Dec 18, 2012

China - Concern over Abe's moves

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With an already fraught Sino-Japanese relationship, the return of Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party to power commands concern.

LDP leader Shinzo Abe was hawkish on the campaign trail, which forecasts more assertive foreign and defence policies by the government he will head. And one of the major things on his to-do list is bolstering Japan's military and coastal defences.

For the first time in decades, national defence played a significant role in Japan's general election. The LDP has promised to get tough in the country's territorial row with China, which will increase tension. Its election manifesto calls for studying the permanent basing of "civil servants" on China's Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan.

What's more, Abe has called for an increase in Japan's defence spending, easing constitutional restrictions on the military and even changing Japan's so-called Self Defence Forces into a full-fledged military.

Abe is likely to push through several changes with little opposition, including abolishing the requirement for a separate new law each time Japan wants to send peacekeepers abroad and establishing a National Security Council to streamline decision-making, which was a primary, though eventually unrealised, goal of Abe's previous administration.

Article 9 of Japan's constitution renounces the right to wage war to resolve international disputes and, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of a military.

Constitutional revisions require approval by two-thirds of the members of both houses of Japan's parliament and a majority of voters in a national referendum. Changing the Japanese government's interpretation of the right to collective self-defence, however, can be done without legislation.

Abe and his backers have made clear their first target would not be Article 9 of Japan's constitution but constitutional requirements for both houses of parliament to enact revisions. They want to reduce that hurdle and make subsequent changes easier.

Though Abe paid lip service to improving China-Japan relations after the election, no specific proposals have been made by Japanese political parties to mend relations with Japan's neighbours. And his words so far on the islands dispute with China run counter to better relations.

The LDP's manifested foreign and defence policies won't win Japan friends. Instead, they may destabilise East Asia.

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