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Abe Shinzo's influence on China-Japan relations: views from Beijing
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has died after being fatally shot last Friday by a gunman during a speech in the western Japanese city of Nara when campaigning for Sunday's upper house election.
In a condolence message to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that Abe made efforts to improve China-Japan relations during his time in office and contributed positively to this endeavor. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also made an evaluation of what Abe had done for the improvement of China-Japan relations.
On Sunday, Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper under the People's Daily, published an opinion piece by Wang Wen, a professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, explaining the Chinese people’s reaction to Abe’s death.
Today's GRR newsletter offers you a translation of several interviews and articles in which some Chinese scholars and experts expressed their views on Abe's contributions as well as some negative influences on China-Japan relations, and how the relations tend to develop after the sudden incident.
The translation was contributed by Ginger River's colleague, Ji Xiaodong, who is based in Beijing and covers China's political and cultural news. See a previous post by Xiaodong on Chinese experts' view on Blinken's China speech, which is among the most popular pieces on GRR.
The following is part of several experts' interviews for Global Times. The interview was posted on Wechat on Friday.
Lu Hao, deputy director of the integrated strategy research office under the Institute of Japanese studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
Lu: Abe had a significant impact on Japanese history. He is Japan’s longest-serving prime minister to date, having served in this position (for a second time) from 2012 to 2020. Japan’s economy witnessed a boom during this period - at one point, the country saw its economy grow for 71 consecutive months. It is, however, worth noting that the average annual growth rate of the Japanese economy during this time was only 1.2 percent. Although "Abenomics" injected some prosperity into the Japanese economy, it also limited the leeway of Japan's fiscal and financial policy maneuvers.
In the field of politics and security, the progress made by the Abe administration in pushing for constitutional amendment, striving for "security independence" and strengthening national defense capability is almost unprecedented since the end of WWII, which will, to a large extent, give more dynamism to Japan's future national strategy.
Abe's death will obviously have a ripple effect on Japan's domestic political circles, but it does not appear likely to have a direct impact on Japan's national trajectory or even the regional situation.
Wang Jian, researcher at the CASS
Wang: Abe's attitude towards China experienced a major retrogression after his resignation (in 2020). We did not see this kind of policy turnaround or walk-backs with former Japanese prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka, Masayoshi Ohira or Yasuhiro Nakasone when they stepped in or out of office, so Abe's sudden change after his resignation shows a lack of integrity in his political disposition.
In particular, a series of Taiwan-related erroneous remarks made by Abe after he stepped down have almost completely overturned his previous political remarks on China, especially during the turnaround period of China-Japan relations. Therefore, the Chinese people's evaluation of Abe today will be very complicated.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida already has a relatively mature set of foreign policies and plans for China. Abe's death will have little impact on Japan-China ties or relations between Japan and the United States. Abe did wield enormous influence in Japanese politics, and major changes are likely to take place within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which could potentially lead to factional splits and infighting, but not enough to threaten the ruling stability of the Japanese government.
From the standpoint of governance, it is undoubtedly more favorable to the Kishida administration without the political shackles and constraints imposed by Abe.
Liu Qingbin, visiting professor pf Huaqiao University and expert on Japanese issues
Liu: Abe had two golden opportunities to improve relations with China while in office. The first such opportunity arose in November 2014 when Abe, the then-Japanese Prime Minister, came to China to attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting. That was his first China visit since taking office again in December 2012. China and Japan had not held such high-level summits of their leaders in over two and a half years.
And the second gold opportunity came in October 2018, during Abe’s first official visit to China. That was the first official visit to China by a Japanese prime minister in seven years. Abe had said before the visit that he hoped to “elevate the relations between our two countries to a new stage.”
“This year marks the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. With an eye on this anniversary, both countries have made steady efforts together to improve our relations. Furthermore, this is the first official visit by a Japanese prime minister to China in seven years and, through this visit, I hope to elevate the relations between our two countries to a new stage.” — Abe Shinzo, October, 2018
As a matter of fact, the leaders of China and Japan did have good interactions. Abe has publicly said that Japan would "properly respond to" individual cooperation programs related to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, and that he could be open to joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These words and deeds have given Japan-China relations a chance to turn around. It is undeniable that Abe has made efforts and contributions to improving bilateral relations.
