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Shinzo Abe returns to lead Japan

Shinzo Abe returns to lead Japan

New (/old) Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. After serving in the same post in 2006-7, Abe returns in late Dec. 2012 amid frustration with Japan’s stagnant economy and uncertainty over future reliance on nuclear power. Photo: Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

On the heels of South Korea‘s recent election, Japan has chosen new leadership as well. Well, not completely new. Shinzo Abe–who was prime minister for a brief term in 2006-7–of the Liberal Democratic Party will lead what he termed “a crisis breakthrough cabinet.”

Described and right-wing, nationalist, hawkish, and outspoken, Abe has vowed to shore up the economy, deal with a swelling national debt and come up with a fresh recovery plan to address the damage caused by last year’s tsunami and subsequent nuclear power plant scare.

Japan relies heavily on nuclear power, which supplies 1/3 of its energy needs. After the Fukushima meltdown last year the government closed all of Japan’s nuclear plants, and established a plan to completely cease using nuclear power in 30 years. Cutting off domestic energy production hit the economy hard- energy costs skyrocketed and Japan was forced to increase imports of oil and natural gas, which greatly increased its trade deficit. Abe’s government has indicated it will look at plans for reinstating nuclear power to help with economic recovery.

Abe also wants to encourage investment and broaden Japan’s global economic presence, which will hopefully lead to inflation needed to boost the economy. He is in favor of raising Japan’s military stature as well as its partnership with U.S. on security and defense matters. Locally, Abe has rankled China and South Korea on several occasions with nationalist statements and policies some see as insensitive and provocative.

As with South Korea, Japan’s election came down the wire, indicating a public divided on the direction of the country and who best to lead it. This will create challenges for Abe to gain support for his policies; a sizable bloc of opposition party members remains in parliament.

Europe, Asia, and the U.S. are still searching for effective solutions to the economic crisis; it is unclear whether Abe’s program will make a difference. Handling the nuclear power question is also tricky- while understandably skittish after the disaster, it was such a big part of Japan’s economy that removing nuclear power might cause more harm than good.

South Korea and Japan are critical to the prosperity and stability of Asia, and both are undergoing significant political changes at the same time. The economies in both countries are in fragile states; previous attempts to fix the situation have not worked. New ideas could help, and democratic choice of government allows new ideas to come to light.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”