• Kyodo

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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday unveiled a set of campaign pledges for an Upper House election this summer, giving more weight to foreign policy as the economy is showing signs of slowing down under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The LDP selected foreign policy and defense as the first of six pillars for its election platform, attaching great importance to strengthening the bilateral alliance between Japan and the United States after Abe hosted U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, in late May as the first state guests since Emperor Naruhito took the throne.

Foreign policy and defense are followed by a strong economy, reliable society, regional revitalization, and disaster relief and prevention. Constitutional reform, the long-held goal of Abe and the LDP, is the sixth pillar.

The LDP said it aims to promote domestic debate to achieve the first-ever revision to the Constitution “at an early date,” without giving a specific time frame. Abe has said he hopes to see the Constitution revised in 2020 by changing the war-renouncing Article 9 to formalize the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Abe, who has served as the party’s leader since 2012, has expressed his desire to make constitutional reform a major election theme amid little progress in parliamentary debate on the contentious issue.

The election needs to be held as the current term for half the Upper House members will expire on July 28, which comes a month after Abe hosts a Group of 20 summit in Osaka where he hopes to showcase his leadership.

“We want (voters) to choose the future shape of Japan,” LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida said at a news conference to unveil the 2019 election booklet containing the pledges along with photos of Abe interacting with Trump and other foreign leaders.

Abe returned to power in 2012 with a focus on economic revitalization under his Abenomics policy mix.

He has struggled not only on the economy but also on the diplomatic front, especially with regard to North Korea and Russia.

He is now calling for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without any preconditions, but no date has been set.

Ongoing peace treaty talks with Russia, meanwhile, have shown no signs of a breakthrough amid continuing differences over the sovereignty of Russian-controlled islands off Hokkaido.

The set of pledges include some wording that the Abe government had been more hesitant to use out of diplomatic consideration.

Abe has been perceived as softening his stance on North Korea as Trump engaged in dialogue with Kim, but the LDP calls for “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang in the election booklet.

The ruling party also mentions that the islands involved in the dispute with Russia are Japan’s “inherent territory,” a description that Tokyo has long used but has recently avoided amid treaty talks. The islands are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

The forthcoming election for the Upper House comes as the world’s third-largest economy faces a slowing of growth momentum amid an escalating trade war between the United States and China.

There is also some speculation that Abe may be considering dissolving the Lower House for an election to coincide with the Upper House race.

The election platform states that the LDP will seek to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in October, echoing Abe’s stance that he will go ahead with the plan barring any shock on the scale of the 2008 global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

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