Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) scored a big win in last Sunday’s election to the House of Councilors, which is the upper house of the Diet, or parliament. The seats won in this election, together with those that were not up for election this time, give the LDP and its coalition partner the New Komeito more than half of all the seats in the upper house, resolving the issue of divided control of the upper and lower houses that had existed since 2007. This will allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies to go ahead unchallenged.
The LDP’s big win is because the Japanese public is supportive of Abe’s policies, while the party’s main opponent, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bogged down by internal divisions. Also, the Japanese public was unhappy about the divided Diet, which hobbled government policies in recent years.
Abe’s economic policies, known as “Abenomics,” have made Japanese society more confident about the economy. A public opinion survey released this month by the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of respondents thought that the nation’s economy would improve over the next 12 months — 24 percent higher than at the time of last year’s survey and the highest figure since 2002. It is clear that Abenomics is the main reason the LDP won this election.
Another aspect of Abe’s political line is the “normalization” of Japan. This is the orientation that China and South Korea are most worried about. In contrast to Japanese society’s previous tendency to restrict itself in order to avoid criticism by China and South Korea, Japanese people today no longer see normalization as a taboo, and they are no longer inclined to shrink back in the face of Chinese and Korean criticism. Among people aged from 18 to 29, 73 percent think that Japan has expressed sufficient remorse for what it did during World War II and that it does not need to say any more about it. Given this development, Taiwan would do well to think about how to adjust outmoded views and face up to the Japan of today.
Considering the high threshold set for amending the Japanese constitution, Abe is definitely not aiming to alter Article 9 of the constitution, which bans Japan from maintaining armed forces. However, he might try to amend Article 96 to lower the high threshold it sets for constitutional change. Given that the LDP’s coalition partner is opposed to amending the constitution, perhaps Abe will abandon the New Komeito and form a new ruling coalition with partners who are in favor of constitutional change, such as the Japan Restoration Party, which is the third-largest party the House of Representatives, or Your Party. A new coalition would necessitate a reorganized Cabinet, so any such change will have far-reaching implications.
Abe’s most surprising move is his intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It looks as though Abe may be using the TPP as a way of promoting structural reforms. Japan can be expected to speed up its negotiations for joining the TPP, which will in turn improve the prospects of the TPP coming into existence. The idea that the TPP could be set up before the ASEAN-based Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership thus ceases to be a mirage and China’s aversion to the TPP may also be reduced.
Abe is in favor of strengthening relations between Japan and Taiwan, so his increased influence provides Taiwan with a strategic opportunity. Whether Taiwan will be willing to face up to a newly rising Japan will depend on our politicians’ ability to abandon the restrictive “one China” policy that seeks alliance with China to oppose Japan.
Lai I-chung is an executive committee member of Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Julian Clegg