Abe’s re-entry into Korea’s orbit

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Abe’s re-entry into Korea’s orbit


An article in a weekly magazine a few days ago left me feeling unsettled. On Sept. 26, Akie Abe, wife of new Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe, declared she was no longer a fan of the Korean Wave. According to the article, Akie, who had subscribed to KNTV, a Korean broadcasting channel to watch Korean programs, recently stopped watching Korean dramas and learning Korean.

Her reasoning was simple. She did not want to leisurely enjoy Hallyu while her husband maintained hard-line positions on the issues of Dokdo and comfort women. There is no way to verify the truthfulness of the article, but Akie lately has been turning down interview requests from Korean media.

Akie was not simply enjoying Korean dramas. She used to ride the subway and attend various events hosted by the Korean Cultural Center in Tokyo. Of course, if she no longer likes Korean culture and wants to keep away, there is nothing we can do. However, it is truly regrettable if she’s avoiding Korean culture because of the political tendencies of her husband and the opposition of conservatives in Japan. We all believed that culture could overcome the wall of politics.

Abe-oriented Japan means more than the change of pastimes within his family. Japanese officials are rapidly shifting to Abe’s direction. When a high-ranking finance ministry official attended a Liberal Democratic Party meeting, he said Japan would not extend the currency swap with Korea unless Korea requests it.

The Keidanren, or Japan Business Federation, is to have policy discussions with the Liberal Democratic Party before it consults the ruling Democratic Party. Unbelievably, the roles of the ruling and opposition parties seem to be switched.

However, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is the spitting image of Abe’s leadership five years ago. Rightist politicians armed with distorted historical perspectives are lined up, and even if Abe wants to change the policy direction, such change is not likely to be allowed structurally.

It is worrisome that if Abe becomes prime minister, there is no one to put the brakes on him. When Abe was the prime minister in 2006, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, president of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union, was his “tutor.” As the leader of the faction to which Abe belonged, Mori modified Abe’s narrow Asian perspective. But Abe has left Mori. Abe was afraid of Ichiro Ozawa, former president of the Democratic Party, but Ozawa is no longer at the center of the power.

For Korea, we may have to watch the gloomy situation of Abe’s sole leadership for the next few years. However, it is truly ironic that Korea and China - with the Dokdo and the Senkaku issues - might be the biggest reasons why Abe might be prime minister again.

* The author is the chief of the Tokyo bureau of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Hyun-ki

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