Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has placed himself at the helm of countries that seek to counter China’s rise, as Tokyo’s right-wing leadership looks intent to ramp up its aggressive nationalistic stance with US support. Since returning to power in late 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emerged as one of Japan’s most influential prime ministers in decades.
Abe has attempted to put an end to the cycle of weak executive leadership with his long-standing nationalist vision of a more militarily assertive Japan, in addition to his efforts to pull the country out of a two-decade-long economic slump with an array of neoliberal reforms collectively referred to as ‘Abenomics.’ He has played upon nationalistic sentiment to accumulate an unusually strong grip on power in contrast to former Japanese prime ministers, leading his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to gain unified control of parliament last year.
His visit to the Yasukuni war shrine last December, to a memorial site honoring convicted war criminals that died for the cause of Imperial Japan, strained ties with neighboring countries that once bore the brunt of a ruthless and unyielding Japanese occupation. Under Abe’s watch, high-level diplomatic contact with China has virtually dried up since Tokyo has more assertively defended its claims over the disputed chain of islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Shinzo Abe has also extended his support for a controversial state secrets law that could punish leakers, whistleblowers, and journalists with hefty prison sentences if the state determines wrongdoing. More than half of Japanese voters oppose the law and its negative effects on press freedom, while others have likened it to Imperial Japanese laws that ruthlessly curbed dissent.