Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress*

By Chanlett-Avery, Emma; Manyin, Mark E. et al. | Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress*


Chanlett-Avery, Emma, Manyin, Mark E., Cooper, William H., Rinehart, Ian E., Current Politics and Economics of Northern and Western Asia


RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

July 2013 Elections-LDP Victory Gives Abe Control for Three More Years

Since 2007, Japan's politics has been plagued by turmoil and short-term premiers, complicating U.S.-Japan relations. This period of political instability may have come to an end in July 2013 with the landslide victory of Prime Minister Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in elections for Japan's Upper House of parliament, called the Diet. The LDP increased its seat total from 86 to 115 in the 242-seat chamber. The vote gives the LDP control of the Upper House, by virtue of a coalition it holds with the smaller, New Komeito party. Abe and the LDP already controlled the more powerful Lower House, which was won after a similarly dominant performance in December 2012 elections, a victory that swept the party back into power after three years in opposition. Elections for either chamber are not required to be held until 2016, which means that Abe and the LDP are likely to hold the reins of power at least until then.

Since assuming the premiership in December 2012, Abe has governed and campaigned on a platform of revitalizing Japan's economy and strengthening its military. According to polls taken before and after the election, large majorities of Japanese support Abe's economic policy moves to combat deflation and restore growth, a program he has dubbed "Abenomics" and consists of three main pillars: monetary stimulus, fiscal stimulus, and economic reform. Abe's arguments for a more robust military posture have generated more controversy and debate within Japan. Abe has said his government will proceed this fall with a study of how Japan can participate in collective self-defense activities, combat cooperation in defense of another country that is prohibited under the current official interpretation of Japan's constitution. However, because the July 2013 Upper House elections did not produce a two-thirds majority-a key legal threshold-Abe has said he will not prioritize his more far-reaching proposals to amend Japan's constitution.1 The LDP's reliance on the pacifist New Komeito party may give the latter increased influence in the debate over whether and how Japan should revise its legal structure to allow its military forces greater freedom of action.

Abe's Foreign Policy and Regional Relations

Two of Abe's major foreign policy goals are expanding Japan's engagement in Asia and increasing Japan's military capabilities. In particular, he has emphasized deeper engagement with Southeast Asia, as well as increasing security ties with India and Australia. At the Shangri-la security conference in Singapore, defense ministers from South Korea, Japan, and the United States met to discuss North Korean provocations. To attempt to pave the way for higher level talks with Beijing, he dispatched a top diplomatic aide to China shortly after the July elections.

China and Japan continue to be locked in a struggle over ownership of a small group of islets known as the Senkakus to Japan and the Diaoyu to China (see the "Territorial Dispute with China" section below for more details), with near-daily encounters between Japanese and Chinese vessels in the East China Sea that could escalate into a more serious conflict. Although the U.S. is officially neutral on the question of sovereignty, it otherwise has backed the position of Japan, which administers the islets. China has refused to hold highlevel meetings with Japan, including a heretofore annual Japan-China-South Korea summit, unless Tokyo makes key concessions on the Senkakus/Diaoyu issue.

China and South Korea remain wary of Abe's goal of expanding Japan's military capabilities because of their lingering concern about how the Tokyo government treats Japan's history of aggression in Asia in the first half of the 20th century (see the "Abe and History Issues" section below for background). Plans to adjust Japan's constitution to loosen restrictions on the military and to develop Japan's defense activities with other countries draw complaints or statements of concern from Beijing, and are unsettling to many in Seoul. …

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