Reviving Japan: The prime minister has a chance to fix the economy

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Elections Sunday put control of both houses of Japan's parliament in the hands of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, thus opening the door more widely to pursuit of his policies, including strengthening the economy and invigorating Japan's role in the region.

The United States, faced with the complex challenge of China's role in East Asia, has a tendency not to pay much attention to Japan. It sank from the world's second largest economy to third, after the United States and China. Japan's military capacity has remained subject, first, to its American-dictated 1947 pacifist constitution and, second, to the continued post-war presence of 50,000 U.S. troops.

Mr. Abe, whose policies have been dubbed "Abenomics" through calculated stimulus and structural reforms, seems to be putting new vigor into a Japanese economy that has been in the doldrums for decades. Japan is still faced with staggering problems in the form of debt, rising social costs and energy, laid low by the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. His coalition's control of the upper house of the legislature, gained Sunday even with a relatively low 52 percent voter turnout, should enable him to impose some of the restorative policies he has launched since becoming prime minister again seven months ago.

Washington, China and the Koreas are concerned that Mr. Abe's strengthening of Japan's economy will also include a more aggressive nationalism in foreign policy. Japan still operates under its post-World War II constitution, and Mr. Abe is uncomfortable with its restrictions on the country's military potential. Nevertheless, he is aware of the considerable defense costs Japan has been spared by the remaining American troops based there.

Japan's rejuvenation might not be helped by increased regional tensions or the discomfort of disentangling the U.S. military from Japan's defense. Mr. Abe has probably also not forgotten that he was tossed out as prime minister in 2007 after only one year in office. He will most likely continue to concentrate on the economy before seeking any big changes in Japan's international posture.



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