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Shinzo Abe's Victory Likely Raises Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in Parliament on Sunday. The victory was large although the Japanese economy has fallen into recession under his conservative policies.

Mr. Abe’s win will permit him to continue economic reforms. At the same time, he can also pursue policies likely to increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.

Prime Minister Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its ally, the Komeito Party, increased their majority in Japan’s House of Representatives.

He praised the victory.

“I am relieved that we have managed to continue our ruling coalition with the Komeito party. But at the same time this is also a great responsibility.”

Mr. Abe says this victory shows that voters support continuing his economic program, known as Abenomics. The program raised taxes to control the nation’s large public debt, pushing the economy into recession. The election win will make it easier to pass unpopular reforms like deregulating labor and farm policies.

It also will probably let Mr. Abe follow a nationalist program likely to annoy South Korea and China. In the last year, Mr. Abe angered his northeast Asian neighbors by visiting a place honoring military service members. They included war criminals who died in World War Two.

His administration’s efforts to amend school history books involving Japan’s actions during the war also have caused other countries to protest. The administration has tried to remove mention of the military’s enforced use of women as sex slaves.

Park Hwee-rhak teaches political science at Kookmin University in South Korea. He says seeing Mr. Abe move away from these strong emotional issues would ease tensions.

He said, “I think northeast Asia – China, South Korea and Japan – is not ready to view history objectively. So I hope (Mr.) Abe will emphasize practical policies which can guarantee peace or mutual prosperity in northeast Asia and not focus on the history.”

Japan also has competing claims with both South Korea and China over two different chains of islands in the East China Sea.

Its closest neighbors are worried about Mr. Abe’s support for changing the country’s constitution to make the military more assertive. The document is based in pacifism – a belief that conflicts should be settled through peaceful measures.

Sejong University political science professor Hosaka Yuji says Japan is more concerned about China’s growing military strength.

He says Japan also needs to increase its armaments so it will not lose in an arms competition with China, which is gaining military ability. He says Japan needs to have its own military, but that requires a change to its constitution.

The United States supports the expansion of the Japanese military so it can take a larger part in the alliance between the two nations. But American officials have criticized attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime history.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul, South Korea. Jeri Watson wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

pursue v. to try to get or do (something) over a period of time

deregulating - v., gerund giving up control of (something such as an industry) by removing laws

annoyv. to cause (someone) to become slightly angry

mention - n. a short statement about someone or something

assertiveadj. confident in behavior or style

whitewash v. to prevent people from learning the truth about (something bad, such as a dishonest, immoral, or illegal act or situation)

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