Island spat a sideshow to Japan’s future
October 2nd, 2012
02:56 PM ET

Island spat a sideshow to Japan’s future

By Bruce Stronach, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stronach is dean of Temple University, Japan campus. The views expressed are his own.

Japan’s governing party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), have both held leadership elections this past two weeks. Usually this news would have passed unnoticed in the rest of the world, as does most news about domestic Japanese political parties. But the strains in Chinese-Japanese relations over claims to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has made the world pay closer attention.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the newly elected leader of the LDP, has attracted particular attention for a number of reasons, not least because of his conservative reputation. It should, of course, come as no surprise that he would take a conservative stance toward China as it has been his policy for many years. And frankly, what would anyone expect? If you are going to run for the leadership of Japan’s conservative party you aren’t going to have much of a chance if you soft-pedal the China issue. However, he also appointed Shigeru Ishiba as LDP secretary general, the party’s No. 2 post. Although former Defense Minister Ishiba was his main rival for the leadership, he is as conservative as Abe. To strengthen his conservative credentials further, Abe has also clearly reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan alliance and Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had agreed to call an election “soon” as a quid pro quo for LDP support for a consumption tax bill. That was accomplished, and so it is assumed that even though Noda will likely try to evade fulfilling his pledge, he will have no choice but to follow through, possibly during the Diet session that begins this month. Most pundits assume that the LDP will be returned in that election, meaning Abe’s probable return as prime minister is drawing much scrutiny. In that sense, the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute is but one issue among many, and not even the most important.  After all, the measure of Abe’s leadership will not be his standing up to the Chinese, but rather his ability to lead the political system back to a place where the two major parties and their coalition partners can collaborate on policies and legislation that are sorely needed to lift Japan from the morass into which it has been sinking for some time.

But many seriously question Abe’s leadership abilities, with some accusing him of starting a five-year drought in Japanese political leadership that has seen five more Japanese prime ministers since he stepped down. Abe’s abrupt resignation five years ago, after the LDP suffered an electoral defeat in the upper house, ultimately precipitated the party’s defeat in the lower house in September 2009. His decision to quit raised questions about his character in a culture that values perseverance.

Abe has announced that while he will push Noda to make good on his promise to call elections soon, he will not use the tactic of boycotting Diet sessions “at any cost” when the new session begins in October. This is at least a small indication that he may be taking a less confrontational stance with the DPJ and may be willing to collaborate on legislation, such as issuing deficit-covering bonds, seen as being in the best interests of the nation as a whole.

The DPJ for its part announced a new cabinet lineup on October 1 and it was hoped that there might be some appointments intended to increase interparty dialogue, but a quick scan of the new appointments holds little hope, with one exception, namely new Finance Minister Koriki Jojima, who still has strong ties to the LDP.

But maintaining the harmony even within his own party in the run-up to the next election will pose difficulties for Abe, who appointed Ishiba as secretary general in recognition of the fact that Ishiba out-polled him in the regional chapters of the LDP by an almost 2:1 ratio. As a consequence, Abe’s victory has come at a cost to his party, as the regional chapters play a crucial role in promoting the party as a whole as well as supporting local candidates, meaning some may lack motivation in the upcoming general election.

All this means that while the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island dispute will continue to hold the international headlines for a while, Japan’s strength as a nation – and as a global player – will be determined by the up-coming Diet election and the next government’s ability to foster interparty collaboration for the good of the country.

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Topics: Japan

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. 100 % ETHIO

    America done too much fight, for long time.
    Now, it's some others' turn.

    Let US sea-back, relax and watch them in T.V.

    October 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Reply
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Commie chinese says what?

      October 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Reply
      • Eddy

        islands are only 100 miles from Taiwan and BBC and FT both says that Taiwan has legitimate claim to the islands; as they have been fishing there for many many generations. CNN is stupid and bad compared to BBC and FT

        October 4, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    The return of J apan's LDP to power would be leading the country back to the past instead of forward to the future. It transformed J apan into an industrial giant, delivered high growth, ample jobs and a steep rise in living standards. But cracks emerged when the bubble burst in the early 1990s. Ever since the party has failed to introduce reforms and to come up with pragmatic and realistic solutions to the problems and challenges J apan faces.

    October 3, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
    • Eddy

      forget about the rich spoiled kids of LDP; yes first genrations are good; not these SOB. Many in LDP in local prefectures when Abe became leader; CNN never wrote about this.. whY?

      October 4, 2012 at 7:38 am | Reply
  3. who knew

    This is religion's fault, especially Islam. Conflict only happens due to religion.

    October 3, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
    • Cat

      That has nothing whatsoever to do with this particular article. ಠ_ಠ
      This particular conflict is about saving "face" within Asian nations.

      October 3, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Garrett

      You can't assume this has anything to do with religion especially since it's not even mentioned in this article. Plus, there has been conflict going around the world that has nothing to do with religion.

      October 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • S. Lambert

      Only because of religion – not nationality, defense industry profit, oil, dictators, politics, idealism, greed, minerals, racism etc. Get some perspective. Religion is the front, but the former list are the motivations.

      October 4, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply
  4. kc

    The story given had perfectly reasonable content. The idea that the the islands issue is a blip misses the mark however.The islands issue is an example of how countries will fight over energy resourses. This is an example of how nations are going to butt heads over basic needs.This will become the driving force of politics rather than a sideshow.If the islands didn't have a potential oil and gas reserve its not likely China would have shown much interest ,other than commercial fishing access.

    October 3, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  5. Eddy

    censorship is On on CNN like communist China as my comments are censored.

    October 4, 2012 at 7:44 am | Reply
  6. Amare Gizaw

    I'm trying to send you a short letter via email. What emall address do I use for Fareed Zakaria? Help, please!

    October 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  7. balance07

    Communism vs. Capitalism.
    One of the Chinese policies is that anyone who can be rich should be rich.
    As a result, only the members of communist parties are super-rich now.

    October 11, 2012 at 7:11 am | Reply

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