Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 21, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's landslide victory in Japan's lower house election on Sunday has further consolidated support for his ultra-right political agenda and will no doubt embolden him to raise the status of Japan's defense forces, a prospect that will not be regarded as good news in the region.
As is known to all, Abe has been advocating constitutional revisions for years. In 2014, his administration reinterpreted Article 9 to give Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense. One year later, he forced the passage of controversial security-related bills through parliament, allowing expanded overseas roles for Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
Now, Sunday's victory has granted Abe's conservative coalition a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament. The result comes as no surprise, as the opposition is weak and fragmented, and no match for Abe's ruling coalition, but it means Abe now has the opportunity to try and change the country's "pacifist" Constitution.
However, Abe should bear in mind that the Japanese public is strongly opposed to any amendment, as manifested both in polls and in the massive protests over the security bills in 2015. On top of that, any attempt to change the Constitution would also trigger a strong backlash in the region, drawing the ire of neighboring countries including China.
Abe has from time to time articulated the wish to improve bilateral ties with China, the latest example being his expression of hope of achieving an exchange of visits by leaders from both sides.
But as a seasoned politician, he should understand that he holds the key for improving ties in his own hand, as he has single-handedly thrown bilateral ties off balance with his stance and actions.
Rather than simply paying lip service to improving ties, Abe needs to match his words with actions and adopt a proactive policy to restore neighborly relations with China.