Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to a bilateral meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8, 2017. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun

Asia’s nostalgia for strongmen is on graphic display as the two biggest economies give their toughest leaders in generations even more power.

Japan’s Shinzo Abe yesterday won a resounding popular mandate, moving him closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming the nation’s longest-serving prime minister.

China’s Xi Jinping just got the formal go-ahead to solidify his place as the mightiest chief since at least Deng Xiaoping – perhaps even Mao Zedong.

Good news for Asia’s outlook? After all, both Abe and Xi now have carte blanche to upend vested interests, get the state out of the economy and, to differing degrees, recalibrate growth engines away from exports to services.

The answer: not necessarily when you examine how both Abe and Xi have exercised power these last five years and their immediate priorities.

Truth is, Asia’s current batch of strongmen haven’t proved to be very strong when it comes to economic retooling.

Truth is, Asia’s current batch of strongmen haven’t proved to be very strong when it comes to economic retooling.

Take Abenomics, which to date has failed on virtually all of its stated objectives.

Yes, Japan is growing solidly, just like most major economies. Sure, it’s enjoying its longest expansion in 11 years, unemployment is at a 23-year low and the Nikkei stock average is at 20-year highs.

Mere window-dressing, when you consider deflation persists and real wages grew a pitiful 0.1 percent in August following a 1.1 percent drop in July.

Nor is Japan rising on global competitiveness tables or enjoying the startup boom Abe promised. His signature pledge to make women “shine” has a disappointingly dull edge. For all his absolutist talk that “Japan is back,” Abe has been surprisingly timid about shaking up the status quo.

Ditto for Xi, who’s talk of epochal change is belied by the state’s still-dominant place at the center of the China’s economic constellation.

In fact, Xi’s single-minded assault on the internet, the press, free expression and any smartphone chat service that might challenge his supremacy smacks of weakness.

Xi’s pledge to give markets a “decisive” role is contradicted by reports Beijing might take stakes in mainland startup stars Baidu, Tencent, and Weibo.

But Xi, too, has been disappointingly passive about implementing his much-advertised pro-reform manifesto.

But Xi, too, has been disappointingly passive about implementing his much-advertised pro-reform manifesto.

It’s gone almost nowhere, leaving Beijing to rely on ever-greater borrowing, credit and regulatory moves to protect key sectors.

Nor has Xi shown courage to dispense with China’s annual growth target, an arbitrary goal that warps incentives both at national and local-government levels.

The electoral victories of recent days could make things worse as both Abe and Xi feel free to champion their pet projects.

In Abe’s case, it’s removing the shackles he believes were imposed by America’s Douglas MacArthur and his occupation forces after World War II.

For Abe, it’s personal. His beloved grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a member of the wartime cabinet of Gen. Hideki Tojo and later accused of war crimes. The US went easy on Kishi, who in 1957 rose to the nation’s top job. One of Kishi’s claims to fame was securing the 1964 Olympics.

Abe’s revisionist worldview, and efforts to downplay Imperial Japan’s past aggression, explains his obsession with revising the war-renouncing Article 9 section of the MacArthur constitution.

Predictably, Abe won his own Tokyo Olympics, to be staged in 2020. His new mandate empowers him to focus linearly on constitutional revision and less on the economy.

Five years on, remember, Abenomics is all excessive monetary easing and light on structural reforms to sustain healthy growth.

Xi has his own constitutional obsession that gets in the way of economic retooling. At last week’s 19th National Congress, Xi presented his plans for a “new era” and for his “Xi Jinping thought” philosophy (whatever that means) enshrined in the Communist Party constitution.

But Xi’s control-freak ways are incompatible with building a vibrant, competitive and innovative economy.

Under Xi, the economy has become even more of a black box, dimming the odds of him achieving his “China Dream” for 1.4 billion mainlanders.

Xi has spent an inordinate amount of time increasing Beijing’s global footprint with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and “One Belt, One Road” scheme. He’s spent precious little remaking China’s foundations to ensure the economy doesn’t stumble.

Now that Xi, and Abe too, have what they’ve long wanted, the odds of Asia’s two most prominent strongmen bothering with tedious structural reforms are low.

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