July 24, 2015 10:11 pm JST
Is it personal?

Memory of Kishi seen behind Abe's political agenda and calendar

TESTUYA FUJITA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- He may deny it, but there are just too many coincidences to rule out that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been referring to significant dates for his late father and grandfather when setting his official schedule.

     "To tell you the truth, we decided to have the vote on July 15 a long time ago," one high-ranking government official said.

     Abe's ruling coalition pushed controversial national security bills through a lower house special committee on that day while opposition parties boycotted voting, demanding more discussions. The bills would pave the way for Japan to play a greater military role overseas, marking a critical shift in the nation's postwar defense policy.

     July 15 was an important date for Nobusuke Kishi, Abe's grandfather and a former Japanese prime minister. Fifty-five years ago to the day, Kishi's cabinet was forced to resign amid mounting public opposition over the renewal of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

     As prime minister, Kishi worked toward amending what he saw as a one-sided pact. He wanted the U.S. to recognize its obligation to protect Japan from foreign military threats.

     Abe, in his book, "Utsukushii Kuni-e" ("Toward a Beautiful Country"), recounts his childhood memory of June 18, 1960, the day before the new security pact was passed. Protesters surrounded the parliament building, and Kishi was trapped inside the prime minister's official residence. According to Abe's recollection, Kishi was drinking wine with Eisaku Sato, Kishi's younger brother who later became a prime minister himself, when he said, "I know I am not wrong. If I am going to be killed over this, so be it."

Too many coincidences

Those in Abe's inner circle all decline to attach any meaning to the date. "We did not time it to coincide with the Kishi cabinet's resignation," a person close to Abe said of the vote. But speculation persists that Abe picked July 15 specifically to avenge his grandfather's political defeat. There have been other instance like this.

     "I feel a specially strong connection to Chile that I was given the honor to come here exactly 55 years after my grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, visited your country for the first time as prime minister," Abe said on July 31, 2014.

     The comment to reporters followed his meeting with President Michelle Bachelet in the capital, Santiago. Kishi had a summit with the Chilean leader on the same date in 1959. Japan's foreign ministry officials said it was "pure coincidence," but Abe clearly felt strong emotions for his Chilean visit.

     Another important date for Abe was May 15, when the government submitted the national security bills to the Diet. Shintaro Abe, Abe's father and a former foreign minister, had died exactly 24 years before. Right after the submission of the bills, the prime minister attended a memorial for his father at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

     "I thought, 'We must strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,' while I was visiting the U.S. with my father," Abe noted during the event.

     An expert panel on national security laws produced a report May 15, 2014, paving the way for Abe's cabinet to reinterpret Japan's pacifist charter to allow the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Next on the calendar

All these "happenstances" make it difficult to dismiss the possibility that Abe looks at significant dates for his grandfather and father when considering his political moves.

     Expectations are building for his upcoming commentary on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It may be notable that the prime minister's grandfather died in 1987 -- on Aug. 7.

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