the world’s policeman; therefore, Japan’s national interest demands striving for a power balance through strengthened ties with other powers; (2) the Abe legacy was to achieve this breakthrough; (3) Putin emphasized Japan and is keen to turn Russia to the East as the only hope for its future; and (4) Putin was intent on balancing China and wants ties with Japan as the only great power in Asia that can serve this objective. Putin was not just interested in economic gains through Japanese investments in Siberia and the Russian Far East; he was seeking increased security for Russia.

Added to this picture was the claim that Japan’s search for autonomy from the time of Abe’s grandfather Kishi and Putin’s quest to make Russia a Eurasian power complement each other. Abe and Putin were narrowing their gap, ready to capitalize on shared interests and complementary identities when Ukraine interfered. Yet, relations were at an impasse, as Russia took a harder line on the islands, insisting that they are part of Russia as a result of WWII, followed by Medvedev visiting Etorofu. Not reacting to such moves as Japan’s leaders had in the past, Abe was going to Russia again, rather than Putin going to Japan.

It was becoming increasingly clear that China would not be amenable to tough sanctions on North Korea and the United States as well as South Korea were taking a tougher line on China. Russia was even more resistant, preparing to draw closer to North Korea despite its initial criticism of the nuclear test. As Sino-DPRK relations worsened, high officials of Russia met with North Koreans. It was noted that North Korean media mentioned Xi Jinping only ten times last year while Putin had received 150 mentions. Given Russia’s international isolation, its ties to North Korea gave it a presence in Northeast Asia, one article added, pointing to its economic interests as well.27

Kawashima Shin asked how should Japan respond to China after two and a half years of stagnation in relations when political and security ties were in limbo. He reported that in the spring of 2014 Chinese began to send messages that they sought an improvement in relations and that the Senkaku (Diaoyu) issue was not the main thing. Exchanges revived. Not going to Yasukuni another time, Abe made it easier to navigate the seventieth anniversary year in 2015. Including the four key words, which Huanqiu Shibao said were the test for Abe’s statement, leading to China not making a big protest. Meanwhile, Sino-US relations changed drastically, added Kawashima, over the South China Sea, but he concluded that, unlike Japan, which has a two-dimensional view of engagement or containment, the US position can be a mixture of the two, even on this sea.28

On November 26, Yomiuri presented Okamoto Yukio’s commentary on China-Japan relations and what the United States should do. In the face of China’s expansionism, he stressed the great importance of Japan joining with Europe, the United States, and other countries in Asia, especially India, where there is alarm about China and the bonds of democracy can be invoked.29 He noted that Japan has more soft power than China, while advocating more than a military alliance with the United States through deepening all-around relations. China is the key, and security ids first.

Four years after publishing a book on Asia’s security architecture, Jimbo Ken in the November issue of Toa discussed “networkization” of the US bilateral, hub and spokes system, which he saw advancing over this brief period, citing strengthening ties with allies—Japan, South Korea, and Australia; pointing to closer partner relationships with countries in Southeast Asia and India; and noting parallel advances in participation with ASEAN and other regional frameworks. Not only were strengthening US bilateral and multilateral ties highlighted, Jimbo mentioned also Japan’s expanding security cooperation with Australia and the Philippines, i.e., the spokes were becoming connected. 30

On December 31, Yomiuri Shimbun reviewed a remarkable year in managing history issues, culminating in the December 28 “comfort women” agreement with Seoul. If on December 22 a proposal was tabled to revisit the Tokyo Tribunal, putting history in the spotlight again, Abe drew a clear line against it, explaining that his 70-year statement put a period on historical consciousness for his generation, and the topic should be left to the next generation. The Abe statement was explained in the article as a response to concern about worsening relations not only with China and South Korea, but also with the United States, and to the insistence of the Komeito within the ruling coalition. It is credited with depriving China and South Korea of use of the “history card,” since Abe cited “keywords” from prior statements, while ending the need to apologize in the future.31 That Abe and Park met in November is treated as a mark of its success, as was the restrained response in August in Beijing and Seoul. On December 29, Sankei credited US pressure on Park too with leading to this deal, due to defense concerns related to North Korea and China, and it anticipated that missile defense versus North Korea would now be strengthened.32

The mood in Japan was unexpectedly hopeful as 2015 drew to an end and a new year began. Nervousness prevalent through much of 2015 had dissipated. Confident leadership, improved bilateral relations with the countries that matter most, and a mood of expectation was present.

