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Japan's vote for Abe could worsen peace prospects with North Korea, China

Increasing military spending in the budget now may lead to future increases and spending on more offensive weapons

Nicole L Freiner | The Conversation 

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gambled by calling a snap election – and he has won big.

Voters handed Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party a sweeping victory in the Oct. 22 balloting for Japan’s House of Representatives.

The call for the election came in late September after had just fired another test missile, with its longest delivery system yet. Over the past months, North Korea has tested six missiles, with each test either falling into the Japan Sea or passing over Japan to land in the Pacific. This latest missile flew over Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido before falling into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung Un, used strong threats after this missile test, saying that he hoped to see sink into the sea. Abe and his hawkish, conservative coalition have been attempting to rebuild Japan’s military capabilities and to scrap its WWII-era constitution that prohibits aggression.

Based on my research in Japanese politics, I believe the party’s electoral victory spells trouble for peace in Asia.

Re-arming the military

Abe’s agenda has taken shape in a number of ways. In August, his minister of defense submitted a historic budget request that violates a decades-old unwritten principle. The principle is for Japan’s defense budget to never be larger than 1 percent of GDP. This principle was part of the commitment made after WWII to forever renounce military aggression.

The new budget request is a whopping 5,255 billion yen in military spending (US$48.1 billion) or 2.5 percent of Japan’s GDP for fiscal year 2018. The request includes new land-based missile defense systems to monitor space and provide auto-warnings for missile launches. This technology would assist in detecting potential missile launches from North Korea, and could theoretically intercept them.

In September, the Japanese Navy launched the ship “Myoko” that will patrol the Sea between and Korea. It will guard against potential missile fires by with anti-missile defense capabilities, identical to those of the U.S. Navy. At the launch, Abe said that the “increasingly severe security environment” posed by and must be “squarely faced” by He referred to the environment awaiting the Myoko’s crew as a “raging sea.”

Many in anticipate the role of Japan’s military will soon change to respond to Increasing military spending in the budget now may lead to future increases and spending on more offensive weapons. For example, two years ago, and the U.S. renegotiated their security alliance. agreed to come to the aid of its most important ally if the U.S. or one of its allies were to come under attack. A discussion on changing the Japanese Constitution’s WWII prohibition of aggression is likely to be revived.

Destabilizing the region

The requested increase in military spending in August had an immediate effect on the region and possibilities for peaceful relations.

A spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted China’s concern over the new plan and accused of inflating the threat posed by in order to take a more offensive stance in Asia.

The relationship between and is already tense. The two nations are engaged in a dispute over the Senkaku Diaoyutai islands in the East Sea. This disagreement flared up last summer when stepped up military activity near the islands. Then in February, President Trump reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to come to Japan’s aid with conventional and nuclear weapons in a statement signed by both leaders.

Abe’s victory confirms that Japanese people take these threats seriously. Their fears may play into a developing brinksmanship between and that could, in my opinion, implicate the United States.

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The ConversationTrump will visit Asia in November, and his stay in includes a visit with Japanese who were abducted by during the 1970s and ‘80s. Doing so may open old wounds with – the stories of abduction provoke strong feelings for the Japanese people who will be reminded of North Korea’s past offenses. Prospects for peaceful resolution with are becoming more slim, strengthening Abe’s case for building out Japan’s offensive capabilities. 

Nicole L Freiner, Associate Professor, Political Science, Bryant University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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First Published: Tue, October 24 2017. 09:52 IST