After having spent only six months in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled cabinet, Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikiwa found himself forced to resign over allegations of wrongfully accepting campaign donations from the sugar industry. The decision to step down didn’t come as a surprise, as the critique about the funding scandal had been steadily building, even leading to questioning in the Diet, and eventually leading Prime Minster Abe to make a public defense of his agriculture minister.
Faced with a complex and increasingly dangerous regional scenario, under growing demands for naval hardware and diplomatic support from countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, in the midst of complex domestic negotiations concerning the evolving interpretation of constitutional provisions on security and defense, and faced with the need for Japan to redefine its international image, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to have decided to emphasize the “rule of law” as a central tenet of Japanese foreign policy.
As anyone who studies Japanese political history of the 1930s can attest, the rightwing forces in this nation can be a fractious lot. Once the spirit of nationalism rages, any sort of moderate, compromising behavior can be denounced as treason. Shinzo Abe came to power as a spokesman for the hard right, but after ten months of reasonably cautious behavior, a good chunk of this movement is ready to turn against him.
Canada is one of those countries whose relations with Japan seldom prompt front page news. However, in addition to sharing some key interests, certain developments may help the relationship grow tighter over the coming years. These include energy, a field where Ottawa is a major player and Tokyo is in the midst of a major overhaul. The two countries are also taking steps in security and defense cooperation.
“Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is a far-sighted policy,” declared Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his Cabinet and journalists on Friday, “Japan should play a leading role toward a year-end deal.” The prime minister may be exactly right, but the fact is that very few independent observers have any firm basis for making a judgment. Not only are the TPP talks highly complex, they are also secret and moving very quickly.
During his recent visit to Canada and the United States, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a number of interesting visits and public statements, once again demonstrating that he tends to give rather different messages to international audiences as compared to what he says at home.
The run up to the House of Councillors election in Japan, when opinion polls were already pointing to a victory by the ruling party, saw widespread speculation over a more robust foreign and defense policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This included the possibility of amending Article 9 of the Constitution. News of the election results only served to prompt renewed speculation. However, Abe’s first overseas trip after the polls — to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — seemed to confirm that Tokyo would proceed with a gradual and pragmatic “normalization,” rather than embark on radical change.
The results of Sunday’s House of Councillors election are a foregone conclusion in light of the electoral district system and the number of candidates run by each party. The ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito will win a strong majority in the upper house but cannot possibly win on their own the 2/3 majority required for constitutional revision. What we will have when the Diet next opens will be the Abe government popular with the public and in firm control of the parliament.