Japan’s Foreign Policy Thinking in 2016

Questions left unanswered in 2013-15 seemed largely settled early in 2016. The relationship with the Obama administration was more secure, solidified by Obama’s firmness against maritime expansionism and his satisfaction with the 2015 Abe Statement and the 2015 “comfort women” agreement. Despite signs of renewed diplomacy with Abe after nearly three years of hostility, the relationship with China was set back again early in 2016 as it kept pressuring Japan in the East China Sea and warning it against becoming involved in the South China Sea. Japan-US-India ties were on the upswing. The ROK-Japan imbroglio appeared to be resolved. One big question mark lingered on Russia, given the US-Japan divide, but the overall direction of the Japan-US alliance was reset.

The driving force behind Abe’s successes was Xi Jinping’s aggressive policies. From 2013, Abe capitalized on them to win domestic support for reorganization of security, reinterpretation of the constitutional limitations, and revision of defense guidelines. Xi had broken the back of Japanese opposition to such moves. With some delay, Xi’s maritime recklessness drove Obama to forsake efforts to reach agreements, viewed with suspicion in Japan. Not only did Xi go too far in trying to reach a deal on a G2 as a “new type of major power relations,” he alarmed the US in the South China Sea, reflected in Obama committing to the defense of the Senkakus in the East China Sea. Xi served Abe’s regional outreach too, e.g., by threatening India over territorial issues. Also, he lost Park Geun-hye, despite her persistent efforts, especially in early 2016 by not coordinating over North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile tests. If Xi’s unilateral moves toward Russia, e.g., declaring the Silk Road Economic Belt through Central Asia, encouraged Abe to try to drive a wedge between the two, Putin ‘s decision to carve up Ukraine and then cozy up to China meant that Abe misjudged China’s impact there, as he did in vainly seeking diplomacy with Kim Jong-un over the abductions issue as a starter for inserting Japan into the region’s intractable impasse.

In the late winter of 2016, the Japanese mainstream was pleased with US foreign policy, if nervous about campaign rhetoric: reassured about triangularity opposed to North Korea, but still trying to keep dialogue with the North alive for the sake of the abductions issue; exceedingly quiet on Abe’s plan to meet with Putin in Sochi in early May; and disappointed that hopes for improving ties with China were clearly dashed by the Chinese side. The biggest change was more positive coverage of South Korea, views of which noticeably improved, despite the lack of South Korean public support for the December agreement. A shared security outlook in the face of the North’s threat and new signs of China’s ambivalence raised hope for a further breakthrough after the December accord.

An article in Toa in February and another in Chuo Koron in March reflected broad satisfaction with the agreement in elite circles. The former cited Yachi Shotaro’s key role in reaching the December deal, indicating its strategic significance, including the commitment not to criticize each other in international society, at the United Nations, and in meetings with US leaders. The two sides had approached each other with the big picture in mind, boding well for their future relations; Seoul would no longer be “moving the goal posts.”  The Toa article also found little of concern in the way the Korean public reacted, since Park’s level of support had not fallen by much and the North Korean nuclear test had refocused attention on strategic cooperation. Chuo Koron also saw this as a strategic decision, highlighting the US role, linking it to a downturn in ROK-Chinese relations, and regarding it as an indicator of realities in the region. Abe’s satisfaction of US concerns in April and August 2015 left Park in a bind, but she had swallowed her pride and showed that South Korea is part of a team, argued Kimura Kan and Kawashima Shin in this journal, while recognizing that even if the ball was now in the Korean court, it would eventually be back om Japan’s side of the court.

