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Land of the Rising Gun
Japan Abides Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s relentless campaign to remilitarize his country by undoing its constitutionally mandated pacifism has taken a toll on his political fortunes. When lengthy arguments on the floor of Japan’s parliament featured a string of respected legal scholars and politicians denouncing Abe’s “reinterpretation” of the constitution’s anti-war Article 9, it hurt him badly enough to raise the question of whether the party would try to force him from office. But now, the LDP has called a snap party election for September 20, and, with support from all of the party’s subfactions, an Abe victory looks like a fait accompli. Reuters reports:

[The LDP] on Friday set a date for a party leadership election that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bound to win, effectively assuring him of staying leader of the world’s third-largest economy.

All seven factions within the party supported Abe and there were no signs he would face a contender in the Sept. 20 vote, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s major daily, said.

…His ratings bounced following a statement this month to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in which he expressed “utmost grief” for the suffering Japan caused.

Toshihiro Nikai, a party heavyweight, told a news conference last week that the whole party was moving toward Abe’s re-election and that he had no doubt about his victory.

Abe is no stranger to the tempestuous nature of his country’s party politics. After all, the LDP has swept him into and then out of the country’s highest office before (this is not uncommon in parliamentary systems). In recent weeks, some noises from bigwigs inside the LDP indicated that he could soon be back in that kind of trouble. But the PM pressed through, proving himself once again to be a shrewd politician, in part because he seems to know that China, and to a lesser extent North Korea, are doing his most effective campaigning for him.

This news tells us something important about the likely future of Japanese power. Even as Abe’s militarism kick provokes gripes, his repeated narrow victories are testament to the fact that Japan as a society seems to have made up its mind to balance Beijing’s growing might. The Japanese people may hold their noses as they do it, but they eventually decide to do what it takes to keep dragging China back down into the regional competition Beijing so dearly wants to transcend in lieu of the global role it feels it deserves.

Beijing, with all that territory and all those people, has been known to fall into the trap of discounting the little island nation off its coast. But for those of us trying to think through what China’s rise will mean for the future, we would do well not to make the same mistake. We would do well, in fact, to remember that in high-tech 21st-century warfare, where military might is no longer about how many 18 year olds you can give a machine gun to, Japan has the potential to be an out and out superpower—and one that puts paid to the supposed inevitability of Chinese geopolitical dominance.

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