Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Abe's friends lend him wrong ideas

By Kwan Weng Kin (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-11 07:31

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is receiving flak all round, a situation made worse by friends and like-minded people that he has recruited to push his nationalist right-wing agenda.

Of particular note are Seiichi Eto, one of several special advisers to the prime minister, and Koichi Hagiuda. The latter is also a special adviser to Abe but in his capacity as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

These two men have never held Cabinet positions. But they share Abe's nationalistic views, and are said to have the ear of the prime minister. Eto and Hagiuda were believed to have talked Abe into praying at the controversial Yasukuni shrine last year. And it was Eto that Abe dispatched to Washington last November to seek the United States government's understanding for his Yasukuni visit.

Despite negative feedback from Washington, Abe visited Yasukuni on Dec 26, drawing an immediate reaction of "disappointment" from the US embassy. In February, in a YouTube video rebuking Washington, Eto said: "Why doesn't the US treat its ally Japan better? We are the ones who are disappointed." The government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, rushed to explain that Eto was only voicing a "personal opinion".

However, with an April state visit by US President Barack Obama in the works, the offending video was quickly removed and Eto was made to retract his remarks. But he had already done his job of signaling to Abe's right-wing constituency that the Japanese leader couldn't care less what Washington thought.

Last month, Abe vowed to honor the landmark 1993 Kono Statement acknowledging Japan's forcible use of "comfort women" sexual slaves in World War II, including Korean women. This was to persuade Korean President Park Geun Hye to agree to a trilateral summit at The Hague, along with Obama.

But on the weekend before the summit, Hagiuda upset Seoul by declaring that if a review of the "comfort women" issue threw up fresh evidence, the government should consider rewriting the 1993 Statement. Government spokesman Suga quickly took Hagiuda to task. But was Hagiuda, like Eto, also speaking the prime minister's mind?

Highly likely, say critics, as Abe had long talked about issuing his own statement in August 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Abe is using his aides to speak to the country's nationalist fringe when he himself cannot do so for political reasons.

Unlike his first stint as prime minister in 2006-2007, when he surrounded himself with friends in the Cabinet, this time, Abe has clearly placed people who share his ideology in positions where they are more effective in pushing his agenda. But they are also proving to be a liability.

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