Shinzo Abe (安倍 晋三)
Shinzo Abe (安倍 晋三) was born on September 21, 1954. He is the current Prime Minister of Japan, elected by a special session of the National Diet on September 26, 2006. He is Japan's youngest post-World War II prime minister and the first born after the war.
Abe was born into a political family, and studied political science in Japan. He has also studied in the United States. He worked in the private sector until 1982 when he began the first of several government jobs. He entered politics in 1993 when he won an election in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. Abe served under Prime Ministers Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi, eventually becoming Koizumi's Chief Cabinet Secretary. Abe gained national fame for the strong stance he took against North Korea, which eventually propelled him to presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Prime Minister's office. While expected to follow the economic policies of his predecessor, Abe was also expected to improve the previously strained relations with China.
Abe was born in Nagato and studied political science at Seikei University, graduating in 1977. He later moved to the United States and studied "English for foreign students" and possibly political science at the University of Southern California, though he received no degree. In April 1979 Abe began working for Kobe Steel. He then left the company in 1982 and pursued a number of governmental positions: executive assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, private secretary to the chairperson of the LDP General Council, and private secretary to the LDP secretary-general.
Abe was born into a political family. His grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians. His mother, Yoko Kishi, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, who was Prime Minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960.
Shinzō Abe was elected to the first district of Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1993 after his father's death in 1991, winning the most votes of any election in the prefecture's history. In 1999, he became Director of the Social Affairs Division, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi Cabinets from 2000–2003, after which he was appointed Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Abe was chief negotiator for the Japanese government on behalf of the families of Japanese abductees taken to North Korea, and accompanied Koizumi to meet Kim Jong-il in 2002. He gained national popularity when he demanded that Japanese abductees visiting Japan remain, in defiance of North Korea.
On October 31, 2005, he was nominated Chief Cabinet Secretary of the fifth Koizumi Cabinet, succeeding Hiroyuki Hosoda.
He was the leader of a project team within the LDP that did a survey on "excessive sexual education and gender-free education." Among the items to which this team raised objections were anatomical dolls and other curricular materials "not taking into consideration the age of children," school policies banning traditional boys' and girls' festivals, and mixed-gender physical education. The team sought to provide contrast to the Democratic Party of Japan, which it alleged supported such policies.
On September 20, 2006, Shinzo Abe was elected as the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His chief competitors for the position were Sadakazu Tanigaki and Taro Aso. Yasuo Fukuda was a leading early contender but ultimately chose not to run. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, to whose faction both Abe and Fukuda belonged, stated that the faction strongly leant toward Abe.
On September 26, Shinzo Abe was elected Prime Minister with 339 of 475 votes in the Diet's lower house and a firm majority in the upper house.
VIEW ON HISTORY
Since 1997, as the bureau chief of the 'Institute of Junior Assembly Members Who Think About the Outlook of Japan and History Education', Abe led the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. On his official homepage he questions the extent to which coercion was applied toward the comfort women, dismissing Korean "revisionism" as foreign interference in Japanese domestic affairs. In a Diet session on October 6, 2006, Abe revised his statement regarding comfort women, and said that he accepted the report issued in 1993 by the sitting cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, where the Japanese government officially acknowledged the issue. Later in the session, Abe stated his belief that Class A war criminals are not criminals under Japan's domestic law.
In a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee in February 2006, Shinzo Abe said, 'There is a problem as to how to define aggressive wars; we cannot say it is decided academically', and 'It is not the business of the government to decide how to define the last world war. I think we have to wait for the estimation of historians'. However, on a TV program in July 2006 he denied that Manchukuo was a puppet state.
Abe published a book called Toward a Beautiful Nation (美しい国へ, Utsukushii kuni e) in July 2006, which became a bestseller in Japan. In this book, he claims that Class A war criminals (those charged with crimes against peace) who were adjudicated in the Tokyo Tribunal after World War II were not war criminals in the eye of domestic law. The Korean and Chinese governments, as well as noted academics and commentators, have voiced concern about Abe's historical views.
