Japan's New Regime Off to a Fast Start

By Todd Crowell

TOKYO – The new Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is less than two months old, but it has already spawned two new buzzwords: “Abenomics” for his new economic policy, and the “Abe Doctrine” for his foreign policy approach to Asia.

Of the two, “Abenomics” is, for now, much more popular. It is seen everywhere on television broadcasts, and on the front pages of Japanese-language newspapers. It is shorthand for two main initiatives that the new government immediately undertook to jump-start the languishing economy. 

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They encompass much more public spending on infrastructure projects combined with a monetary side that involves encouraging pumping more money into the economy through massive quantitative easing, leading to an inflation target of about 2 percent. The latter is meant to defeat deflation, which is seen as a drag on the economy.

The second buzzword, “Abe Doctrine,” was to have been the theme of a major address by Abe in Jakarta last month, but the speech was canceled as Abe returned to Tokyo because of the Algerian crisis.

Undoubtedly, another venue will be chosen to highlight the policy doctrine that resurrects an older, vague idea of a loose alliance of like-minded democratic and market-oriented economies in an “arc” sweeping around Asia, from India through Southeast Asia to Japan.

Indeed, the new government had scarcely taken office in late December before it launched an unprecedented diplomatic blitz in Asia. Senior leaders, including the PM himself, fanned out to visit half a dozen Asian countries plus Australia.

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, himself a former premier, visited Myanmar, which is seen by many Japanese businessmen as the new El Dorado, because of its remarkable transformation over the past year. For himself Abe visited Vietnam, Thailand and, briefly, Indonesia.

He is planning to go to Washington to confer with President Barack Obama later this month; in the offing is a possible visit to Moscow thereafter. If the latter visit brings forth solid progress on the Southern Kurils territorial dispute, it will be just another feather in the new premier’s hat.

The new government weathered its first crisis over the Islamic terrorist attack at the Amenis Natural Gas Project in the Algerian Sahara. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Sugu diverted a senior foreign service officer already on the way to a European posting to the plant site, who arrived at Amenis before the representatives of any of the other countries with hostages. This move won wide approval, even though 10 Japanese were killed in the standoff.

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Todd Crowell is the author of Farewell, My Colony: Last Years in the Life of British Hong Kong. He is compiling a Dictionary of the Modern Asian Language and comments on Asian affairs at Asia Cable (www.asiacable.blogspot.com).
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