Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s current visit to the US provides an opportunity to reinvigorate the long-standing US-Japan bilateral alliance in the face of an increasingly aggressive China and persistent tensions on the Korean Peninsula. For a half-century, the US-Japan alliance has been a cornerstone of Asian and global peace, security and stability — and Japan has been an outstanding global citizen.
Japan developed the economic growth model that other Asian countries later emulated so successfully, actively contributed to global economic development, participated in the UN and other multilateral institutions, and has helped to set a global standard for environmental protection and sustainable development.
As Abe arrives in Washington, Japan and the US are both facing significant internal and external challenges, including rising tensions in Asia.
In recent months, Chinese aircraft have repeatedly violated Japanese airspace over the East China Sea and a Chinese naval vessel locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter.
Likewise, a Chinese military intelligence unit in Shanghai has reportedly hacked — and stolen from — a multitude of US businesses. North Korea also conducted its third nuclear test earlier this month, sending shock waves through the region.
Tackling these challenges will require strong US-Japanese cooperation, but to enhance the alliance’s impact, both countries must focus on reinvigorating their own societies and economies. For the US, that requires overcoming a political culture characterized by polarization and crisis in order to develop effective policies aimed at boosting economic competitiveness.
In some ways, Japan’s domestic challenges are more daunting, given that its political system has produced six prime ministers in as many years, none of whom managed to address effectively Japan’s stagnant economy, decade-long deflation and shrinking workforce.
Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations — aimed at creating a free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region — which could help open up its overprotected and under-competitive economy, just as accession to the WTO did for China.
To stem the contraction of its workforce Japan should enhance female employment — and women’s roles in society. Also, by implementing measures to improve citizens’ proficiency in English and promoting study abroad, its leaders can tackle the cultural isolation and inadequate foreign-language skills that are stifling development.
Beyond strengthening the economy and bolstering its partnership with the US, Japan must address the enduring suspicions of countries that were brutalized by Japanese occupation before and during World War II.
Although previous Japanese governments have issued apologies for the country’s past behavior, unlike Germany, it has not fully faced its history.
During his election campaign, Abe expressed a desire to revise Japan’s 1995 apology for its occupations and war record. He did so while visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a nationalist pilgrimage site that commemorates, among others, 14 Class A and more than 1,000 Class B and C war criminals.
With Japan’s security in jeopardy, its leaders can not afford to be vague about the country’s past. Abe should reaffirm the country’s 1995 statement, firmly apologize again and revise or close the Yushukan, a museum at Yasukuni that glorifies Japan’s militarist past while ignoring its concomitant atrocities.