Conservative Right-wing Shift of Japan’s Abe Administration:
Focusing on the Linkage between the Abe Administration and Japan’s Civic Groups
[Sejong Policy Series] No. 2020-01
Dr. JIN Chang Soo
Director of the Center for Japanese Studies,
The Sejong Institute
In South Korea, there is a strong tendency to focus on Prime Minister Abe’s right-wing arguments and tendencies as obstacles to improving Korea-Japan relations. Especially after Japan’s export restriction measures in 2019, the South Korean people’s rejection of Abe has intensified under the slogan of “No Abe.” Indeed, Abe is a symbol of Japan’s right wing, but at the same time, he also represents the positions of the Japanese political community and the general public. Although South Korea has been pinning its hopes on the “pragmatic prime minister Suga” since Abe’s resignation, the improvement of Korea-Japan relations remains uncertain. The current Japanese Prime Minister Suga still inherits claims of the Abe era and has become aware of Japan’s critical public opinion on Korea. Therefore, South Korea should pay attention to changes in Japanese society, which cannot be considered just a matter of Prime Minister Abe’s right-wing ideology in his management of Korea-Japan relations. In particular, it is necessary to pay keen attention to the trends of right-wing civic groups that are influencing public opinion with critical perceptions of South Korea.
In this sense of awareness, this study sought to analyze the linkage between Prime Minister Abe’s right-wing ideological orientation and right-wing civic groups. Abe’s rightward policies were able to acquire and expand the support of the Japanese people by combining efforts with the movements of right-wing civic groups. Through his long-term rule, Abe sought to realize the agendas of the right wing by insisting on the issues of historical awareness, collective self-defense, and constitutional amendments, which have so far been considered taboos in Japanese politics. Moreover, Abe’s long-term rule must have served as an opportunity for right-wing civic groups that supported Abe to expand their influence. In the end, Abe’s hard-line policy toward Korea can be understood as the outcome of synergy generated by the combination of Abe’s revisionist perception of history, persistent anti-Korean movements by right-wing civic groups and Japan’s critical public opinion.
Prime Minister Abe was active in shifting Japanese society to the right during his long-term rule, but it remains to be seen whether Abe’s right-wing policies will continue. First of all, it is true that no politician is acting as a symbol of the right wing as Prime Minister Abe did. It is clear that right-wing civic groups and Japanese politicians will continue to combine their efforts to push for conservative right-wing policies. However, the issue of constitutional amendment, which Abe perceived as a top priority, has now not only lost its momentum but also become difficult to realize. Nor can Japan ignore the existence of international environment that is critical of Abe’s revisionist perception of history. Therefore, it seems that it is not easy for a right-wing policy to have a strong driving force in Japanese politics as it had during the Abe administration. Also, right-wing civic groups are showing limitations. For instance, the Nippon Kaigi, which is considered the center of right-wing civic groups, is difficult to further spread in Japanese society as its members are aging and have a closed network. Now, the right-wing civil movement is gradually entering the path of stagnation. In this regard, it is important to take a notice of changing situations in Japan and break away from the fragmentary perception that conservative right-wing swing will be more strengthened.
The purpose of this study is to explain the reality of Japan’s conservative right-wing shift and present the direction of improvement in Korea-Japan relations. It is critical to accurately understand the reality of Japan in order to resolve the strained relations between South Korea and Japan. I hope that this study will aid in the improvement of Korea-Japan relations at this time when the future of relationship between the two countries is bleak.
Volume No: 2020-1
Issue Date: 2020.11.9.
Page: 98 pages
▶ For a full paper in Korean, please follow the link: http://www.sejong.org/boad/1/egoread.php?bd=14&itm=&txt=&pg=1&seq=5707
※ This article is written based on the author’s personal opinions and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.
※ Translator’s note: This is a summarized unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.