Abe on the Beeb

The BBC interviewed Prime Minister Abe (transcript here) on foreign policy. Nothing especially new here, but it offers an excellent picture of Japan’s foreign policy approach in light of China’s rise. Notice how Abe uses the language of international responsibility — Japan is not only concerned about the direct threat posed by North Korea, it is concerned about interrelated international problems, and wishes to contribute to solving them. The hope is, of course, that Japan can contrast itself with China: “We’re a responsible stakeholder in the international system, they’re the unpredictable power that seeks to overturn the status quo.”
Note also the strong emphasis on the abduction issue. As I’ve noted before, too much emphasis on the abduction issue risks isolating Japan from other regional powers, and, moreover, risks painting the Abe Cabinet into a corner in terms of its relations with the electorate. Call too much attention to an issue and the voters may actually expect you to deliver, which could lead Abe to opt for tactics that might further isolate it in the region. See below for an illustration of how the government has inflamed Japanese sentiments on the abductions issue. Ultimately, calling out North Korea on abductions is the proper step morally, but a dreadful tactical move for Tokyo. The more that Tokyo can shunt this issue to the UN and away from negotiations on the nuclear problem, the better for Japan.

The picture to the left is a government poster found in train stations calling attention to North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens. A shoe on a beach — effective, no? (Several citizens were reportedly snatched from beaches on the Sea of Japan coast.)

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