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LDP win risks Japanese nationalist revival

By Gregory Clark (Global Times)

08:37, July 19, 2013

Several things seem likely as a result of Japan's Upper House elections to be held on Sunday.

One is that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), together with its coalition Buddhist-oriented partner, the New Komeito, will end up with more than the majority of 121 seats they need to complement their current Lower House majority.

The lack of that Upper House majority has created the so-called twisted Diet which to date has blocked many ruling coalition moves.

One reason for the victory will be the disorganized and fractious state of the main opposition parties, the former ruling Democratic Party of Japan in particular.

Indeed, so poorly have most performed that many predict a boost for the hitherto weak Japanese Communist Party, the one party to show both consistency and firm anti-LDP opposition.

Another likely victory reason is Japan's improved economic condition.

True, the "three arrows" economic stimulus policies put forward by LDP leader, Shinzo Abe, are deservedly criticized.

Massive Bank of Japan monetary easing does little more than increasing the already bloated asset holdings of Japan's lending-cautious banking system; the promised fiscal stimulus will be negated by continuing calls for fiscal discipline plus a planned consumption tax increase to 10 percent; and the promised deregulations and encouragements in Abe's growth policies do not amount to much.

Some of the upturn to date has been due to the power of expectations. Simply by showing determination, it is possible to breathe life into a moribund economy, and Abe has been breathing a lot of determination.

But the main reason has been the massive devaluation of the yen. This does a lot more than help exporters; it also amounts to heavy protection of many of Japan's domestic industries in competition with foreign goods and services.

True, some of the devaluation is also due to expectations - Abe's promise to end the deflationary expectations which had caused the former yen appreciation.

But just as important has been Japan's growing trade deficit, as power companies are forced to import much more expensive foreign oil, coal and gas to fill the energy gap caused by delays in reopening nuclear plants.

Expectations and trade deficits do not last forever, especially in volatile Japan. Abe still needs to do something more concrete if he wants the economy to continue to improve.

One more certain result from an LDP victory will be increased Japanese nationalism.

Already Japan's various territorial disputes - with China and South Korea especially - have done much to inflame revanchist opinion. Abe makes no secret of his desire to tap other sources of national pride.

To date he has remained fairly silent about nationalistic symbols such as visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, the "comfort women" issue, war guilt denial including the Nanjing Massacre denial and so on. But few doubt that this is where his heart is.

The one possible restraining factor is the hints from Washington that the US is not entirely happy about the way overt Japanese nationalism could antagonize fellow Asians with strong war and colonialism memories, South Korea especially.

Japan loses much of its value as an anti-China forward US military base in Asia, if it is busy pushing South Korea and other Asian countries into China's camp.

Also likely is that once he has his Diet Upper House majority, Abe will move to bring in legislation allowing constitutional amendments by a simple majority Diet vote rather than the currently required two-thirds majority.

On this basis, he will then be able to remove the Peace Constitution restraints on Japan's joining with the US or others in so-called collective defense.

Abe and his supporters say this does not commit them automatically to support all and every made-in-the-US military confrontation.

But past history of Japan's automatic support for the US, whether over Iraq or Afghanistan, provides little hope for optimism.

Here, the one restraining factor could be a New Komeito still committed to its past pacifistic policies.

But this weakens somewhat if the LDP gets an overwhelming victory in this weekend's elections.

The author is a former Australian diplomat, trained in Chinese and Russian, and long involved with Japan. [email protected]

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