Japan’s old guard is back

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Japan’s old guard is back

The conservative Liberal Democratic Party of Japan made a strong comeback in Sunday’s parliamentary election by securing 294 seats, more than half of the 480 in the House of Representatives. Including the New Komeito Party, the LDP’s coalition partner, the traditional conservatives won close to a two-thirds majority, which means they can attempt to pass legislation overturned in the upper house of the bicameral Diet.

We cannot but worry about the course of Japan under the leadership of nationalist Shinzo Abe, the head of the LDP who will return as prime minister for the second time. Abe’s campaign platform was brimming with plans that could irk Asian neighbors. If his plans are carried out - including a rewriting of the antiwar Constitution, a military buildup, and stronger assertiveness on territorial and historical issues - the country could seriously damage the geopolitical and trade climate in Northeast Asia.

According to his security and foreign affairs positions, no relationship matters to Abe other than ties to the United States. He pledged to scrap the pacifist Constitution to reinforce the Self-Defense Forces into a full-fledged military and establish a new security law to allow the troops rights to “collective self-defense,” or military operations unrelated to Japan’s own defense.

What’s more urgently worrisome is Abe’s nationalistic view on historical and territorial issues. He pledged to nullify and replace past statements on Japan’s wartime actions such as the 1993 formal apology by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono for the Imperial Army’s involvement in recruiting Asian women for sexual services performed on Japanese soldiers and the 1995 statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama regretting the country’s past colonial rule and wartime excesses. He also plans to take a stronger stand on disputes over islets in the East China and East seas.

His economic agenda is equally backward. Abe pledged to spend as much as 200 trillion yen ($2.4 trillion) over the next decade to fix the moribund economy, even though Japan is already the world’s second-most-indebted nation. His inflationary prescription could spark a currency war. The LDP’s public support rate is no more than 20 percent. The LDP capitalized on right-leaning sentiment among Japanese voters frustrated by waning national power and an economic stalemate. Most Japanese do not want their country going to the far right. Political exploitation of nationalistic sentiment can be both dangerous and disastrous. Abe should try hard not to mess up in his second chance in office.
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