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People Who Mattered: Shinzo Abe

2 minute read
Bryan Walsh

One of the most inspired political acts of 2006 occurred on Oct. 8, when newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped off a plane in Beijing. Relations between China and Japan were at their lowest ebb in decades, largely because Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi had repeatedly visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals. Abe’s momentous trip to China broke a political stalemate between Asia’s two leading powers and portended closer economic and diplomatic ties between these historical rivals.

Yet Abe’s boldness abroad hasn’t been matched at home, where doubts over his zeal for reform are wrecking his approval ratings. Conceivably, Abe may try to energize his conservative base by visiting Yasukuni himself—a move that would anger China and South Korea, making it even harder to forge a unified strategy for dealing with North Korea and its nuclear weapons. Will he resist the allure of nationalism? “Abe likes to say: ‘There is a strong point that I have,'” says Hiroshige Seko, the cabinet’s top spokesperson. “‘I tend to be perceived as softer than I am.'” In 2007, Japan—and the world—will discover just how strong Abe is.

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