Abe, Japan alone

MTC provides a good roundup of the political environment following the resignation of Mr. Endo, the third MAFF minister to leave office since Prime Minister Abe’s inauguration.

He notes that both Mainichi and Nikkei are reporting that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano is more or less in charge of the government — although their Beatles reference of choice to describe Mr. Abe is “Nowhere Man” (as opposed to mine, “The Fool on the Hill”). This is not altogether surprising, and this latest scandal simply reinforces the new dynamic that came with the new cabinet. By selecting senior politicians with serious bona fides, there was no way Mr. Abe’s power would not be diminished in some way. Now, with the honeymoon over, ever more power will be concentrated in the hands of Yosano, Aso, and company, who will attempt to save not only the Abe government but the LDP as a government party.

I wonder, though, if the key to Mr. Abe’s demise might lie in the rumored agreement between the US and North Korea — as of yet unconfirmed by the State Department, but not denied either.

No matter how bad things have gotten for Mr. Abe, he has always been able to claim that he has held the line on North Korea, refusing to provide energy support for Pyongyang as long as the abductions issue remains unresolved. He has pocketed President Bush’s repeated assurances that he cares about the fate of the abductees, clung to them as a talisman in the face of evidence that the US is hungry for an agreement, with or without resolution of the abductions issue. If there is truth to the reports that the US has agreed to lift sanctions and remove North Korea form the terror list, and if there is no progress at the forthcoming Japan-DPRK working group, then there is a looming crisis in the US-Japan relationship, because as Yomiuri argues today, no resolution in the Japan-DPRK talks will mean that Japan’s only choice “is to demand to the US that it not lift the designation [as a terror-sponsoring nation].”

Would the US walk away from the deal in the face of Japanese demands? If it doesn’t, it might be enough to alienate Mr. Abe from his right-wing supporters as punishment for his inability to deliver US support on North Korea. Where would that leave the prime minister? And where would it leave the US-Japan relationship? And where would it leave Japan in the region?

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