Could rapidly rising Koike become a bigger hawk than Abe?
With Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s new Party of Hope expected to become a major force in the House of Representatives after the October 22 general election, her prospective foreign and security policies have begun to attract attention.
Should Koike, believed to have an ambition to become Japan’s first female prime minister, come to influence policymaking in national politics, some experts suspect her diplomatic stance would have negative implications for the country’s ties with South Korea and China.
Koike, a former television anchorwoman, has been regarded as a right-leaning conservative politician, given that she is supportive of amending Japan’s Constitution and making the nation’s defence system more muscular, analysts say.
The party vows to promote debate on amending Article 9 of the constitution and support the “proper application” of the security legislation pushed through the Diet last year by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, enabling the Self-Defence Forces’ expanded roles, allowed it to defend the US and other allies under an idea called collective self-defence.
Koike is “quite conservative”, said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.
It is also clear she has right-of-centre political views, given her close relations with the right-wing conservative lobby organisation Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, Kingston said.
Koike used to hold a senior position with Japan Conference, founded in 1997, and many of the 14 founding members of her party have been linked to the group which is engaged in grass roots campaigning for constitutional revisions and education to encourage patriotism.
If Koike’s party becomes a political force that is not far behind the LDP, it would be a welcome development for the US, as having conservative parties in power who support the bilateral security alliance may reduce the burden on US military forces in the region.
“Washington is more comfortable with conservative parties due to their positions on security and the alliance,” Kingston said.
Scepticism, however, is growing about whether Koike’s party can build good relations with Beijing and Seoul, against a backdrop of her previous controversial remarks and actions on diplomatic and security issues.
Koike has opposed a proposal to give foreign residents of Japan the right to vote in local elections.
In 2003, she said in answering a questionnaire in a major daily that Japan should consider nuclear armament, depending on the international situation, even though the government has upheld since 1967 the three principles of not possessing, not producing and not allowing the introduction of nuclear weapons into the country.
JoongAng Ilbo, a major South Korean daily, said Koike is seen as more right-leaning than Abe.
“If right-wing trends accelerate in Japanese politics, tensions in North East Asia would increase further,” the daily said last month.
Koike is also known for her connections in Taipei. She made headlines in 2001 when she sent flowers to former Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui during his visit to Japan for a heart operation.
After she took up the post of defence minister in 2007 during Abe’s first stint in power, Beijing voiced its opposition.
“Regardless of who it may be, what kind of political party the person belongs to or what kind of political views the person holds, if one is given a government post, particularly a high-level post, that person should carry out duties from the viewpoint of the country’s interests,” said Qin Gang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman at the time.
Koike’s remarks in recent debates and news conferences fail to clarify her security and diplomatic stances and views are still divided over her policies in these areas.