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Will hostage killings work in Abe’s favor?

By Da Zhigang (Global Times)    08:22, February 03, 2015

On January 20, the Islamic State (IS) demanded a ransom of $200 million from the Japanese government in exchange for two Japanese hostages - Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, and Haruna Yukawa, a private contractor. The military group killed Yukawa on January 24 and announced three days later that Goto would be killed unless Sajida al-Rishawi, a female IS militant held by the Jordanian authorities, was released by sunset on Thursday.

Then the IS released a video on Sunday showing the beheading of Goto. Soon after the video went online, the Abe administration immediately condemned the atrocity and pledged to bring the terrorists to justice. The catastrophic killings have become a critical issue in Japan.

The beheading of the two hostages has also triggered a heated debate on what responsibility Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and individual Japanese citizens should assume when an overseas crisis happens. Japan's existing anti-terror strategy and emergency response mechanism and Abe's proactive pacifism have both suffered severe censure. And the approval rating of Abe's cabinet has sagged amid previous speculation about the fate of the hostages.

Critics say that the killings of the two captives demonstrate that Japan's diplomacy lacks maturity and that there are many loopholes in Abe's proactive pacifism, which will deal a heavy blow to the prime minister's approval rating.

Those who take a pessimistic attitude claim the incident shows that Abe's diplomacy cannot adapt to the current trend of non-traditional security cooperation without powerful security as backup. Abe will lose credibility if he fails to properly handle this incident.

Rational analysts hold that the catastrophe may serve as a double-edged sword which, if appropriately used, will help raise Abe's domestic rating. Some believe this incident will push Japan into the US-led global war on terror, thus providing an opportunity for Tokyo to explore a new model to tackle traditional and non-traditional security.

They project Abe's support will sharply rise. And there are still some who maintain that the deliberate campaign put on by the Abe administration has outflanked the efforts of opposition parties and some media outlets that attack him.

So, will the approval rating for Abe's cabinet tumble because of the killings of the two hostages or improve? All indications show that Abe's support has now recovered and is even heading upward. Some clues can be tracked from his diplomatic maneuvers. As a major member state of the US-dominated G7, Japan paid attention to the demand of Washington to reject negotiations with IS. Instead, it made decisions in conformity with Western values and ideals of non-traditional security cooperation including the global anti-terror endeavor.

Keeping in step with the West has helped Abe's global-trotting diplomacy and proactive pacifism gain recognition in the developed world. Tokyo has also won verbal support from Washington in its effort to secure the release of the hostages, even though it failed.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the snap parliamentary elections in December. He does not want to lose to his opposition party in terms of public support. Abe intentionally catered to the people's will at the critical moment. Consequently, most Japanese showed understanding of his cabinet's fruitless rescue given the emergency of the situation.

The majority of the Japanese do not accept the conduct of the two hostages who neglected the safety warnings issued by the government. They exclude people who cause trouble for others, let alone those bringing such grave consequences for the whole nation. Deeply aware of the mind-set, Abe has taken advantage of this incident to garner support. In addition, the killing of the hostages has helped the Japanese people, who uphold collectivism, see overseas crises sprawling to their country. Therefore, the rise in Abe's approval rating actually signifies their expectations of ramping up international cooperation in the non-traditional security field.

The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. [email protected] 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Zhang Qian)

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