Return of Japan’s LDP and Shinzo Abe Draws Mixed Reactions from Asian Powers
Shinzo Abe of Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party is set to be the country’s next prime minister, after leading his party to a landslide election win this past Sunday. Today’s post rounds up post-election commentary in Japan, then highlights South Korean and Chinese expressions of unease at this return of conservatism to Japanese politics. In contrast, Indian commentators are enthusiastic about the reelection of Abe, whom they consider strongly pro-India.
In Japan, commentators warned the LDP to accept its landslide victory with humility and urged leaders to govern Japan pragmatically and responsibly.
- Reflecting on the election, the Asahi Shimbun stated that the “biggest reason for the poor public enthusiasm for this election was probably the lack of a party that could really represent the will of the people after they became disillusioned with the DPJ.” Japan’s failure “to make effective policy responses to the economic and diplomatic challenges confronting the country…prompted many commentators both at home and abroad to talk about ‘Japan’s decline’ as a nation.”
- The LDP has called for revising Article 9 in Japan’s constitution, which renounces war in favor of the right to exercise collective self-defense. The Japan Times cautioned that the LDP’s posture on revising Article 9 would “arouse suspicions about Japan’s true intentions among neighboring countries, thus destroying the international community’s trust in Japan. It could also lead to a fierce arms race and destabilization of relations in East Asia, endangering Japan’s security.”
On Japan’s foreign relations, editorials called for stability and continued support for the U.S.-Japan alliance.
- Takashi Mikuriya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun that, “Under the DPJ-led government, Japan’s international stature fell significantly. If the Abe administration fails to reverse the trend and allows political instability to continue, Japan will fall into a full-blown national crisis.”
- Another editorial in The Mainichi added that the frequent changing of Japan’s prime ministers is “seen not only as a problem domestically, but also in terms of having an international voice.” It encouraged the Abe administration to “use the solid Japan-U.S. alliance as a springboard to stabilize Tokyo’s relations with Beijing in a strategic manner” and to “deter China’s provocative acts.” At the same time, “Japan should be wise enough to avoid creating situations that allow China to blame Japan for intensifying the bilateral conflict over the issue.”
In South Korea, officials and commentators expressed concern about the implications of Abe’s election for Korea’s economy and the Asia region.
- “We cannot but worry about the course of Japan under the leadership of nationalist Shinzo Abe,” said the Joongang Daily. “According to his security and foreign affairs positions, no relationship matters to Abe other than ties to the United States.” Citing Abe’s nationalistic views on economic, historical, and territorial issues, the editorial predicted that if his plans are carried out, “the country could seriously damage the geopolitical and trade climate in Northeast Asia.”
- A senior official from Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade expressed concern over the new Japanese leadership’s rightward shift. “We hope the new LDP leadership puts emphasis on the importance of improving relations with neighboring countries and hope Korea and Japan will jointly contribute to promoting peace and prosperity in the region.”
- Korean businesses are watching the Japanese yen with a wary eye, as Abe’s return to power is likely to appreciate the Korean won against the Japanese yen. During his campaign, Abe pledged to ease credit in an unlimited manner to boost the Japanese economy, which would weaken the value of the yen and thus hurt Korean firms’ competitive edge over Japanese firms.
The state-run media interpreted the LDP’s electoral victory as a sign of rising right-wing nationalism in Japan.
- “Abe must be more than an angry leader,” ran the headline of a Global Times editorial. At the same time, the paper argued, China should take a firm stance on the island disputes with Japan, because “only with such pressure will Abe hold China in esteem, otherwise he will think China is in a weak position.”
- Similarly, a Xinhua commentary urged Abe to reiterate pacifism, lest Japan “raise further suspicions among its neighbors if the current political trend of turning right is not stopped in time.”A pre-election editorial had called for long-term pragmatism in Japanese foreign policy and a repair of strained ties with neighbors.
In contrast, Zhou Yongsheng of China Foreign Affairs University was more optimistic about the new Japanese leader. “Abe’s regaining of power is expected to help heal the chilly bilateral relationship as he is a pragmatic politician who will not let the tension further damage Japan’s interests.”
Across the political spectrum, Indian newspapers are optimistic that Abe’s reelection bodes well for future India-Japan relations. Many commentators point to Abe’s track record as prime minister in 2006-2007, during which he espoused the concept of a “Broader Asia” and advocated strengthening ties between Japan and India on the basis of strategic interests and shared democratic values.
- The Pioneer, a right-leaning nationalist publication, called Abe “one of the most pro-India Asian leaders at this point in time.” Its editorial said Abe’s hardline against China “must be welcomed by India, especially as New Delhi too attempts to contain China’s growing belligerence in the region.”
- In the left-leaning Hindu, Sanjaya Baru of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said India and Japan are “truly natural partners in Asia” because they have a “shared vision of a Rising Asia and a strong commitment to democratic values.”
- The liberal-globalist Times of India pointed out that Japanese businesses have been hit hard by current tensions with China, creating “the perfect opportunity to expand the economic and strategic engagement with India.”
- The Hindustan Times also welcomed Abe’s reelection and the expected assertion of Japanese power, because “India benefits from a multipolar Asia.”
On specific policy issues, commentators expected progress on civil nuclear cooperation and enhanced defense and security ties, such as the removal of some Indian companies from Japanese export controls. The two countries also stand to benefit from each other economically, with India offering markets and manpower, and Japan providing technology and investment.
The only concern that some expressed was the resurgence of nationalism across the region in Japan, South Korea and China, as Brahma Chellaney of the Center for Policy Research argued. An editorial in the Indian Express also noted that “the surge of nationalism in both China and Japan…bodes ill for regional integration in Asia and stabilization of the global economy.”