U.S. closely watching poll, vows to work closely with winner

Kyodo

Washington will closely watch the Dec. 16 Lower House election and work with whichever party emerges victorious and forms Japan’s new government, a U.S. State Department official said.

“We expect that we will work well with whomever the Japanese people choose to elect, and we will be following closely,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday.

“We are the closest of allies. That is important for the United States, it’s important for Japan, but it’s also important for the region,” Nuland said, adding Tokyo-Washington relations “will remain critical” to both sides.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House on Friday, setting the stage for the nation to go to the polls Dec. 16. Most analysts expect the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to face an uphill battle due to its plunging approval ratings and the Liberal Democratic Party’s resurgence.

Many U.S. analysts have been frustrated by Tokyo’s revolving door of prime ministers in recent years and consequent policy discontinuity, although Noda is seen as a relatively stable leader compared with his two DPJ predecessors.

Noting that Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, could become the next prime minister after the election, Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, said his hawkish stance may help the U.S. encourage Japan to play a greater security role in line with its status as a major economic power.

“Abe’s conservative foreign policy views and the Japanese public’s growing concern over China provide an excellent opportunity for Washington to achieve several policy objectives critical to the health of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” Klingner said recently.

“It would be beneficial for the United States if Japan were to increase its defense spending, enable collective self-defense, adopt less restrictive rules of engagement for forces involving in overseas peacekeeping operations, and press forward on building a replacement U.S. Marine Corps air base in Okinawa,” he said.

He added, however, that the U.S. should privately advise Abe not to push his revisionist view of Imperial Japan’s invasion and occupation of China and what is now South Korea, saying such a stance “would needlessly inflame long-simmering regional animosity.”