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Abe focuses on North Korea ahead of Lower House election, but does his policy set him apart?

JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cited dealing with North Korea as a key policy point ahead of Sunday’s Lower House election, even though few parties differ over their approach and in-depth discussions have yet to be held on the issue.

While campaigning, Abe, who also heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is seeking support for Tokyo’s hard-line stance on the reclusive communist state over its nuclear and missile provocations.

“We must now put pressure on North Korea to make it change its policies,” Abe said to kick off a street speech in the city of Kagoshima on Friday. “We must never waver” on the issue, Abe added.

Kagoshima Prefecture is the home of Shuichi Ichikawa and Rumiko Masumoto, who were kidnapped by North Korea in August 1978 when they were in their 20s.

Abe also highlighted the close cooperation between Japan and the U.S., noting that he has set up a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and relatives of abductees to North Korea during the U.S. leader’s planned visit to Japan in early November.

But with the exception of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, which are calling for dialogue with Pyongyang, there are no major differences over policy toward North Korea among major political parties.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, head of Kibo no To (Party of Hope), a new conservative party, has seldom mentioned North Korea during the campaign — although its election platform says that Japan should work with the U.S. and South Korea in urging other countries to strictly implement sanctions on North Korea.

In a street speech in Tokyo on Friday, Koike criticized Abe for traveling around Japan as part of the LDP campaign at a time when tensions over North Korea are growing. But she stopped short of saying more about North Korea.

In a recent debate among party heads in the lead-up to the vote, Koike said that there are no differences between her party and the LDP over national security policy. Koike served as defense minister under Abe’s first administration, which lasted for a year until September 2007.

One official of the new party commented that it is not a good idea for Kibo no To to compete with the LDP on an issue where the prime minister is trying to draw voter attention.

In a speech in Sapporo on Friday, Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan — a new party formed by liberal defectors from the opposition Democratic Party — blasted Abe for fueling concern over the North Korean threat. But he did not set out specific measures on the issue.

Ichiro Matsui, leader of opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai, is focusing on freezing the planned consumption tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent in October 2019, and promoting decentralization.

On the other hand, JCP leader Kazuo Shii is actively speaking about North Korea and voicing opposition to Abe’s stance. He specifically maintains that Japan should make efforts to help set up direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

Abe is “not making diplomatic efforts” to resolve the North Korean issue and instead “talking only about the military side” of the problem, Shii said Friday in a speech in Sendai.

Together with the threat from North Korea, Abe has cited the country’s aging society and sluggish birthrate as major issues for the upcoming election, labeling it as an opportunity to “break through the national crisis.”

Abe may believe he will be able to win voter support by stressing his government’s efforts to deal with the North Korean threat, following a recent series of provocations by the country, including ballistic missile launches.