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Better ties with China: Japan’s coronavirus silver lining?

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There may be a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose reputation as a capable leader is on the line. Abe’s approach to combating the coronavirus has been viewed unfavorably compared to the responses by leaders in Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and even Italy and the United States, where widespread testing, social distancing and lockdowns are underway.

As coronavirus cases in Japan mounted, early opposition fault-finding with Abe gave way to general excoriation of his leadership.

Abe’s critics — including Yoichi Masuzoe, the former health minister and Tokyo governor — have described his response as clumsy and politicized, while his administration has been accused of allowing medical professionals to run short on essential supplies and not moving faster to postpone the Olympics.

Some polls briefly showed domestic confidence in Abe slipping to 18-month lows.

But despite this torrent of criticism, a competing narrative has begun to form around Abe’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, as Japan appears to “flatten its curve” better than most countries. A country of nearly 127 million with the oldest population in the world, Japan had 65 deaths as of Wednesday — significantly fewer than in China, the United States, Italy, Iran, Spain, France and even the United Kingdom and South Korea.

To be sure, the situation remains in flux. Testing is limited. Abe’s expert panel continues to warn of a potentially “explosive” spread of infection, and every new death is a failure of the system.

But whether Japan’s situation has truly brightened, or Abe’s leadership is indeed to be commended, COVID-19 gives him and, just........

© The Japan Times