FocusOSA #5: Japan: Foreign Affairs

Recently one of the most important issues related to Japanese foreign policy is a question of how much the result of recent parliamentary elections will affect the debate on the security strategy and constitutional revision. Despite falling support rates and the involvement of LDP’s leading politicians in numerous scandals, the ruling coalition has maintained dominance. Interestingly, many LDP’s members at the centre of accusations, such as former Minister of Defence, Inada Tomomi, or Shimomura Hakubun, have managed to securemandates in their constituencies despite dismissal and harsh criticism from the public. Among the most important reasons for LDP’s suprisingly good results one can name disorganisation in the Democratic Party after change of leadership and a sudden fall in popularity of Tokyo’s governor, Koike Yuriko, who was expected to be the strongest rival of Prime Minister Abe in the election fight. In the decisive moment of the campaign she replaced Prime Minister Abe in the first place of the ranking of the least popular politicians in Japan. It is also worth considering other factors, which influenced election result. According to commentators another significant stimulus was an increasing security threat posed by Pyongyang. In one of the post-election comments Vice Prime Minister,  Asō Tarō, openly thanked North Korea for their help in achieving victory, for which he was heavily criticised by media and the opposition.

As for the changes in international policy of Abe’s government to be expected in the nearest future, launching of the official dialogue concerning constitutional revision should be taken into consideration. LDP, in its pre-election campaign, presented a draft of changes. In one of the interviews  Abe Shinzō suggested adding paragraphs to Article 9, which would define the role of Japanese Self-Defence Forces. The person responsible for leading the debate on constitutional revision will be LDP’s Vice President, Komura Masahiko. Apart from the Liberal Democratic Party, a new party, Kibo no To, and Japan Innovation Party also support the idea of revision. Response to the queries sent to all members of the Lower House demonstrate that 80% of MPs believe that the Constitution requires changes. However, the revision process will be an extremely difficult task, requiring support of the majority of the Japanese society. Public opinion polls demonstrate that the citizens are deeply divided over the issue of constitutional revision.

This is the reason why Prime Minister Abe exercises caution and restraint when commenting on the projected changes, which may be the evidence of the government’s uncertainty concerning a positive outcome of the process. One of the threats to the revision plan is a very small advantage of its supporters in the Upper House of the Parliament. Therefore, in the process of introducing changes support of the coalition party, New Komeito, will be required. A factor in favour of the supporters of the revision is a lack of progress on the issue of North Korea’s disarmament. In mid-October, at Seoul summit, representatives of Japan, the United States and South Korea confirmed their will to co-operate in maximizing pressure on the regime in Pyongyang. Main instruments include control over observing the UNO’s security resolution and further tightening of sanctions.  A threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was the main subject of talks during Donald Trump’s visit to Japan and South Korea at the beginning of November. The leader of the United Stated once again emphasised stability of the alliance between partners in East Asia, and threatened to take all the necessary measures in the event of aggressive actions on Pyongyang’s part. Good relations with President Trump and tightening strategic co-operation with Washington are in line with Prime Minister Abe’s rhetoric, based on amplifying fears and anxieties in the region. In this context, it is necessary to follow the narration concerning actions of democratic states in the area of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, including India and Australia, which may result in  establishing a bloc balancing China’s increasing influence.