Abe is now preparing to address three major tasks: economic revival, constitutional revision and foreign policy. His administration is at a crossroads that might determine Japan's fate. Depending on the course chosen, Abe could either resume Japan's economic revival or steer the country toward dangerous right-wing territory.
At a press conference on July 22, Abe said that he will try to make Japanese people feel the recovery of the nation's economy. He promised that he and his ruling LDP are resolute in implementing economic policies to revitalize the stagnant economy.
The third Abenomics "arrow" of stimulating economic growth packs the most punch, said Liu. With Abe's plans to conduct the second round of his economic growth strategy set for September, the coming few months will be a crucial period that may determine Japan's economic and political future. Liu said the Abe administration is adopting quantitative easing to stimulate the economy in addition to deregulation and economic restructuring. However, the LDP's victory brought an increased proportion of parliamentarians representing privileged interests, which could resist economic structure reforms and cause divergence inside the ruling coalition, he added.
Constitutional revision is another key issue in the pipeline. The LDP needs to first amend Article 96 of the Constitution, which states that a constitutional amendment must be initiated by the parliament if two thirds or more of all members of the upper and lower houses vote for it.
Observers worried that the LDP's ultimate goal in the constitutional revision process is to alter Article 9, which prohibits Japan from declaring war. Doing so would radically alter Japan's post-World War II political and military status quo. However, some senior politicians—including those in the LDP's partner, the New Komeito Party—have admitted that the time is not right to pursue such an agenda. Abe's tough stance on territorial and historical issues for the past few months has put a strain on Japan's relationships with its neighbors—China, Russia and South Korea.
Zhang Yong, a researcher on China-Japan relations at the CASS, asserted that constitutional revision is among the stated goals of the post-election Abe administration. With the ruling coalition's majorities in both houses, the issue of amending Japan's Constitution is set to reemerge. "Amending the Constitution poses a question that tests the Japanese leadership's wisdom," said Zhang. He added that if the LDP insists on denying history, it is certain to meet with problems in the future.
Yang Bojiang, a senior research fellow on Japanese studies with the CASS, said Japan will try to strengthen itself under the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance. "Although conservatives in Washington and Tokyo agreed on strengthening Japan's defensive strength, their focuses are quite different," said Yang. While the U.S. side requires Japan to better coordinate with U.S. strategic concerns, Japan stresses its self-defense capability. Abe's aggressive policy could lead to a deep rift with Washington. Furthermore, the United States will not allow Japan to scrap the history and status of the post-war political system. The two sides also disagree on other issues such as agricultural subsidies and tariffs in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations and U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
Observers believe relations with China will be a crucial part of Abe's diplomatic policy. After the elections, Abe said he hoped to see both countries work together to overcome difficulties by carrying out high-level talks. However, he set a precondition that China must deny there are disputes over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, which the Chinese side will never accept.
Wu said Abe's China policy will not change much anytime soon. First, Abe will not easily compromise on the Diaoyu Islands issue, because he needs the excuse of the "China threat" to push forward his political agendas like constitutional revision and military normalization. Moreover, he believes the Diaoyu Islands can be used as a strategic chip against China. "Abe is aware that Japan's economic revival greatly relies on economic cooperation with China. To sustain a long-term administration, Japan must maintain stable bilateral relations, especially in the economic area," said Wu. "He will try to balance cooperation and containment as his China policy, so there will not be a true relaxation of bilateral relations."
Chinese observers will be keeping a close eye on Abe's words and actions on August 15, the day marking Japan's defeat in World War II. However, the hawkish prime minister said recently that he will show his respect to those who fought for the country, referring to the issue of visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead and 14 war criminals of World War II. Some Japanese politicians opposed the risky act. Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the New Komeito Party, said that Abe should refrain from visiting the shrine and recognize the sentiment of Japan's neighboring countries.
"China and Japan are approaching the Yasukuni Shrine very cautiously. But if Abe pays worship at the shrine on August 15, it will have a strongly negative influence on China-Japan relations," said Yang.
Political power is now firmly in the hands of Abe. Whether he will use it to stand for peace is a question yet to be answered.
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