Japan PM Shinzo Abe promises to handle North Korea threat

After winning Sunday's election, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has promised strong 'counter-measures' against Pyongyang

(Photo: City AM)
(Photo: City AM)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an early election, for a greater mandate to deal with "crises", including the growing threat from Pyongyang, which has fired missiles over Japan in recent months.

His ruling coalition retained a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The prime minister had previously called for the existence of the country's armed forces to be formalised, a controversial move, which he says is required to strengthen Japan's defence. However, critics have said that this move is a step towards re-militarisation.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo, Abe said that his coalition's win was a "vote of confidence" from the public, and based on that "we would dramatically show counter-measures against the North Korea threat".

He added that he would discuss these measures with US President Donald Trump, who is visiting Japan next month, as well as with other world powers such as Russia and China.

They would exert "stronger pressure" on North Korea, he said adding: "I will make sure the Japanese public is safe, and safeguard our nation."

Abe’s popularity has plummeted in recent months, as he was surrounded by political scandals. He then enjoyed a sudden recovery, after North Korea fired two missiles over the Japanese islands of Hokkaido.

BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said that Abe's pledge of tough diplomacy with North Korea is rhetoric, which would play well with the Japanese public, but it is unclear what it means in concrete terms.

Tokyo has no diplomatic or economic relations with North Korea, and has poor relations with Pyongyang's closest ally China, so the most Abe can do is strengthen Japan's defences and stick closely to the US, he added.

Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition with the Komeito party has won 313 of the 465 seats in the lower house of Japan's parliamentary Diet - which gives them the power to table a revision to the constitution.

Abe previously announced that he wanted to revise a clause which renounces war, known as Article 9, to formally recognise Japan's military, which is known as the “self-defence forces”.

A deadline of 2020 was set, to achieve this task but on Monday he appeared to ditch this target, saying it was "not set in a concrete schedule".

Abe said that he hoped to "form a strong agreement" on the issue among parties in parliament, and "gain trust" from the Japanese public.

Even if an amendment to the constitution is passed and approved by both houses in the Diet - which Abe's coalition controls - it still needs to be put to a public vote in a referendum.

Two years ago, Abe successfully pushed for a re-interpretation of the constitution, to allow troops to fight overseas under certain circumstances, which brought about widespread protests.

In the lead-up to the snap election, all eyes were on the recently-formed conservative Party of Hope led by the charismatic Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, with some speculating that it would make significant gains.

But in the end it was overtaken by the centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party which emerged as the biggest opposition party, and which opposes Mr Abe's plan to amend Article 9.

Yuriko Koike, whose 'words and deeds' had caused 'displeasure' to voters (Photo: TIME)
Yuriko Koike, whose 'words and deeds' had caused 'displeasure' to voters (Photo: TIME)

Koike, who was in Paris for a business trip during the election, told reporters she was personally taking responsibility for the result. Japanese media quoted her as saying her "words and deeds" had caused "displeasure" to voters.

Abe's election win also raises his chances of securing a third three-year-term as leader of the LDP when the party votes next September.

That would give him the opportunity to become Japan's longest serving prime minister, having been elected in 2012.

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