Saturday, April 21, 2007

Abe interviewed in the Washington Post

In advance of Abe's impending visit to Washington, DC, the Washington Post has published an interview of Abe by Lally Weymouth, journalist and daughter of the late Katherine Graham. It is unclear in which language the interview was conducted or whether Abe was speaking through an interpreter.

But regardless of the language, Abe once again displays his inability to say anything of substance.

It is no fault of Weymouth's. Her questions were pointed, and she actually pressed Abe on the comfort women issue. She also asked whether Japan feels "sidelined" in the six-party talks over the abductions issue, to which Abe laughably replied, "On this question, Japan and the United States are fully coordinated." Really? Fully coordinated? Based on what? "I discussed this matter on the phone with President Bush." If Abe actually thinks this, then he has learned nothing from the shift in US foreign policy that resulted in the current (failing) agreement in the first place.

What follows is typical boilerplate about cooperation in East Asia with China and Japan's bearing a greater share of the burdens of maintaining regional and global order, after which Weymouth raises the question of the Constitution. She questioned him as to whether a major impetus for constitution revision is a desire to have a constitution written by Japanese hands, to which he replied, "...The important thing is that we write the constitution ourselves. Because the constitution is the basic law of the land."

I'm not quite sure how those two sentences are connected. Yes, the constitution is the basic law of the land, but is the current constitution somehow less than a "basic law of the land" because it was drafted during the occupation? I recognize that there are good reasons for Japan to revise its constitution -- which, in Abe's defense, he does articulate in this interview -- but wounded pride from having a constitution written by occupation authorities shouldn't be one of them. After sixty years of governance under the postwar constitution, the national pride argument just doesn't hold water. Japan has made its constitution its own.

The conversation then moved to the comfort women issue, in regard to which Abe stated, "As a human being, I would like to express my sympathies, and also as prime minister of Japan I need to apologize to them." If he needs to apologize, what's stopping him? He is the prime minister, after all. If he thinks it's important, then he ought to quit talking about apologizing and just do it.

All in all, there's not all that much to take from this, other than that Abe remains a slippery character -- just as I wrote back in November when Abe was interviewed by the FT's David Pilling.

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