It generated internal friction within the Prime Minister's office between those who supported a much tougher line towards China and the advocates of a softer and more friendlier approach. Appeasement won the battle, as Abe seemingly sided with that group. That is why in June 2017, the Prime Minister declared that Japan was willing to support the Belt and Road Initiative. Within the government, such a soft stance towards China made some people feel quite uneasy. Nonetheless, little by little, China became more friendly to Japan. From then on, I have not heard any significantly critical voice from Chinese leaders on historical issues. The Chinese government seems to have put those aside and placed the focus on trade and business.
Of course, when Abe declared his support for the BRI, he included several conditions. However, Chinese media actually did not include them in their coverage, which means that Chinese people and scholars are usually unaware that the Japanese government has articulated any conditions at all. What mattered for Xi Jinping was to announce that even Japan was now supporting the BRI. Under US pressure for allies not to endorse the Belt and Road Initiative, detaching Japan from the US was a win.
Prime Minister Abe’s first stalemate seems to be his Russia policy. He believed that he could take back two, or four, of the Kuril islands occupied by Russia, by creating a personal friendly relationship with President Putin, and by expanding economic cooperation. This should have created a strategic relationship, but it failed to do so. His second diplomatic stalemate was his China policy, as he relied heavily on Japan's friendly business relationship with China, while sidelining the advice of foreign and security policy experts. Some strategic thinkers have seriously worried about this approach.
At the same time, Prime Minister Abe did not lose strategic sight. He was always aware of the key importance of the US-Japan alliance, so he worked hard to be close to President Trump. He also fully understood the strategic importance of consolidating ties among liberal democracies. That is why he put significant energy in G7 diplomacy.
Has Prime Minister Abe set a strategic course for Japan in the next decade? Which areas of Japan's foreign policy do you expect to be the most subject to contentious domestic politics?