The fact that the Liberal Democratic Party avenged its defeat of four years ago and recaptured power in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was virtually a given in light of the Abe administration’s sky-high popularity and general momentum in the first half of 2013. But there were some notable subplots that revealed truths about the opposition parties, giving us a window into what to expect in next month’s House of Councillors elections.
Female executives and government ministers in Japan probably always have a higher bar to cross to really be accepted in their positions. When she was Japan’s first foreign minister, the volatile and sharp-tongued Makiko Tanaka faced unprecedented open defiance from top bureaucrat Yoshiji Nogami. And if that seemed peculiar to the case of the changeable Tanaka, not many years later a quite similar thing happened to the first, and so far only, female defense minister, Yuriko Koike.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s late May to Myanmar (Burma) has highlighted the scale of Japan’s interests in the country. These not only include trade, investment, and economic cooperation, but also comprise national security themes. Myanmar is home to key natural resources, offers cheap labor and untapped markets, and is located at a strategic crossroads.
“Even though we are involved in the dialogue and policymaking process, we are rather excluded when it comes to implementation.” This was an observation made to the SNA by an NGO insider when speaking of the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) held in Yokohama from June 1 to June 3.
Since we are based in Tokyo and not in Washington DC, we may not be the best source available for understanding US government policy, even its policy toward Japan and Asia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration is taking an unexpectedly cool posture toward Shinzo Abe and his band, and that this is having a major political effect here as well. It is also obvious that the Obama policy toward Japan is radically different than what US policy was a decade ago under George W. Bush.
For several months we had been thinking that the success of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, might represent one of the truly under-appreciated stories of 2013. For most of the anti-nuclear crowd the NRA could never really win much admiration because they dispute a fundamental premise upon which this organization was built — that nuclear energy could ever really be safe in earthquake-prone Japan no matter how strict the regulations.
The third consecutive Japanese prime minister has embraced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and this time it is probably for real—at least as far as entering the negotiation process goes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his much-awaited visit with US President Barack Obama to crow a little bit about how he was “restoring” the US-Japan Alliance after the three dark years of the Democratic Party of Japan.
The return of Shinzo Abe to the Japanese premiership was expected to lead to renewed efforts to build ties with fellow democracies, albeit within a pragmatic framework designed not to give the appearance of an explicit containment policy vis-à-vis China. The early foreign trips by some key members of the administration, including Abe himself, to Southeast Asia, made it clear that this would indeed be on the agenda.
After about a year of hanging about in the background, the issue of Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations was suddenly thrust back into the front rank of political debate. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in favor of Japan’s participation in TPP negotiations all along, as was his predecessor Naoto Kan. However, it appears that Noda decided to soft-pedal the matter late last year as he faced the daunting challenge of raising the national consumption tax, a divisive issue within the ruling party that he saw as the bigger priority.