Tokyo Election; Xi-Obama Meeting; G8 Summit

Politics Economy

Ruling Parties Win Big in Tokyo Vote

In the June 23 election for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, all 59 of the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidates won. This is the biggest number of seats the LDP has taken in the past 10 elections for the 127-member chamber, topping the 56 it won in 1977 and 1985. The New Kōmeitō, the LDP’s partner in the ruling coalition at the national level, came in second; it fielded 23 candidates, and as with the LDP, all of them won. The Democratic Party of Japan, which held 43 seats in the assembly before the election, won only 15 this time, falling from top place to fourth, while the Japanese Communist Party took third place, increasing its representation from 8 to 17. The Japan Restoration Party came away with a meager 2 seats.

The LDP and Kōmeitō had been expected to score a major victory, but the scale of their win was remarkable. By way of reference, a telephone poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun on June 8–10 found 44% supporting the LDP (down from 47% in its May 10–12 poll), 7% favoring the DPJ (unchanged), and 5% each for the JRP and the Kōmeitō. In a multiple-response question about the policy issues they considered important in deciding how they would vote in this July’s election for the House of Councillors (upper house of the National Diet), 86% cited the economy and employment, followed by 84% for social security and 79% for reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake. Asked to rate Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s economic policies, 59% gave them favorable ratings, while 26% did not favor them. But on the issue of revising Article 96 of the Constitution to ease the path for amendments by allowing them to be approved by simple majorities in each house of the Diet rather than the two-thirds majorities now required (a change that the prime minister has been advocating), just 34% approved, with 51% opposed.

In the campaign for the Tokyo assembly, Prime Minister Abe avoided turning the idea of amending the Constitution into an issue and focused entirely on his agenda for reviving the economy. This presumably contributed to the LDP-Kōmeitō victory, but another factor was the public’s disillusionment with the DPJ, which was in power at the national level from 2009 through late last year. It now appears almost certain that the upcoming national election for the opposition-dominated House of Councillors, due to be held late in July, will result in an upper house majority for the current ruling coalition, ending the split in control of the two houses.

Xi Jinping’s Strategic Thinking

At the summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama held in Palm Springs, California, on June 7–8, it has been widely reported that Xi asserted China’s claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands) and that Obama replied with the warning that the United States will not accept Chinese intimidation of US ally Japan over this territorial issue. This exchange highlights the crucial importance of the Japan-US alliance both for Japan’s security and for stability in East Asia, along with the need for Japan to work even harder than before at building up its defense capabilities, strengthening its alliance with the United States, and promoting security cooperation with partners throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

What I would also like to note in this connection is the significance of the call Xi made at the bilateral summit for China and the United States to create a “new model” of great-power relations and of his declaration that the vast Pacific Ocean was big enough to accommodate the two countries.

The defense white paper that China released this April set forth the objective of becoming a “maritime power” by building a strong navy and strengthening maritime management. The white paper criticized Japan by name as “making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu [Senkaku] Islands,” and it also directed a lightly veiled criticism at the United States, declaring, “Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser.” In addition, China is aiming to create a de facto second navy through the consolidation of four currently separate maritime law enforcement organizations—the China Coast Guard (an organ of the Ministry of Public Security), China Marine Surveillance (State Oceanic Administration, Ministry of Land and Resources), Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (Bureau of Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture), and the maritime anti-smuggling force of the General Administration of Customs, placing them under the command of the vice minister of public security (who also serves as deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration), along with the creation of the Maritime Police Bureau within the State Oceanic Administration, which would incorporate the existing Maritime Safety Administration (Ministry of Transport).

In recent years China has been pursing a maritime strategy that aims to turn the East China Sea and South China Sea into “China’s sea,” and what is called the “first island chain,” which extends from the islands of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture to Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and as far as Indonesia, is assumed to be of enormous importance for China's maritime strategy. China does not, however, control this line. Also, China’s strategic thinking is generally formulated with a view of national defense based not on lines but on areas. Terashima Hiroshi of the Ocean Policy Research Foundation has offered the concept of “strategic periphery” as a tool for understanding China’s maritime strategy.(*1) I would sum up this idea as follows:

The “strategic periphery” refers to the scope of the effective living space of the nation, secured by a combination of military might, scientific and technological capabilities, production power, and other strengths. The scope may either expand or shrink in line with changes in overall national strength, including military might. If overall national strength is anemic and the strategic periphery does not even reach the nation’s borders, the borders will ultimately retreat to the strategic periphery, meaning a loss of territory. Conversely, if overall national strength grows and the strategic periphery reaches beyond the nation’s borders, and if the nation can maintain effective control over this area over an extended period of time, the borders will probably at some point move out to incorporate this additional territory. So the basic principle for China’s maritime strategy is to build up overall national strength backed by military might and extend the strategic periphery in three dimensions.

In the light of this concept, Xi Jinping’s reference to the Pacific may be taken to be a call for the United States to accept the extension of China’s strategic periphery into the Pacific as a result of the growth of its overall national strength. This means that the “first island chain,” particularly Okinawa and Taiwan, will be increasingly important for China in strategic terms. But these islands are not a defensive line. Their importance is as major barriers to the expansion of China’s strategic periphery.

G-8 Leaders Agree to Promote Broad Trade Pacts

On June 17–18 the leaders of the Group of Eight nations met in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, for their annual summit. In the communiqué they issued after their meeting, they identified trade as “a key engine of global economic growth” and pledged to “break down barriers to trade at home and abroad by resisting protectionism and concluding a set of ambitious trade deals.” Referring to the progress toward conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to work on other trade pacts, such as those proposed between the European Union and the United States and between the EU and Japan, they declared, “We aim to finalise all these deals as soon as possible.”

As has been widely noted, in recent years the mainstay for the promotion of free trade has shifted from the World Trade Organization to negotiations on broad regional free trade agreements and economic partnership agreements. The Doha round of WTO talks, which was launched in 2001, has ground to a halt because of disagreements between advanced countries like the United States and emerging countries like China. Meanwhile, the emerging and developing countries as a whole are expected to overtake the advanced countries before much longer, probably in the first half of the 2020s, in terms of their share of the global economy. Under these circumstances, it behooves the advanced countries of the West, including Japan, to move as quickly as possible to create a regime for trade in the twenty-first century through broad FTAs and EPAs, promoting the standardization of rules on matters like investment, services, intellectual property, government procurement, and safety standards.

Fortunately Japan’s current Abe administration, since taking office last December, has decided to participate in the TPP talks and has launched negotiations on a Japan-EU EPA. According to a recent report (Nikkei, June 17), the second round of Japan-EU talks, which are scheduled to be held in Tokyo from June 24 through July 3, are expected to produce an agreement on mutual acceptance of safety standards for motor vehicles, electrical equipment, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals (excluding vaccines and some other items), and chemical products. The unification of safety standards and specifications is a step toward creation of new “global standards.” This is a highly welcome development. (Originally written in Japanese on June 24, 2013.)

(*1) ^ Terashima Hiroshi, “Kaiyō shigen o meguru Nit-Chū no kakuchiku” (The Sino-Japanese Rivalry over Marine Resources), Sekai no Kansen, September 2004.

diplomacy Shiraishi Takashi security China economy DPJ Barack Obama trade