Whatever Shinzo Abe truly believed, he had been an indispensable figure in Japanese politics since the turn of the century.
The following is part of an article by Chen Yan, executive director of the Japanese Enterprises (China) Research Institute. The article was posted on the Wechat account of Guancha.cn on Saturday.
Chen Yan, executive director of the Japanese Enterprises (China) Research Institute
Chen: In contrast to his "ice-thawing" trip to China just 10 days after taking office for the first time in 2006, Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in 2013, immediately after returning to office in 2012, caused a long freeze in Japan-China relations during his second term.
There had long been "pro-Taiwan factions" and "pro-China factions" within the LDP. The "Seiwaken," a political faction of the LDP that Abe joined and later led, has always regarded itself as "pro-Taiwan," using Taiwan as a trump card in its dealings with China and bolstering Japan's own military power by inflating the Taiwan Strait crisis.
Abe was the one who talked the most about a “台湾有事” (台湾战事) "Taiwan emergency." He had the most in-depth understanding of Europe's and the United States' strategic intentions on issues such as the Taiwan question, Japan's military expansion and war preparations, and Japan's direct representation of the United States' and Europe's forces in Asia to contain China, and he boasted the strongest intention to cooperate with them while also being at the forefront of confrontation with China.
With Abe's departure from Japanese politics, the "Seiwaken" is expected to recede within the LDP following the upper house election on July 10, reducing to a fraction that will be hard to produce another prime minister.
Japan will have little chance of increasing exports to the United States and Europe in the coming years, and it is nearly impossible for it to receive a higher investment return ratio from countries other than China. China, Russia, North Korea, and other neighbors are unlikely to launch a full-fledged war against Japan in order to seize territory from it. As a result, increasing Japan's military budget will only add to its financial burden and make economic recovery more difficult.
Abe has no off-springs. He inherited the political heritage of his father, who died suddenly at the age of 67. Coincidentally, Abe himself passed away at the age of 67 too, but this time, there is no one to inherit his political turf.
Within the LDP, Abe has done little to groom a successor. There may be a few people who could follow Abe's path in terms of his political ideology, but they don’t possess the quality to be an epoch-making conservative politician. As a result, the "China threat" theory is likely to gradually lose favor with politicians in Japan and enter the stage of decline.
Even if Abe had survived last week’s attack, he would have acted too on the restoration of Japan-China ties, because the heyday of conservative politics and economics has already passed.
The following is part of an article by Liu Jiangyong, professor at the Department of International Relations of Tsinghua University. The article was from pit.ifeng.com and posted on the Wechat account of ifeng.com on Saturday.
Liu Jiangyong, professor at the Department of International Relations of Tsinghua University
Liu: The impact of Abe’s sudden death on Japan-China relations remains to be seen, and there should be no obvious impact in the short term. The current Kishida administration are hand in glove with Abe’s when it comes to Japan-China relations, including on the Diaoyu Islands issue, the Taiwan question, the East China Sea issue and the South China Sea issue, only to a different degree, which is difficult to change.
But from a mid- and long-term perspective, the assassination of Abe could mean more governance independence for the Kishida administration.
For considerable time, Japan's political circles had been run by the "Abe-Aso system," that is, under the control of Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, whose two factions within the LDP largely decided who could be elected president of the LDP and Prime Minister of Japan, as well as the direction of Japan's national strategy.
If such a political structure, which had played a decisive role for more than 10 years in the pivot of Japanese political power and the direction of national policy, is to disintegrate or come to the end, it should be in favor of the policy autonomy of subsequent Japanese leaders.
The Kishida administration may well continue its established foreign strategy, such as the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” policy as well as its current policy towards China. However, there are many realistic contradictions in Japanese society now, and the people are most concerned with improving their lives, not constitutional revision or military expansion. If such contradictions could force the Japanese government to clarify the right direction for Japan's future development, to make good relations with its Asian neighbors, and to focus on solving domestic economic and social problems, Japan may be able to get rid of its social mayhem and economic downturn manifested in the last 10 years. And this will contribute to the Japanese economy, the Chinese economy, and the economy of Northeast Asia and the world economy as a whole.
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