Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

U.S.-Japan Strengthen Ties, But Can Japan’s PM Abe Deliver?

Posted by K.E. White on January 4, 2007

Reports show America and Japan coming close to finalizing on coordinated security plans, another sign of the growing military partnership between the two countries.

The American-Japanese relationship is close: both view China as a strategic threat and both would prefer regime change in (now nuclear) North Korea. Yet when viewing this blossoming relationship, demanding reforms to the Japanese pacifist constitution and policies, one must consider the current Japanese regime crumbling domestic support.

The Associated Press (AP) reports on coordinated defense plans being drafted between Japan and America:

The U.S. and Japan are set to draw up joint contingency plans for a possible military conflict on the Korean peninsula — possibly using Japanese bases to attack North Korea — and for defending Taiwan against China, news reports said Thursday.

China quickly expressed concern over the Taiwan plans, reiterating its claims to the island. China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing considers the island a renegade province.

Another AP article reports on Shinzo Abe’s, Japan’s Prime Minister, determination to pursue an “independent” foreign policy:

Abe, who took office in September, has taken a tougher stance on the international stage than many of his predecessors, appealing to a greater sense of nationalism in Japan following more than a decade of economic stagnation.

“The security situation surrounding Japan has changed drastically with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles as well as a series of regional conflicts,” Abe said. “To protect Japan’s peace, independence and democracy and the lives of the Japanese, we need to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

But behind such reports lingers Abe’s dwindling popularity at home, as the Financial Times reported in December:

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s popularity has plummeted in the past few weeks, according to polls published on Tuesday by leading Japanese media organisations.

The polls by the Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi newspapers, as well as the public broadcaster, NHK, taken over the weekend show a widespread loss of public faith in the government’s commitment to reform and mounting concerns over Mr Abe’s lack of leadership and the direction of his government’s policies.

A poll by Japan’s most widely read newspaper, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, showed Mr Abe’s rating dropped sharply by 9.2 points to 55.9 per cent.

The more left-leaning Asahi Shimbun poll showed a larger drop to 47 per cent from 63 per cent when the Abe government was formed in late September, while the Mainichi poll had Mr Abe’s support rating down at 46 per cent down 7 percentage points from a month ago and 21 points from when he took office.

The Financial Times proves useful today as well, reporting on Abe’s decision not to prusue quick elections to shore up political support. This has put his plans for constitutional reform in a lurch:

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, on Thursday said he would put constitutional reform at the heart of this July’s critical upper house poll, but ruled out calling a general election to strengthen his faltering mandate.

Speaking at his first press conference of the year, Mr Abe said: “My cabinet will aim to revise the constitution and I intend to seek support for it during the upper house election.”

He has pledged to rewrite the pacifist constitution drafted by the US during its postwar occupation of Japan…

In 2005, Mr Koizumi won a massive majority and reversed his political fortunes by calling a snap general election on the divisive issue of postal reform. Some upper house members of Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic party have suggested calling a general election as a way of putting the ruling party’s legendary electoral machinery into full swing.
Mr Abe hinted at the tough battle ahead, saying he would be “responsible for the cabinet”. Some political observers have speculated that he might have to resign if his party were badly defeated in an upper house election.

I am no expert of Japanese politics, but it seems that the American aim of a strong and remilitarized Japan may prove difficult to attain–though by no means impossible.

Only time and Abe’s response will tell show Abe’s recent slip in popularlity as a blip or the beginning of the end for his tenure as Prime Minister.

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