In the first three months of 2016, North Korea played a vital role in persuading the Japanese media that Japan-ROK relations and the international community under US leadership including both allies are advancing well. In the aftermath of North Korea’s nuclear and later long-range missile test, remarks centered on the response of four other states, beginning with the United States. In response to Obama’s State of the Union speech, Sankei expressed disappointment that he had allowed a power vacuum to form, relied on halfway measures, and failed to respond to a worsening situation marked by the polarization of Asia. Instead of giving Obama credit for the successful Japan-ROK agreement, the sustained pressure being applied to China for tough sanctions against North Korea, and recent shows of force in the South China Sea, he was accused of not facing threats directly in Sankei of January 27. On the progressive side, there was praise that Obama did not see his country as the world’s policeman and that he was recognizing rising world multipolarity. This was not, however, an endorsement of his “rebalance to Asia” by Japan’s left.

Behind the scenes trade-offs between Washington and Beijing to secure the UN agreement after two months on tougher sanctions. In accord with North Korea’s wishes, it noted on March 14, China sought US cooperation in moving from an armistice to a peace agreement. Sankei saw this strategic barter as a way to move toward removal of US forces in South Korea in return for a nuclear freeze, putting South Korea in light of Park’s hard line in a tough position. An adjacent article reported on a Chinese paper putting the responsibility on Washington and Seoul to pursue Pyongyang. Behind the image of great power unanimity on sanctions, divisions were pronounced. On February 13, the Japanese government was informed by Pyongyang that it had completely stopped the investigation into abductees, a process that it had kept postponing, most recently in July 2015. During the many weeks when China had not agreed to tough new sanctions, the Japanese media posted many articles on its reluctance to do so, on its continued supply of goods and money to North Korea, and on its acceptance of North Korean labor earning hard currency for the regime. Yomiuri on February 20 and 23 gave details on China’s ties to the North, concluding that the containment of North Korea was incomplete and the Dandong area on the border was throbbing with traffic and money laundering at a time when a new bridge expected to open would quadruple the transport capacity. Doubts about China’s enforcement efforts continued after the UN resolution had passed, given the prevailing view of China as a challenger to the status quo.

Abe was building on what many Japanese see as momentum from a remarkably successful year in foreign policy in 2015. Apart from diplomacy with North Korea, he had no setbacks and a string of achievements, as reported in the Japanese media. Finally, Japanese prepared to press for two big security objectives: to enlist trilateralism on behalf of maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea clearly at the expense of China and to consummate Abe’s wooing of Putin. Skeptics in Japan doubted two key elements of Abe’s strategy: that Russia would recognize Japan’s sovereignty over even two islands, and that Japan could distance Russia from China.  Hopes were not diminished by skepticism, however, in this period of rising expectations for Abe’s prospects.

An article co-authored by Kitaoka Shinichi referred to security and historical consciousness as Japan’s “Achilles heel,” while it was blessed with low unemployment, high orderliness, and a positive image abroad. Yet, the article credited Abe with important progress on its two weaknesses, noting the key advisory role Kitaoka played. As president of JICA—the Japan International Cooperation Agency—his attention was turning to additional ways Japan can make a proactive contribution to peace as a great power able to affect the destiny of the world. After decreasing for 16 years, its ODA budget rose 1.8 percent, and it is poised to do much more.33

Meanwhile, Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2016 was faulted as weak on China. The US enforcement of freedom of navigation was deemed inadequate. Some saw a widening perception gap with Japan despite new defense guidelines, warning of US isolationism after 10 years at war. Frustrations that Washington was not doing more to solve problems in the South China Sea, North Korea, and the military rise of China casted a shadow on the otherwise upbeat mood in Japan during much of 2016.

When Park’s situation worsened, newspapers on November 30 warned that the opposition was using Park’s cooperation with Japan against her—emotional responses to both the “comfort women” and GSOMIA deals were mounting. After years of blaming Park for deterioration of Japan-ROK relations, suddenly the most worrisome prospect was her departure from office. The fact that Sino-ROK relations were collapsing—with the decision on THAAD deployment the “honeymoon” had been shattered—was welcomed in Japan, after exaggerating their closeness, but high hopes gave way to alarm as Park lost support and the opposition was poised to win.

