China Ink

Patriot games?

Japan has a new government: how has China’s media reacted?

Abe’s win suggests a swing to the right?

Xinhua was one of many Chinese newspapers to take note of Abe’s campaign style, leading calls for a “rational stand”, and urging Tokyo to stop “pandering to domestic hawkish views and picking fights with its neighbours”. The main concern was that an “economically weak and politically angry Japan will not only hurt the country, but also the region and the world at large”. But alongside the anxiety there was also a dismissive tone from some of the editorials, particularly in references to Abe becoming Japan’s seventh prime minister in six years. This rapid turnover highlighted the “merry go round” and “revolving door” of Japanese politics, the Global Times mused.

As a candidate in October, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honours Japan’s war dead, including major war criminals, noted The New York Times. Abe has also said he will reinterpret Japan’s anti-war constitution to allow for a more assertive foreign policy. Other media noted that his team kicked off their first working day of the year by singing the national anthem, whose pre-war origins can spark political controversy. “We have returned the government to a party that can stoutly sing ‘Kimigayo’ at the start of business and truly be able to take a first step to ‘take back Japan’,” Abe told the Sankei newspaper.

But his campaign was more rhetoric than reality?

Abe said whatever he wanted during electioneering to win votes, said the China Daily (a campaign full of “crowd-pleasing, hyperbolic assurances”, the Global Times sniffed). As prime minister, he will have to shift to governing mode, the newspapers thought, and that means he will be – or should be – more realistic.

When Abe won election previously in 2006, he played an ice-breaking role during a difficult period for Sino-Japan relations, noted the China Youth Daily. And we should expect Abe’s government to “remain calm”, said CCTV. His team will have to focus on the awful economic situation in Japan, the television channel suggested, and to do that it will need stronger economic ties with China.

The one accomplishment of Abe’s previous term in office was that he tried to improve relations with China, The Economist acknowledged. But it was also concerned about his “nationalist instincts”, as well as his appointment of a “scarily right wing” new Cabinet. Fourteen of its members belong to the League for Going to Worship Together at Yasukuni. Thirteen support Nihon Kaigi, a nationalist think-tank that advocates a return to “traditional values” and rejects Japan’s “apology diplomacy” for its wartime misdeeds. And nine belong to an association that wants the teaching of history in schools to give a better gloss to Japan’s militarist era.

Early signs of diplomatic activity?

A tour from Japan’s new foreign minister to the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Australia showed that Abe was wasting no time in seeking to “hem in” China diplomatically, the China Daily surmised. But Abe’s main priority will be boosting Japan’s traditional ties with the US. “Tokyo knows that it cannot confront Beijing directly, and that’s why it depends on its alliance with the US,” Liu Jiangyong, deputy dean at the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua, told the newspaper.

Abe’s excesses could prove challenging for US policy in the region, The New York Times thought. But Japan voted for economic revival, not nationalist fantasies: “As a nation that lives by trade, Japan needs harmonious relations with its main Asian trading partners, China most of all.” What Japanese voters need most from their prime minister is leadership on the economy, agreed The Washington Post. Abe will be judged more on whether he can revive domestic growth than on advancing any national security or patriotic agenda that he might hold dear.


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