Last month, the ruling coalition in Japan won a resounding electoral victory in the Upper House elections, giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, New Komeito, control over both houses in the parliament. With little opposition to speak of, the Abe cabinet can now get to work on the difficult domestic policy choices Japan faces—restoring economic growth, contending with an aging population, and determining the sources of Japan's future energy supply.
Yet, it is Prime Minister Abe's diplomatic choices that could have the greatest impact on Japan's future. Three relationships in particular warrant his attention. The first, and the most obvious, is to set Japan's relations with China back on a predictable footing. Ever since last summer, Beijing and Tokyo have been at odds over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea, a dispute that has simmered for decades but erupted recently. Japan's security planners have increasingly noted the modernization and expansion of Chinese military capabilities, but it is the growing presence of Chinese ships—research vessels, paramilitary, and the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)—in and around Japanese waters of late that has caused concern. The intensified national sentiments over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu for China and Daioyutai for Taiwan) dispute have also made political management of this dynamic relationship between the world's second and third largest economies difficult. Prime Minister Abe needs to find a framework with President Xi Jinping that not only acknowledges their differences over these uninhabited islands but also allows Tokyo and Beijing to address their real concerns, their own national economies.