There was early hope that a thaw would begin between Japan and China, leading to a summit.  Xi had agree to meet Abe when Abe visited Beijing for the APEC meetings in November 2014, but to April 2016 relations just drifted downward. Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio made an official visit to China in April 2016, after a four-year hiatus, but Foreign Minister Wang Yi was not welcoming, setting preconditions for improving ties, such as to stop spreading the “China threat” theory. Given Chinese attacks on Japan for its history, trust was not within reach. For Japan there was no willingness to pull back on its South China Sea policy or new relationship with India, as demanded.

The flicker of hope for cooling tensions was hard to keep alive. Talks of vice foreign ministers on February 29 had not advanced relations after the November 2015 meeting between Abe and Li Keqiang had set some plans for this year.34 In regard to sanctions on North Korea, Foreign Minister Kishida had repeatedly tried to call Foreign Minister Wang Yi to no avail, plans for high-level economic dialogue and for a mechanism for air and sea contacts were not being realized, and China’s distrust over Japan’s role in the South China Sea had deepened. Abe could not arrange a meeting with Xi at the Washington nuclear summit, and no time had yet been set for the China-Japan-Korean trilateral in Japan due in 2016. With the TPP, China’s hegemonic economic actions would be countered, some said, especially as more ASEAN states are added to TPP connected to Japan’s trade policy becoming more active. A media clash saw those with hope for persuading China lose ground to calls for more efforts to oppose its real intentions.

Michishita Narushige reviewed the Japanese debate on China’s security intentions, noting that issues surrounding the South China Sea receive the most attention, but the Ministry of Defense also emphasized the East China Sea and takes very seriously dangerous military actions, while also raising concern about Cross-strait conflict. Public opinion toward China improved some in the past year, not expecting deterioration or foreseeing more of the same prevailed over optimism.35

From Abe’s summit with Putin in Sochi in May through his visit to Vladivostok at the Eastern Economic Forum, hopes peaked for a breakthrough in Japan-Russia relations. They were accompanied by talk that China was isolating itself in its diplomatic war with the United States and Japan, now spreading to South Korea and Southeast Asia.36 Hosting what was deemed a renewed G7, after its eclipse by the G20, Tokyo was confident it had walked a delicate tightrope between Russia, sanctioned by the group, and the United States, which had tried to dissuade Abe from his wooing of Putin. It was suggested that Abe had led in reviving the G7, in opposing China in the South China Sea, and in diplomatic outreach to Russia.37 No longer avoiding “collective defense,” it was becoming a big contributor to international society. Even China had shifted to agree to a summit and then to a Japan-China-ROK trilateral meeting in Japan in the fall. In light of Trump’s presidential bid and the perceived US retreat from Asia, Japan was stepping up successfully was the key message.38

By 2016, the aggressive direction of Chinese foreign policy since 2009, accelerated under Xi Jinping, was viewed as stepped up another notch, using economic power in bilateral relations as against South Korea over Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and undermining multilateral diplomacy as in new efforts to split ASEAN after the arbitration court’s verdict in favor of the Philippines and against China.39 The May inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen was seen as leading to new Chinese pressure and further Japan-US cooperation to support Taiwan.40 In September, China’s hosting of the G20 drew new warnings: China’s aim is to challenge the US-led international order, and in his last chance Obama had failed to win China’s cooperation or get Xi to abide by his 2015 promise not to militarize the South China Sea, despite success on a climate accord. Optimism was missing, too, in coverage of economic ties with China, seen as not in acting in accord with past assurances. A dismal picture emerged of China punishing South Korea over THAAD, drawing closer to North Korea and splitting the UN response to it, and refusing to accept the July court decision over the South China Sea.

