In an essay for the Nikkei Asian Review, I argued that one of Abe’s most important legacies is as Japan’s most “globalist” prime minister ever.
Abe was repeatedly willing to spend political capital on policies that opened Japan to international trade and capital. Over his nearly eight years in power, he first overcame resistance from within his own LDP to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, to bring Japan into the negotiations, instantly elevating the bloc into a pact that would bring together two of the Asia-Pacific’s largest economies.
Meanwhile, Abe came to recognize that as Japan’s labor force shrank, it had no choice but to rely on foreign labor across the economy. His embrace was gradual, starting with reforming and expanding a “technical intern training program” that was found to be rife with abuse. Then, he decided to roll out a new work visa in 2018 that would all but amount to a formal guest worker program, allowing workers in designated sectors — those experiencing especially acute labor shortages due to the booming economy — and with certain skills the ability to work in Japan for up to five years.
To be sure, Abe did not embrace globalization out of an ideological commitment to free markets or neoliberalism. Rather, his embrace was the result of a coldblooded realpolitik: with its population shrinking, Japan had no choice but to open new markets for its businesses, tap new sources of labor, and find new sources of consumption and investment within Japan itself.
Read the rest here.