On Sunday, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan won a two-thirds majority in the 480-seat house of representatives. The Obama administration will gain from Japan's new right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as his landslide victory indicates a belligerent foreign policy but still helps U.S. interests in East Asia.
Just a few days after his election, Shinzo Abe has already fired a warning towards China, reiterating Japan's sovereignty over the eastern islets that Japan and China have been trivially fighting over. China calls the uninhabited islands the Diaoyu Islands while Japan calls them the Senkaku Islands. Even worse, Japan and South Korea are in a centuries old dispute over another island called the Takeshima or Dokdo island, respectively. This year, tensions rose when South Korea's current president Lee Myung-bak visited Dokdo as a claim for sovereignty.
While all of this sounds like Japan is dangerously aligning itself against its East Asian neighbors, Abe still reiterates that Japan's priorities will be to "strengthen [Japan's] alliance with the US and also improve relations with China."
While the effects of Abe's new administration are yet to be seen, here are a few reasons why Washington gains from Shinzo Abe's victory and why Shinzo Abe helps Obama's East Asian interests:
1. The U.S. needs Japan to be proactive and belligerent in balancing China
Shinzo Abe has indicated he wants to work closer with the U.S. military and change Japan's pacifist constitution, signed after World War II. Abe's radical right-wing views seem to be causing a stir just a few days after his election. As Japan acts with more stride on the international stage, Abe has indicated a stronger alignment with the U.S. by curbing Chinese interests and by indicating Tokyo wants to work closer with U.S. intelligence and military. Japan and South Korea have often been seen as the United States' closest allies in the region in balancing China and their growing clout in the region.
2. Japan seeks better ties with South Korea, reaffirming U.S. balancing act
Japan will continue to stir the pot with China and South Korea by claiming sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and Dokdo/Takeshima Island. Abe has shown an expressed interest in changing Japan's stance on Korean "comfort women" during Japan's annexation of Korea which is a shift in a progressive policy that hasn't occured in many decades. Japan's claim over Dokdo/Takeshima won't strain Japan-South Korea relations as much considering Dokdo is inhabited by a Korean family and since South Korea technically is controlling the island. On the other hand, Japanese interests are more threatened by China as the Japanese government bought the disputed islands privately from a family last year indicating ownership and more sovereignty over the disputed islands.
Japan and South Korea are still under the U.S. thumb of military presence and Abe's new proactive role in East Asia only promotes U.S. interests further in balancing Beijing's rising power.