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North Korea saves Abe

Oct 24,2017
Scandal-ridden Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a mandate to go on with another term possibly until 2021 to make him the longest-serving Japanese leader — with his conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner achieving a sweeping win in the weekend snap election. The vote was a de facto confidence referendum on Abe and his rightist agenda proposing to rewrite Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution and reinforce the country’s military beyond a self-defense role. Abe gambled for a breakthrough amid a sagging approval rating against a series of scandals by calling a snap election a year earlier than scheduled.

The Party of Hope, created by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the central-left Constitutional Democratic Party, posed formidable opposition in the early stages of the campaign. But the bubble burst over Koike’s stardom toward the end of the campaign, swaying the votes for a decisive win for the ruling party. Thanks to the fresh mandate, Abe will be able to pursue changes to the Constitution to remilitarize the country.

If the Constitution is rewritten by 2020 as Abe hopes, Japan would become a normal state with the right to engage in a war. It would beef up its military capabilities. Its neighbors still living with vivid memories and repercussions from its war aggression cannot be comfortable with the changes. But there are no grounds to stop Tokyo from strengthening its military forces when China is rapidly building up its power to strengthen regional hegemony. We just have to use Japan’s buildup as leverage to contain China’s military expansion.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile advances and provocations have made a decisive impact on voters. Japanese unsettled by missiles from North Korea flying over their territory were moved to back stronger military force and conservative agenda. Abe will have to thank the reckless North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Beijing, which condoned Pyongyang’s provocations, for his election triumph.

In the long run, China and Japan could wage an arms race and heighten tensions in the region. North Korea and China may have to answer one of these days for turning the region into a danger zone.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 23, Page 34