In March 2007, in response to a United States Congress resolution by Mike Honda, Abe denied any government coercion in the recruitment of Comfort Women during World War II, in line with a statement made almost ten years prior regarding the same issue, in which Abe voiced his opposition to the inclusion of the subject of military prostitution in several school textbooks and then denied any coercion in the "narrow" sense of the word, environmental factors notwithstanding.
However, it provoked negative reaction from Asian and Western countries, for example, The New York Times editorial on March 6, 2007, “What part of “Japanese Army sex slaves” does Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for? ... These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army’s involvement is documented in the government’s own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993.... Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn’t the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue. A Washington Post editorial "Shinzo Abe's Double Talk" on March 24, 2007 also criticized him that "he's passionate about Japanese victims of North Korea -- and blind to Japan's own war crimes."
RESPONSE TO MASS MEDIA
The Asahi Shimbun also accused Abe and Shoichi Nakagawa of censoring a 2001 NHK program concerning "The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal". The "tribunal" was a private committee to adjudicate 'comfort women', sexual slaves of the Japanese army; about 5000 people including 64 casualties from Japan and abroad attended. The committee members, who claimed to be specialists of international law, claimed that Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government were responsible for the use of comfort women. The TV program, however, did not mention the full name of the tribunal and keywords such as 'Japanese troops' or 'sexual slavery', and it also cut the sight of the tribunal, the host grouping, statements of the organizer, and the judgement itself. Instead, it presented criticism against the tribunal by a right-wing academic and his statement that 'there was no abduction of sex slaves and they were prostitutes'.
On the day following the Asahi Shimbun report, Akira Nagai, the chief producer and primary person responsible for the program, held a press conference and ensured the report of the Asahi Shimbun. Abe stated that the content "had to be broadcasted from a neutral point of view" and 'what I did is not to give political pressure.' Abe said "It was a political terrorism by Asahi Shimbun and it was tremendously clear that they had intention to inhume me and Mr.Nakagawa politically, and it is also clear that it was complete fabrication." He also characterized the tribunal as a "mock trial" and raised objection to the presence of North Korean prosecutors singling them out as agents of North Korean government. Abe's actions in the NHK incident have been criticized as being both illegal (violating the Broadcast Law) and unconstitutional (violating the Japanese Constitution). A news program aired on TBS on July 21, 2006 about a secret biological weapons troop of Imperial Japanese Army called 'Unit 731', along with a picture panel of Shinzō Abe, who has no relation to the report. Abe said in a press conference, "It is a truly big problem if they want to injure my political life." The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications inquired into fact relevance and stated that there had been an omission in editing the TV program fairly, making an administrative direction of exceptional stringent warning based upon Broadcast Law. On October 24, 2006, a report emerged that Abe's new administration had called on the NHK to "pay attention" to the North Korean abductees issue. Critics, some even within Abe's own LDP party, charged that the government was violating freedom of expression by meddling in the affairs of the public broadcaster. In December, 2006, it was revealed that former Prime-Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government, in which Abe was Chief Cabinet Secretary, had influenced town hall style meetings, during which paid performers would ask government officials favorable questions.
Abe has expressed a general commitment to the fiscal reforms instituted by his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. He has taken some steps toward balancing the Japanese budget, such as appointing a tax policy expert, Koji Omi, as Minister of Finance. Omi has previously supported increases in the national consumption tax, although Abe has distanced himself from this policy and seeks to achieve much of his budget balancing through spending cuts.
Since 1997, as the bureau chief of "Institute of Junior Assembly Members Who Think About The Outlook of Japan and History Education," Abe supported the controversial Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and the New History Textbook. He denies the abduction of comfort women by Japanese troops, claims that a history textbook must contribute to the formation of national consciousness, and cites South Korean criticism of the New History Textbook as foreign interference in Japanese domestic affairs.
