WASHINGTON – The victory Sunday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition will reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance and contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region, especially as Americans are focused on domestic issues in the run-up to November’s presidential election, according to U.S. experts on Japanese affairs.
They said Abe’s firmer grip on power will boost bilateral cooperation in ensuring peace and stability in the region in the face of China’s growing assertiveness and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons developments.
They cited Abe’s recent drives to strengthen Japan-U.S. ties, such as enacting the controversial security laws that enable the Self-Defense Forces to fight overseas for the first time since World War II and concluding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.
David Parker, an associate fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, argued that Abe’s victory in the Upper House election is significant as “the U.S. is in the throes of a very contentious presidential campaign, and the populist strains in U.S. politics are raising levels of uncertainty at home and in the minds of our allies.”
As Parker suggested, populist forces are evident on both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S. this election cycle.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, for example, has created a source of concern among U.S. allies by indicating that if elected he will consider withdrawing U.S. forces from Japan and South Korea and allow the two countries to obtain their own nuclear weapons.
Trump has also threatened to pull the U.S. out of the TPP, saying the 12-nation deal will cost millions of U.S. jobs and be “the death blow for American manufacturing.”
His presumptive Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has also expressed skepticism toward the deal, which she had championed when was secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term.
“In this context, stability in Japan — and steady, internationalist leadership from Tokyo — is something that broadly benefits the United States, the alliance and regional stability,” Parker said in an interview.
The victory by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, also comes as China steps up territorial claims in the East and South China Seas with coercive measures. Tokyo and Washington oppose Beijing’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo and have called for settling disputes in accordance with international law.
Referring to Abe’s fourth straight national election victory as LDP leader, Daniel Sofio, a research analyst at the CSIS, hailed the current stability in Japanese politics.
Before Abe returned to power in December 2012, six prime ministers came and went quickly, with each serving an average of one year in office.
“With this longevity of service comes stable leadership. Provided that Mr. Abe and the LDP stay focused on policy, this could be a good thing” for Japan’s allies and partners, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, Sofio said in a separate interview.
But Sofio expressed caution about Abe’s eagerness to amend the Constitution now that Sunday’s election has given the LDP, Komeito and other lawmakers supportive of amending the charter a combined two-thirds majority in the Upper House, opening the way for constitutional reform proposals.
“It’s up to the government and people of Japan to decide, but whatever direction Abe pursues, it should not come at the expense of economics. There is a growing consensus that Abenomics is failing, and a relaunch will require significant political capital,” he said.
“If Mr. Abe focuses too much of his energy on constitutional reform, it could endanger his economic reform agenda.”
Constitutional amendments require approval by at least two-thirds of the members of each house of the Diet, as well as a majority in a national referendum. The LDP-Komeito coalition already held a two-thirds majority in the Lower House.
Abe has said there is a contradiction between the existence of the SDF and the ban in Article 9 on Japan maintaining armed forces, but some ruling coalition lawmakers, most notably from Komeito, have expressed reluctance to touch this provision.
According to a Kyodo News opinion poll conducted Jan. 30 and 31, 37.5 percent of the respondents were in favor of amending the Constitution after the Upper House election and 50.3 percent were against. The charter has never been altered since its promulgation in November 1946.
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