Again, there is stagnation in Japan’s effort to make any diplomatic progress with China and South Korea because of Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s offerings to the controversial Yasukuni shrine. The shrine is controversial, because it honors many Japanese war criminals from World War II, including those responsible for ravaging many regions in China and South Korea in the era of the Empire of Japan.

This year, again, brought in the predictable rebuke from both China and South Korea for the Japanese Prime Minister’s offering to the shrine. The Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Abe’s offering was merely an act as a private citizen (Korea JoongAng Daily 04/21/2015 – US Time), but not surprisingly the explanation failed to pacify the angry reaction of government officials from both China and South Korea.

In December 2014, Prime Minister Abe enjoyed renewed support by winning the snap election with a comfortable margin (BBC 12/14/2015). Mostly driven by the public’s approval of “Abenomics”, the Prime Minister has won an economic mandate. “Abenomics” are driven by three major points: massive fiscal stimulus, aggressive easing of monetary policy, and heavy structural reform in Japan (Financial Times Lexicon 04/21/2015). While the aggressive economic policy has lifted the Japanese economy in the short-term, there are doubts whether the revitalized economic growth is sustainable. If “Abenomics” fails, then not only this would be an expensive failure for Japan, but the failing Japanese economy would also hurt the economies of both China and South Korea due to intraregional dependencies from intraregional trade.

Ultimately, it is in the Prime Minister Abe’s interest to make diplomatic progress on China and South Korea as various regional issues, such as North Korea matter, require regional cooperation. Prime Minister’s office has been making great effort to make diplomatic progress, but if the pinnacle diplomatic achievement is merely a cold handshake or an informal meeting with a head of state (The Wall Street Journal 11/10/2014), then there is a long road ahead.

Prime Minister Abe and his government need to reconcile how to balance diplomatic progress with their propensity towards the controversial shrine. Even the current Emperor of Japan Akihito has maintained the imperial household’s embargo on visiting the shrine (Japan Times 8/14/2013).

Prime Minister Abe can probably make “Abenomics” more successful if there was some type of regional cooperation from China and South Korea. Also, the Prime Minister needs China and South Korea to address effectively on the North Korea’s threat. Ultimately, the Prime Minister can do a lot of things more effectively if there is significant diplomatic progress with China and South Korea.

In the long run, if some of Prime Minister Abe’s major policies fail due to lack of regional cooperation from China and South Korea, then serious questions ought to be raised whether the Prime Minister Abe’s personal propensity towards the Yasukuni shrine was worth sacrificing decades of potential Japan’s progress in economic and regional political fronts.


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