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Abe’s Diplomatic Agenda

by Sheila A. Smith
August 14, 2013

Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inspects the honour guard during the state welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2013 Visiting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe inspects the honor guard during the state welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur July 25, 2013 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

Now that the Upper House election is over, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition has control over both houses in parliament, many expect Abe to begin addressing the difficult domestic policy issues on his agenda. In an article I published yesterday for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, I point out that Abe’s foreign policy choices will also greatly affect Japan’s future, particularly when it comes to how he manages three critical relationships: China, South Korea, and the United States. The first two will require Abe to address issues of deep historical distrust, while the last will test Abe’s ability to move forward long-overdue conversations on Japan-U.S. military cooperation.

Beyond these three relationships, Abe has also made important visits this year to Southeast Asia, Russia, and the Middle East. While much of what Abe has done in his travels is to argue that “Japan is Back,” he has also pursued economic deals that stress his administration’s interest in pursuing energy and investment opportunities abroad.  Indeed, as Bloomberg points out, much of Abe’s efforts to stimulate economic growth at home will have positive effects on some of Japan’s neighbors, especially in Southeast Asia, and inject a bit more competition into its relations with its commercial rivals, such as South Korea. The prospect of a Japanese economic recovery has attracted considerable interest, however, and Abe’s economic focus resonates deeply with many in the region who are more than happy to see Tokyo actively seeking to breathe new life into the effort to sustain and expand the economic performance of the Asia-Pacific. While there are certainly concerns in Northeast Asia about Prime Minister Abe’s geopolitical ambitions, I argue that his diplomatic vision to date looks more like a return to Japan’s much vaunted economic diplomacy. You can read my article here.

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