Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

How can one root for Abe to win the poll

By Tom Plate (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-21 08:14

In the United States we are looking at the election (carefully, attentively, worryingly) for two main reasons.

The first is: As the US "pivots" its foreign policy and defense deployment toward Asia and edges away from its preoccupations with Europe and the Middle East (but is such possible), it has no wish to slip on its divot and fall on its face. And the challenge of constructing better relations with China is crucial. This is now America's most important bilateral relationship in Asia - no longer is it with Japan, as important as Tokyo remains from the American perspective.

And so US President Barack Obama looked very good indeed in handshaking the beginning of a bilateral climate control understanding with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Japan should consider what a mistake it would be in its relations with the US to be the seeming spoiler of any happy ending in the Sino-US relationship.

All nations must do more. But the way Abe's brain seems to be wired, you are often worrying about a short fuse blowing.

The second reason for intense interest in the snap election next month is simply that many Americans care about (and indeed some of us adore) Japan. And this can also prove the case with some Chinese, who find the archipelago country deeply interesting and enormously cultivated.

The fact of the matter is that the world's third-largest economy and its second need to get along much, much better if Asia is to continue to evolve without the colossal setback of war.

These nagging worries explain why it is hard to root for Abe to win reaffirmation. There sometimes seems a scary touch of a Dr Strangelove in this otherwise well-educated man. Given that, maybe in fact a colorless, ineffectual septuagenarian successor would be preferable after all. Ineptitude and torpor have their merits if the alternative is mainly macho aggressiveness and a get-even chip on the shoulder.

In East Asia these days, there is little reward in major risk-taking. So perhaps a boring, do-little prime minister or Japan would be the better ticket - even though it does sell this brilliant nation and its people very considerably short. So what would be new?

The author is a distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.

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