WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday congratulated Shinzo Abe, leader the Liberal Democratic Party, for the LDP’s sweeping general election victory and said he expects to work closely with the new government.
“I congratulate Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on his party’s success in the elections in Japan today,” Obama said in a statement.
“The U.S.-Japan alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and I look forward to working closely with the next government and the people of Japan on a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues,” he said.
His remarks came after the LDP won a two-thirds majority with its ally New Komeito in the 480-seat House of Representatives in Sunday’s election.
Obama also expressed appreciation to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose Democratic Party of Japan was trounced in the election, for his many contributions to the bilateral relationship.
Abe said on a TV program Sunday that he wants to make the United States the destination of his first overseas trip after launching his Cabinet, saying Japan cannot achieve strong diplomacy without strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Many U.S. policymakers and analysts are likely to welcome the return of the LDP to power under the conservative Abe’s leadership, hoping Tokyo will take a greater security role amid severe defense budget restrictions in the United States.
But some Japan watchers anticipate that Abe may not be able to take much decisive action on security issues, due partly to the cautious stance of New Komeito, which is backed by the major Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai.
Abe will increase defense spending, and especially outlays for the Japan Coast Guard, Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said in a recent seminar in Washington. He said Abe could recommission destroyers and other vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force as coast guard ships in dealing with China over the dispute concerning the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands.
While Abe is likely to push for a greater Japanese security role, he will have to be careful because New Komeito is “cautious on that issue,” Green said, adding, “It may disappoint the Americans who want decisive action.”