Shinzo Abe’s Grand Arrival

Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has wasted little time in making his mark, particularly in foreign policy. His official visits to China and South Korea – two key countries with which relations suffered under the administration of Junichiro Koizumi – came within a week of his taking office and at a moment of crisis, with North Korea setting off an underground nuclear blast. That Prime Minister Abe and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed that a North Korean nuclear test “cannot be tolerated” suggests that this new activism may help to stabilize Asian security.

As Abe made clear when he delivered the prime minister’s general policy speech late last month, his focus on foreign policy is set to intensify. But, while Abe’s commitment to what he describes as “future-oriented” relations with China and South Korea represents a welcome departure from the Koizumi government’s record, his policy agenda in fact implies considerable continuity with Japan’s heightened focus on diplomacy and security issues.

In particular, emphasizing a “shift to more assertive diplomacy,” Abe’s policy speech cited Japan’s initiative in proposing sanctions against North Korea to the United Nations Security Council, and its success in overseeing – through close coordination with the United States and other countries – the resolution’s unanimous adoption. At the same time, he indicated his intention to advance diplomacy aimed at strengthening the solidarity among Asian nations, founded on “the Japan-US alliance for the world and for Asia.”

Abe also stressed his intention to boost ties with Russia, promote cooperation with the ASEAN countries, and develop a strategic dialogue with Australia and India. Likewise, under Abe, Japan will develop its official development assistance, seek to secure stable energy supplies, and pursue permanent membership of the UN Security Council.