Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

【#545】Challenges for Abe Elected LDP Head for 3rd Term

Takashi Arimoto / 2018.09.28 (Fri)

September 25, 2018

     Once reelected, a U.S. president tends to become a lame duck. After a midterm congressional election in the middle of the second four-year presidential term, the tendency accelerates. How about in the case of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who was elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the third and last three-year term under the present LDP rules? Before the recent LDP presidential election, an aide to Abe asked him if he might resign in the middle of next term to avoid becoming a lame duck. Abe is said to have vowed to remain in office until the term expires.

“Resolving long-standing challenges for postwar Japanese diplomacy”
     Prime Minister Abe expressed his strong determination in his press conference at the LDP headquarters on the evening of September 20 by saying:
     “Reforming social security systems to allow all generations to feel secure. Resolving long-standing challenges for postwar Japanese diplomacy. Amending the constitution for the first time since its establishment. These goals are not easy to attain. I face a rough passage. However, I have won strong support from the party, which will allow me to demonstrate strong leadership over the next three years.”
     The long-standing challenges for postwar Japanese diplomacy that Prime Minister Abe would tackle are North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens and a peace treaty with Russia.
     “To resolve the abduction issue that is more important than anything, I myself would have to come face-to-face with Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un,” Abe told the press conference, indicating his strong ambition to realize a Japan-North Korea summit meeting. He apparently has gotten his close aide Director of Cabinet Intelligence Shigeru Kitamura to have contacts with the North Korean side behind the scenes. In September 2002, Abe, then deputy chief cabinet secretary, accompanied Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on his visit to Pyongyang for a meeting with KWP General Secretary Kim Jong Il, the first-ever Japan-North Korea summit. Negotiations on the abduction have made no progress since then.
     As families of abductees have been aging, the issue must be resolved as early as possible. Abe is required to tenaciously negotiate with North Korea to win the immediate return of all Japanese abductees while keeping step with the United States.

Backdoor efforts to negotiate a peace treaty with Russia
     Similarly, Abe seems to have been secretly discussing with Russia about the peace treaty through aides. At the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to sign the peace treaty with no preconditions before yearend. Japan cannot accept this proposal that runs counter to Japan’s policy of signing the peace treaty after resolving the attribution of the four Russian-held northern islands.
     By taking advantage of a certain level of trusting relationship with Russian President Putin that Abe has developed through more than 20 meetings with the Russian leader, the prime minister must break through the stalemate that has remained over the territorial issue since the end of World War II, while preserving Japan’s national interests.
     Abe will become the longest serving Japanese prime minister in history in the autumn of 2019. However, achievements would be more important than the length. He faces a mountain of policy agendas including the long-cherished constitutional amendments, a consumption tax hike and Japan-U.S. trade negotiations. He has no room to become a lame duck. It would be impossible for him to resign in the midst of his last three-year term as LDP president.

Takashi Arimoto is Director of Monthly Magazine SEIRON at the Sankei Shimbun.