Newspapers on the right and left warned of China’s ties to North Korea: sanctions against North Korea had holes such as limits on workers being sent abroad. North Korean was receiving more foreign currency from sending fisherman to work on the boats of other countries and letting Chinese boats fish in its waters; and there and limiting coal export revenues to $400 million means little when China adds to its imports in defiance of a March UN resolution. China was blamed for holes in the March sanctions resolution and the delay from September for the Security Council to approve a new resolution.41 Alarm over China reinforced existing doubts.

The rosy expectations of the summer of 2016 collapsed in three shocks at year end: the Trump shock, with the election of a man opposed to free trade, globalization, alliance reassurances, and diplomacy as Japan had known it; the Putin shock, when it became clear that Russia was stringing Japan along and had no intention of cutting a deal, although Abe refused to acknowledge the bad news and renewed his pursuit with positive spin; and the Park shock, as her government beset by scandal was collapsing and taking with it a year of positive claims of Abe’s success with Seoul.

A tendency to stick to a narrower focus—as on the Northern Territories, “comfort women,” and personal ties with the US president—obscured the bigger geopolitical stakes that some worried were now turning against Japan, given troubled relations with China and North Korea, to the point that armed conflict could occur, newly growing concerns about Southeast Asian partners, and now the three shocks—one after another—within just a few weeks of each other. Geopolitics was finally drawing more attention, as Japanese felt cornered after becoming overconfident in 2016.

The state of US-Japan relations was of some concern before Trump took office, Tensions over South Korea had been an irritant for years, but even as they faded in 2016, a divide over Russia remained, Japanese still saw the US as too trusting of China, and failure over North Korea left Japanese more inclined to dialogue.42 Yet the Trump shock, accompanied by the US pullout from TPP, raised the greatest alarm because so much is riding on this alliance for Japan. Just as some took notice of a shift in US policy from strategic patience to more unilateral sanctions and talk of a preemptive strike, along with lower expectations for China’s cooperation,43 Trump loomed large.

Some wrote of the “Trump risk,” focusing on the Sino-US-Russian triangle and warning that use of force to change the global order must not be allowed and expressing concern about developments in all three states. They said that Trump lacks the consciousness of how the US alliances have served as the backbone of the postwar order, his isolationism and unpredictability are sources of risk in 2017, and he lacks a vision of stability in the Asia-Pacific region and will deal with China from tradeoff principles. There are almost no diplomatic specialists in his appointees. Warning that mainstream Japan is nervous about Trump’s arrival and that Abe’s attempts to find reassurance in a rushed November visit had succumbed to deepening doubt in December with no relief in sight.44

The Putin shock was tempered by government-led efforts to deny it, but the very fact of looking the other way in 2013-16 compounded the realization that Russia’s views of bilateral history, its military build-up on the islands and provocations, and Putin’s increasing closeness to Xi Jinping were at odds with Japanese images and showed no regard for forging a favorable environment for a breakthrough. As Russians joined China’s “history war” against Japan centered on memories of 1945 and stressed the US role in keeping Tokyo and Moscow apart since that time, Japanese did not push back to any degree, as if many were okay with the argument that a new accord would prove Japan’s resolve to distance itself from its ally. When hopes faded, the gates were opened for broader consideration of Russia in historical and geopolitical context. Abe and the Kantei had painted a misleading picture of what was transpiring and counted on the Japanese media to transmit it without questioning it vigorously. Recriminations against Putin’s deceit were growing.45

The upbeat mood of summer and early fall turned sober also due to concern that a shift in Seoul would undermine the December 2015 agreement, that Park was too weak at home to go to Japan for a year-end China-Japan-ROK trilateral summit, that new signs of Japan-US-ROK security trilateralism were doomed, and that ROK policy toward North Korea would become problematic under a new president. As Park was rendered helpless and the Korean people seemed against Japan, there was no expectation of continuity. Worse still was the fear that Abe’s framework for containing China was collapsing—from the US to Russia to South Korea to the Philippines, things looked grimmer. Yet, none of these dark clouds should take away from Abe’s record of accomplishment to date.

