Why Suga might have trouble sweetening policies Abe pushed for

By Zhang Peizhi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/17 19:43:40


Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On September 16, Yoshihide Suga was formally voted in as the 99th prime minister of Japan. Suga is considered lacking personal characteristics in his policymaking, and it remains a question whether he will inherit Shinzo Abe's political legacy in foreign and military policies. 

Abe left Suga two major problems: national security policies and the constitutional amendment.

Japan is worried about potential missile attacks. It has been trying to develop its military strength in order to be equipped with preemptive strike abilities. The Japanese government has been looking for alternatives since it abandoned the Aegis Ashore program in June. Before Abe left office, he said on September 11 that the new government would formulate a new missile defense plan by the end of the year. This would be done in a bid to improve Japan's deterrence and reduce the country's risk of ballistic missile or other attacks.

Tokyo is also mulling plans to purchase stand-off missiles with a range of about 500 kilometers by March 2022. It is reported that the missiles will be mounted on F-35 cutting-edge stealth fighters. Obviously, the biggest seller of those missiles to Japan is the US, and the money will flow into the latter's pocket.

The main reason why the US sells weapons to Japan is to keep it on its chariot in the service of US hegemonic expansion. In the future, if Japan's foreign policy becomes tough, and it reconsiders amending the constitution, it will only make its relations with neighboring countries more strained. Japan will put itself in a disadvantageous position. Meanwhile, it will give the US a chance to realize its ambitions to divide and conquer Asia.

Washington is anticipated to put tremendous pressure on Tokyo now regarding Beijing. Suga does not favor creating an "Asian NATO" against China. No matter who is elected as president in the November elections, Japan will still keep pace with the US in terms of diplomacy and security based on the Japan-US alliance.

During his eight-year tenure, Abe was always trying to revise and reinterpret the constitution to strengthen Japan's military in order to deal with escalating surrounding security situations and respond to the strategic demands of the US. In 2014, Abe forcibly reinterpreted the constitution. At the end of 2018, Japan issued a new version of the National Defense Program Guidelines which outlined plans for more cohesive and flexible multidimensional forces. All these actions indicated that the defense-oriented strategy Japan pursued since World War II had been substantially destroyed.

Before Suga was elected prime minister, he expressed enthusiasm for constitutional revision, saying, "Getting the four points (in the Liberal Democratic Party's draft for constitutional amendment) passed in the Diet is our greatest responsibility." 

But according to Suga's previous vacillations about an increase in the domestic consumption tax, his policy statements can be seen as uneven. 

Moreover, if Suga's administration wants to follow Abe's idea and insist on amending the constitution, it will face numerous difficulties at home. To amend the constitution requires a long and complicated process of parliamentary deliberation. A difficult consensus must be reached by the fickle public through voting. 

On September 15, a newly expanded Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was formally launched, becoming the nation's largest opposition party. Prior to this, the old Constitutional Democratic Party was the fiercest opponent of Abe's policies. It is conceivable that the policies of the Suga administration will also face constraints from the opposition parties in the future.

If Tokyo resumes its constitutional amendment, it will surely trigger a strong response from the international community. This will increase tensions and security dilemmas in the Asia-Pacific region. It remains to be seen to how the new prime minister will fare. He is believed to lack diplomatic experience, and his skills are not as adept as Abe's were. All are watching to see how he will lead Japan.

The author is a research fellow at the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs. She is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the University of Tokyo. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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