BEIJING – China is apprehensive about Japan becoming more nationalistic after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition scored a comfortable win in Sunday’s Upper House election, giving the ruling bloc control of both Diet chambers for the first time in six years.
Chinese media and some experts expressed concern that the already strained bilateral relationship could unravel further and said they will be closely watching Abe in the days ahead for signs of whether he will moderate or toughen his already hard-line stance.
“It’s none of China’s business whether Japan has a stable government or not,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China. “As long as Prime Minister Abe is in power, it will be difficult for the two countries to find ways in the near future to improve diplomatic ties.”
China views Japanese politics as having shifted to the right since Abe returned as prime minister in December.
“The election win will allow Abe to push forward his agenda to revive Japan’s economy and paves the way for his long-sought pursuit of revising the country’s pacifist Constitution, a move that would further complicate Tokyo’s relations with its neighbors,” China’s state-owned Global Times said Monday in a front-page story.
Beyond the friction growing out of the Senkaku Islands dispute, China has been irked by Abe’s major goal of relaxing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 to allow a full military, as well as his repeated comments suggesting he is unapologetic about Japan’s wartime aggression.
Shi said there are increasing worries that the big win in the Upper House election will make Abe and his backers in the LDP more confident in pursuing a nationalistic agenda. A more muscular push to amend the Constitution would have “repercussions on relations with China and South Korea,” which is embroiled in a territorial dispute of its own with Japan, he said.
Shi believes that the time is far from ripe for China and Japan to arrange a meeting between their top leaders later this year on the sidelines of multilateral gatherings.
“To have a summit meeting, both sides need to have some tangible achievements that can be explained to their own people, but the current situation is not like that,” he said, mainly citing the Senkaku dispute.
Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, expects momentum for Abe to rewrite the Constitution will build, given that not only is there “no real opposition party any more, but also that many opposition lawmakers are now right-leaning.”
“As foreign policy is an extension of domestic policies, I am concerned that repairing bilateral relations will be harder,” Liu said, adding that he will be paying close attention to what kind of role New Komeito, which has maintained a friendly relationship with China and is cautious about revising the Constitution, will play in the administration.
Liu also believes that the United States is frustrated by Japan’s frayed relations with China and South Korea.
“There is a possibility that Mr. Abe will not listen to what the United States has to say” now that the election is over, though the LDP constantly criticized the previous administration headed by the Democratic Party of Japan for its “diplomatic failures,” such as weakening the security alliance with Washington, Liu said.
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