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After elections, Japan's leader Abe will be seeking a big win on trade

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After elections, Japan's leader Abe will be seeking a big win on trade

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling coalition party are set for a victory at the polls on Sunday, and next, he'll be seeking out a big win in his dealings with other countries — such as trade, according to analysts.
Donald Trump welcomed by Shinzo Abe at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling coalition party are set for a victory at the polls on Sunday. Next, he'll be seeking out a big win in his dealings with other countries — such as trade, according to analysts.

Major post-election priorities would include trade talks with the U.S., as well as tackling the ongoing wartime forced labor dispute with South Korea that has spilled over into trade, they said. 

"Abe is looking for a big foreign policy win. He wants to solve one of these long-standing issues, whether it is territorial disputes with Russia, the abductee issue with North Korea, now finding a way out of the U.S.-Japan trade talks with the U.S.-Japan relations intact," said Tobias Harris, senior vice president at advisory company Teneo.

Tackling such major foreign policy issues will be taking up most of Abe's focus going forward, he concluded.

Those talks with the U.S. are going to be first on the agenda for Abe, according to Harris. Both countries are reportedly working on a trade deal which could involve Japan offering American farmers new access to its markets in exchange for Washington reducing tariffs on certain Japanese auto parts.

The U.S. "is going to insist on trying to get some sort of partial deal done that focuses on agriculture, to give (Donald) Trump a political victory heading into 2020," said Harris, referring to the U.S. elections in 2020.

Meanwhile, amid the dispute with Seoul, Abe's tough stance in imposing restrictions on exports of high-tech materials to South Korea — used by its critical tech sector — has been "certainly popular" with his party supporters who hold "a lot of bitter feelings," said Harris.

Tensions with South Korea have rapidly worsened in recent weeks over the treatment of "comfort women" — women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels — as well as the compensation of South Korean labor during World War II.

Abe set to hold on to power

Japan is set for upper house elections on Sunday, and expectations are that Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito Party would win a majority.

Japan Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe at an election campaign rally in Japan.

However, they are "unlikely to score a large enough victory" to capture a two-thirds majority in the upper house — critical to Abe's long-held dream of revising the country's post-war pacifist constitution and "making it the major legacy of his long tenure," said Scott Seaman, director of Asia at Eurasia Group.

Revising that constitution would allow Japan to legitimize its military, and end a ban that has kept its armed forces from fighting abroad since 1945 — when World War II ended. 

Most forecasts have indicated that Abe's party will likely lose some seats, but not enough to "fuel strong calls inside or outside this party for Abe to step down," Seaman added.

But even without the two-thirds majority, Abe is set to hold on to power, said Teneo's Harris.

"I think he'll still have plenty of control. He's going to come out of this election with a healthy majority in the upper house, whether or not he gets to the two-thirds line. So I think his power is going to be intact with some time to come," he said.

– Reuters contributed to this report.