China-Japan relations

Liberal Democratic Party win in Japan elections may help rebuild China ties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:44am

The belief in Japan is that the Liberal Democratic Party will wrest power back from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan next month - a prospect Beijing is probably quite happy with.

If the latest opinion polls prove correct, the country will see Shinzo Abe assume the post of prime minister for a second time on December 16, and it could ease relations over the disputed Diaoyu islands, known by the Japanese as the Senkakus.

"China does not want Yoshihiko Noda back in power again because unless he makes any explicit concessions to Beijing on the Senkakus issue - which he clearly can't - then it will be difficult to work with him," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst with the Eurasia Group.

"This is a relationship that has gone bad and it is impossible to go back to how it was. And that is why Abe will be the choice of the thinking man in China," he said.

Go Ito, a political science professor at Tokyo's Meiji University, agreed. He said the leadership change in both nations should be seen as opportunity.

"Both nations have a high level of economic dependence and these political changes are a chance to rebuild ties," he said.

Based on Abe's previous stint as prime minister, Ito said, he can be expected to reach out to Beijing soon after being elected. Abe visited China shortly after he assumed the post in 2006.

"Abe's basic ideology is very conservative, but he … is also very pragmatic when it comes to Japan's foreign policy," Ito said.

"The question of ownership [of the islands] is very difficult … and I don't think it can be resolved if the two nations continue to publicly claim sovereignty over the islands," he said.

"They need to be pragmatic … and I think Abe could do that - but if China sticks to its guns on ownership, then Abe will have no choice but to dig his heels in."

Okumura described the present bilateral political relationship as "quite frankly, awful", but pointed out that the two sides appeared to have reached an equilibrium recently.

"They are now at mutual tolerable levels, but anything could upset that equilibrium and there is some concern Abe could say the wrong thing after being elected and upset Beijing," he said.

And that would leave him in the position that Noda is now in.

It would also be a worst-case scenario for Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, whose members are deeply concerned about actions that will impact its members' production activities and sales opportunities in China.

The organisation's senior officials met with Abe a week ago, Okumura pointed out, and it is likely that the prime minister-in-waiting was reminded that Keidanren is behind his campaign and that its members would be upset if he said anything that further offended China.

Abe has been noticeably quiet on foreign policy issues in the past week.