The relationship between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai is becoming strained.
Nikai was instrumental in paving the way for Abe to be reelected for a third term as LDP president. Yet he has been complaining about Abe’s lack of gratitude since the beginning of this year.
Nikai led a delegation of LDP and Komeito Diet members on a visit to China late last year. During this trip, he was able to meet with President Xi Jinping and made a strong request for him to visit Japan.
Abe has set the improvement of Japan-China relations as his top priority in foreign policy this year. However, in reality, he has not even been able to bring about the long-overdue Japan-China-ROK summit.
Nikai also took Okinawa Vice Governor Moritake Tomikawa with him on this trip. He also had him participate in his meeting with Xi.
Nikai takes pride in the fact that he is giving discreet support to Abe in diplomacy with China and in the Okinawa issue, which are Abe’s two weaknesses. So he is beginning to be irked by Abe’s lack of consideration.
Nikai is criticized by Abe supporters for being “pro-ROK” and “fawning on China,” but he stands firm in his convictions. A close aide reveals that “he regards rebuilding diplomacy with Japan’s neighbors, rather than domestic politics, as his last mission as a politician.”
Despite his advanced age of 78 years and chronic back pain, Nikai has been making overseas trips in rapid succession. He no longer attempts to hide his discontent with Abe. This was triggered by the issue of Abe attending the PyeongChang Olympics opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
Sankei Shimbun led with a report on Jan. 11 that Abe would skip the opening ceremony, citing “the Diet schedule” as his reason. However, it was obvious to anyone that this was only a pretext. The real reason was ROK President Moon Jae-in’s de facto one-sided review of the Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue.
Behind Abe’s reluctance to go to PyeongChang was his resentment that Moon had not visited Japan since his assumption of office and that he adopts a conciliatory policy toward North Korea. However, LDP members began to ridicule Abe for dragging his feet.
Nikai played a leading role in this.
He had told his aides at an early stage: “He will certainly go (to PyeongChang). Deep in his heart, he is dying to go.”
Nikai stated at a news conference on Jan. 16: “(The Olympics and the Diet) are both very important political events. I would like to make efforts to coordinate in order to realize [the trip].”
In other words, Nikai was saying: “We will remove the obstacle posed by the Diet schedule so he can go.”
LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama and Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue also supported Nikai. General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita decided that he himself will attend the opening ceremony and argued that “I think he should go with the notion that this is just a sports event. Japan does not use a sports event for political purposes.”
Lower House Budget Committee Chairman Takeo Kawamura, who is the secretary general of the Japan-ROK parliamentary union, also advised Abe to go to the Olympics. All this meant that Abe no longer had any reason not to go because an “encirclement” was created around him on the issue of attending the PyeongChang Olympics. (Abridged)