|Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the cockpit of a T-4 training jet at an airbase in Miyagi gives a thumbs up, Tuesday. The number on the fuselage of the aircraft — 731— has triggered protests from Korea, China and imperial Japan's other victims, who have taken offense because it coincides with that of Unit 731, which conducted biological and chemical warfare experiments using people from countries Japan occupied. / AFP-Yonhap|
By Kim Tae-gyu
People from countries that suffered Japan's wartime atrocities have fears and concerns deep down that the island nation may be returning to its old imperialistic ways under right-wing leaders.
That fear is personified by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, regarded as far more right-wing than any of his predecessors, as the two-time leader continues to behave and talk controversially.
Japan's first premier to be born after World War II practically denied its aggressive actions in Asia before and during the war, contending that the term "invasion" has not been "defined" internationally or academically.
He defended lawmakers who offered prayers for the country's war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine, which also houses the remains of Class A war criminals.
Abe voices sovereignty claims to South Korea's easternmost islands of Dokdo, nd maintains a hard-line stance over the Senkaku islands in a dispute with China.
The controversies culminated this week as he posed inside a T-4 training jet with the number 731, which reminded people of Unit 731, a covert biological and chemical unit notorious for experiments on humans.
Buoyed by domestic support for his economic policies, Abe's first budget after his return saw a rise in defense spending and a cut in foreign aid. This was in line with his track record ― during his first period in office he upgraded the Japan Defense Agency to full ministry status.
According to political observers, the hitch is that such problematic remarks and acts are not a one-off political maneuver geared toward mustering the support of nationalistic voters but a long-standing stance.
Since 1997, Abe has voiced his support for the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, whiling denying the forcible use of sex slaves by Japanese troops.
"Abe was more or less cautious during his first term from September 2006 and September 2007 as he did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine back then and, although grudgingly, he acknowledged the 1993 report with a quasi-apology to wartime sex slaves," a Seoul analyst said.
"During the second term, however, Abe seemingly decided to show his true face without caring about other countries."
The analyst criticized Abe for having double standards ― he is very serious about the pain of his own country as demonstrated by his passion to bring back people kidnapped by North Korea but turns a blind eye to its own war crimes.
Abe's flagship economic policy of depreciating the country's currency to boost the price competitiveness of made-in-Japan products is also under criticism as it tries to galvanize its economy at the expenses of its neighbors.
Critics say the Abe administration's large-scale monetary easing and the resultant fast devaluation of the yen are tantamount to economic aggression toward Asian nations.
The weakening of currency of the world's No. 3 economy spills over to its rivals in international markets such as Korea and China whose exporters are now panicking ― it is the very essence of a "beggar-thy-neighbor" policy.
The yen was traded near a historical high of 78 yen to the dollar last year but it now fluctuates in the vicinity of 100. Many global agencies expect that the depreciation is only halfway done as it is likely to further rise to around 120 yen by the end of next year.
The weakening yen has breathed fresh life into its moribund economy, which experienced a two-decade slump. By contrast, Korean and Chinese exporters that compete with Japanese ones are complaining about their substantially reduced bottom lines.