The regular session of the National Diet, which had been hard-pressed to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, came to a close on June 17. Radical changes to international relations, brought on by the pandemic, took place during the term, and there is an undeniable possibility of a second coronavirus wave in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now enters his last 15 months in office against this backdrop. What are his goals, and how does he plan to achieve them?
When he was asked about his plans recently, the Prime Minister responded: “Politics is about doing one’s best under the given circumstances. Even though I have just over a year left in office, I will certainly not give up on amending the Constitution. I have nothing to lose, because I have only a year left.”
Going for Constitutional Reform
In the realm of politics, certain things cannot be achieved even with one’s best efforts. Prime Minister Abe, however, is determined to amend the Constitution so that it at least clearly mentions the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
When Abe became the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history in November 2019, he said, “There are many issues that need to be tackled before my term ends, including the abduction issue, the Kuril Islands dispute, and deflation. But, among them, only revision of the Constitution is a purely domestic matter.”
The subsequent coronavirus pandemic became a significant impediment to diplomatic negotiations. It hit the global economy harder than the Lehman shock. Even though the Nikkei stock average has remained high, it has undoubtedly been a blow to Abenomics, and the Prime Minister’s growth strategy will need to be revised.
“It’s a great shame that inbound tourism has ceased, but the damage to the tourism industry is global,” Abe recounted.
Making Opportunities to Resolve the Abductions
It seems that the pandemic has pushed his goals even further away, as he puts it. This is especially true for issues involving other countries which require the Prime Minister’s diplomacy.
Although Abe says that he will make every effort to solve the Kuril Islands dispute, he likely believes that reaching a deal and signing a peace treaty with Russia before the end of his term is highly improbable.
As North Korea becomes increasingly inward-looking, and Japan-North Korea negotiations have reached a stalemate, the Prime Minister talked about his outlook on the abduction issue: “It is true that our options are limited because we cannot attack North Korea with force. However, it is unclear what will happen to this deadlock [as a consequence of the global coronavirus upheaval]. Drastic changes may be advantageous when trying to break a deadlock.”
Abe has frequently stated in the Diet that he wants to act decisively and take advantage of every opportunity. Hopefully, he will be true to his word and seize every opportunity to achieve significant progress in the abduction issue.
(Click here for access to the original article in Japanese.)
Author: Rui Abiru