In March 2007, Abe along with right-wing politicians have proposed a bill to encourage nationalism and a "love for one's country and hometown" among the Japanese youth.
Abe holds conservative views in the Japanese imperial succession controversy, and has said he opposes amending Japanese law to permit female blood lines to succeed the imperial family. Succession of the imperial family by the female blood line should not be confused with ascension of a woman to the Chrysanthemum Throne as Empress.
Shinzō Abe has generally taken a hard-line stance with respect to North Korea, especially regarding the North Korean abductions of Japanese.
In 2002 negotiations between Japan and North Korea, Prime Minister Koizumi and General Secretary Kim Jong Il agreed to give abductees permission to visit Japan. A few weeks into the visit, the Japanese government decided that the abductees would be restricted from returning to North Korea where their families live. Abe took credit for this policy decision in his best-selling book, Toward a Beautiful Nation (美しい国へ, Utsukushii kuni e). North Korea criticized this Japanese decision as a breach of a diplomatic promise, and the negotiations aborted.
On July 7, 2006, North Korea conducted missile tests over the Sea of Japan. Abe, as Chief Cabinet Secretary, cooperated with Foreign Minister Taro Aso to seek sanctions against North Korea in the United Nations Security Council.
CHINA, SOUTH KOREA AND TAIWAN
Abe has publicly recognized the need for improved relations with China and, along with Foreign Minister Taro Aso, seeks an eventual summit meeting with Chinese paramount leader Hu Jintao. Abe has also said that Sino-Japanese relations should not continue to be based on emotions.
On August 4, 2006, the Japanese media reported that Shinzō Abe had visited the Yasukuni Shrine (a shrine that includes convicted Class A war criminals in its honored war dead) in April of that year. Abe claimed the visit was of a personal and non-official nature, as Former Prime Minister Koizumi has in the past. The Chinese and South Korean governments expressed concern over the visit. Both Abe and Foreign Minister Tarō Asō have stated that any visits to Yasukuni are a domestic matter.
Moreover, Abe is respected among politicians on Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian welcomed Abe's ministership. Part of Abe's appeal in Taiwan is historical: his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was pro-Taiwan, and his great-uncle Eisaku Satō was the last prime minister to visit Taiwan while in office.
Abe has expressed the need to strengthen political, security, and economic ties within the Southeast Asian region. Abe has increased its allies in its international campaign to counter the North Korean nuclear cards. So far, Abe has successfully visited the Philippines and Indonesia, and although China is not within the Southeast Asian region, Japan has also sought for their support.
Abe also seeks to revise or broaden the interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan in order to permit Japan to maintain de jure military forces. He has stated that "we are reaching the limit in narrowing down differences between Japan's security and the interpretation of our constitution."
In response to North Korean missile tests in 2006, Abe (then Chief Cabinet Secretary) stated in a press conference that Japan had to explore the ability to bombard the bases of an attacker, which was internationally broadcast as a "first strike theory". The governments of South and North Korea and China respectively accused it as a representation of aggressive policy of Japan. When China and Russia indicated to assert veto, Abe contradicted that what he had said had not been "first strike."
Like his predecessors, he supports the Japanese alliance with the United States.
Abe's cabinet was announced on September 26, 2006. The only minister retained in his position from the previous Koizumi cabinet was Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who had been one of Abe's competitors for the LDP presidency. In addition to the cabinet positions existing under Koizumi, Abe created five new "advisor" positions.
Abe is a member of the Mori Faction (formally, the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyū-kai) of the Liberal Democratic Party. This faction is headed by former prime minister Yoshiro Mori. Junichiro Koizumi was a member of the Mori Faction prior to leaving it, as is the custom when accepting a high party post. From 1986 to 1991, Abe's father, Shintaro, headed the same faction. The Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyū-kai has sixty members in the House of Representatives and twenty six in the House of Councillors. Mr. Abe visited China and South Korea shortly after taking office.
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