In four years Abe had achieved a remarkable turnaround for a country known as passive and highly dependent on its one ally. Japan was now the champion of pragmatism based on realistic threat perceptions. With the US future in unprecedented doubt, Abe was the steady anchor set to keep it on course. As China bullied Asian neighbors, Abe rallied them behind a concerted response. With Russia leaning ever closer to China, Abe reversed Japan’s policy to offer a compromise on their territorial dispute that Putin earlier had seemed to approve with hopes for multipolarity. Japan was no longer a free rider; it was a leader in collective defense and in calls for universal values. If revisionist talk had cast a dark shadow, Abe had cut a deal with South Korea, skillfully finessed the 70th anniversary statement, and exchanged visits with Obama to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor. With skilled architects of strategic thinking such as Yachi Shotaro and Kitaoka Shinichi, Abe claimed the mantle of statesman, leaving on the margins with help from Obama his revisionist inclinations.



1. Park Cheol Hee, “South Korea and Japan,” in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies, Asia’s Uncertain Future (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute, 2013), p. 43.

2. Kitaoka Shinichi, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 22, 2013.

3. Soeya Yoshihide, “China and International Law/Norms: A Japanese Perspective,” The Asan Forum, November 22, 2013.

4. Yoron Chosa, November 2013.

5. Nishihara Masashi, Sankei Shimbun, October 7, 2013.

6. Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2, 2013.

7. Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2014.

8. Glen Fukushima, The Asan Forum, February 5, 2015.

9. Gilbert Rozman “A National Identity Approach to Japan’s Late 2013 Foreign Policy Thinking,” in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Asia’s Alliance Triangle: US-Japan-South Korea Relations at a Tumultuous Time (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 219-32.

10. Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2014.

11. Yomiuri Shimbun, April 23, 2014.

12. Sue Mi Terry, “South Korea-Japan-U.S. Relations,” in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies, Asia’s Slippery Slope (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute, 2014), p. 19.

13. Nishihara Masashi, Sankei Shimbun, October 3, 2014.

14. Sankei Shimbun, November 12, 2014.

15. Kawashima Shin, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2014.

16. Yabunaka Mitoji, Bungei Shinju, July 2014.

17. Mainichi Shimbun, November 12, 2014.

18. James Przytup and Yuki Tatsumi, The Asan Forum.

19. Yomiuri Shimbun, February 19, 2015.

20. Kitaoka Shinichi, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 7, 2015.

21. Sankei Shimbun, March 21, 2015.

22. Yomiuri Shimbun, August 16, 2015

23. Sheila Smith, The Asan Forum, April 29, 2016.

23. Yomiuri Shimbun, October 4, 2015.

25. Miura Ruri, Seiron, October 2015.

26. Yomiuri Shimbun, September 4, 2015.

27. Sankei Shimbun, January 8, 2015.

28. Kawashima Shin, Toa, No. 1, 2016.

29. Okamoto Yukio, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 26, 2015.

30. Jimbo Ken, Toa, November 2015.

31. Yomiuri Shimbun, December 31, 2015.

32. Sankei Shimbun, December 29, 2015.

33. Yamazaki Masakazu and Kitaoka Shinichi, Chuo Koron, March 2016.

34. Asahi Shimbun, March 1, 2016.

35. Michishita Narushige “Deciphering China’s Security Intentions in Northeast Asia: Deciphering the Japanese Debate,” in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies, Rethinking Asia in Transition (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute, 2014), p. 54.

36. Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2021.

37. Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2016.

38. Hosoya Yuichi, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2016.

39. Suwa Kazuyuki, Toa, No. 6, 2016.

39. Yomiuri Shimbun, May 21, 2016.

41. Tokyo Shimbun, December 2, 2016; Sankei Shimbun, December 2, 2016, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 2, 2016.

42. Yomiuri Shimbun, December 21, 2016.

43. Park Cheolhee, Tokyo Shimbun, October 9, 2016.

44. Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16, 2017.

45. Yukan Fuji, November 25, 2016.

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