Even ‘Suga Jong-il’ can’t rein in Abe

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Even ‘Suga Jong-il’ can’t rein in Abe


“The rightist swing of the Abe government becomes increasingly evident. Those close to the prime minister make hard-line remarks on historical issues, and security policy has emerged as the most important task. Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga has served the role of a brake, but he has begun to show his limits.”

In late February, a Jiji Press report unprecedentedly used the phrase “rightist swing” without hesitation. After the United States criticized Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, the aide to the prime minister responded that Tokyo was disappointed. Abe appointed one of his cronies to the NHK management committee, who claimed that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was an experiment on human bodies. The right to collective self-defense, which would allow Japan to start a war, is the prime mission of the Abe cabinet in the first half of 2014. Japan has been watching the sentiments in neighboring countries, but it finally mentioned re-examining the 1993 Kono Statement. So it is not strange to use the expression “rightist swing.” What’s more interesting than “rightist swing” was “the limits” of Suga.

Suga is the de facto second man in power, leading the Japanese government along with Abe. He is in charge of crisis management and handling the blunders made by Abe and his cronies. Suga is expected to play a motherly role for the government, which is why Japanese reporters gave him the nickname “Suga Jong-il.” Just like the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, Suga has tight control over the prime minister’s office and members of the cabinet. Abe and Suga share a political fate. Yet unlike Abe, whose grandfather was a prime minister and father was a foreign minister, Suga is a self-made man who comes from a farming family.

The difference drove the two politicians closer. In the summer of 2012, Abe was reluctant to run for the Liberal Democratic Party’s chairman election, but Suga encouraged him to put himself before the voters again, even if he might not win. On Dec. 26, when Abe was inaugurated as the prime minister, Suga advised him that if the cabinet broke down, the historical perspective would be the cause. It was Suga’s job to make sure the rightist cabinet members didn’t make a gaffe. But the Jiji Press report suggests that even Suga cannot keep Abe from turning reckless. In fact, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine despite Suga’s advice against doing so.

Abe is preparing for a cabinet reshuffle in the summer. Those around him have hinted that Suga, who has been putting a brake on Abe, should be diverted to a key post in the party to promote Abe’s signature policies. Even with Suga’s presence, the Abe government is quite reckless, and without him, it will only get wilder.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 30

*The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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