4. Japan could shake up world trade
With the Doha Round of trade liberalization on permanent hiatus, regional economic partnership and trade agreements are the rage. Japan is involved in a number of such negotiations, including a trilateral agreement with South Korea and China, the broader Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and an EU-Japan partnership.
Japan is also mulling whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed trade and investment partnership among 11 Pacific countries, including Australia, the United States, Vietnam, and Peru. Japan's participation would give the partnership undeniable heft, and emphasize TPP's character as a partnership of democratic states, with a few exceptions.
However, Japan's entry into the TPP has become a political football due to the country's electoral system, which is biased toward rural constituencies. Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, major components of rural economies, are all threatened by the pact, as they might not survive competition from lower-cost and more efficient foreign competitors allowed free access in to Japan's market through the TPP.
The LDP election manifesto states the party will lead Japan into negotiations to join the partnership. However, its preconditions would make Japan unwelcome at the negotiating table. The other two major parties also want Japan to join the TPP -- but each party is papering over internal divisions that would render actual decisions difficult. Almost all of the remaining parties oppose the partnership.
Both the business and security communities in the United States and Japan want broader and deeper economic engagement between the two countries. They will likely be disappointed. It didn't have to be this way: The TPP serves many of the political goals of Japan's three major parties, as it provides a counterweight to Japan's involvement in the more China-dominated East Asia regional trade and investment negotiations.
Tokyo acts, Washington will be forced to react
Creating a more militarily robust Japan has long been a dream of key players in the U.S.-Japan relationship, who envision it reshaping the East Asian balance of power. The first step toward implementing such a vision has been the revision of Article 9 of the Constitution, which limits Japan's capacity to engage in collective self defense.
The revision of Article 9 has long been a staple of the LDP's policy platform -- and now that the JRP has taken an even more militant line, they will have an important ally in their efforts. The barriers are still high: Both houses of the legislature must approve constitutional amendments by a two-thirds majority, and then the amendments must win a majority in a nation-wide referendum. However, the possibility of constitutional revision is now on the table.
If a victorious LDP forms a government that confronts China, the United States could be drawn into the showdown on the side of Japan. America's Japan hands have highlighted Abe's solicitous attitude toward China in his first term as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. But unfortunately, the lesson Abe seems to have learned from his first, unsuccessful, term is that he has to be himself -- in other words, the hawkish figure we've seen on the campaign trail.
Writing Japan's 1947 Peace Constitution and nailing down an asymmetric partnership through the U.S.-Japan security arrangements were two of the smartest moves the United States ever made. A secure Japan with a low military profile has been an effective yet autonomous instrument of American foreign policy goals in East Asia. Japan today is an ideal security partner for nations ranging from India to Australia to the Philippines -- a huge market, a great overseas investor, a major source of development aid, yet for the most part uninterested in great power politics.
The rise of China is disrupting Asia and the world. Americans should hope that the government that emerges in Tokyo following the upcoming elections is both moderate and stable -- but unfortunately, all indications are that it will be neither.