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Noah Smith

Give Japan's Abe a Break on Women

Some of Shinzo Abe's mostly foreign critics are contending that his drive to increase the economic role of women is a sham. That's far from the case.
Sheryl Sandberg and Shinzo Abe: Thumbs up.
Sheryl Sandberg and Shinzo Abe: Thumbs up.

Why are Western pundits, inside Japan and out, so down on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? I have three theories. First, Abe is a nationalist -- sort of a Japanese Ronald Reagan -- and nationalism scares a lot of people: What if Abe starts a war with China! And when it comes to Japan, most people still associate nationalism with World War II. Second, Abe's "Abenomics" agenda includes a large dose of quantitative easing, which for some reason makes people very uncomfortable. Third, Japan's political system is so dysfunctional -- there is no real opposition to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party -- that Western journalists may take it upon themselves to provide some kind of balancing or cautionary role.

Whatever the reason, Abe pessimism is the word of the day. For example, two female ministers, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, recently resigned. The reasons were incredibly typical of Japanese politics -- funding irregularities and a rules violation. This is the kind of stuff that every Japanese politician does, and when one is "caught" and resigns over it, you can bet that the real reason is a behind-the-scenes power struggle or a bit of bad luck.