East Asian Turmoil:
Anxieties over the Japanese and Korean Presidential Elections
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 7, 2012
Summary: This month two important elections will be held in East Asia. The Japanese Diet election and Tokyo gubernatorial election will be held on the 16th. This will be followed by the South Korean presidential election on the 19th. Predictions are that Japan and South Korea will both witness the emergence of new leadership. Territorial disputes between Japan and Mainland China, and Japan and South Korea have intensified. North Korea has test-fired long-range missiles. These two elections are taking place before this background. This highlights the treacherous situation facing the Asian-Pacific region.
Full Text below:
This month two important elections will be held in East Asia. The Japanese Diet election and Tokyo gubernatorial election will be held on the 16th. This will be followed by the South Korean presidential election on the 19th. Predictions are that Japan and South Korea will both witness the emergence of new leadership. Territorial disputes between Japan and Mainland China, and Japan and South Korea have intensified. North Korea has test-fired long-range missiles. These two elections are taking place before this background. This highlights the treacherous situation facing the Asian-Pacific region.
North Korea announced that between the 10th and 22nd of this month, it would launch a Galaxy III long-range Satellite Launch Vehicle, carrying a self-developed "Bright Star 3 dual mode (?) satellite. But observers say the satellites launches are mere cover. In fact, North Korea is test firing a Taepodong II long-range ballistic missile.
North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un assumed power in April. North Korea conducted a similar "satellite" launch, which ended in failure. South Korea and the U.S. military seized much of the debris to study. December 17 is the first anniversary of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. It is also Kim Jong-un's first anniversary as his successor. We now face a South Korean presidential election. North Korea has decided to conduct further missile tests. One. It is trumpeting its military might. Two. It is applying pressure on the South Korean elections. Three. It is strengthening the leadership and prestige of Kim Jong-un. It is attempting to make up for the previous failure. Four. It is gathering experience in order to improve its missile launch technology. Five. It is increasing its bargaining chips with the United States.
South Korea's upcoming election pits conservative New Frontier Party incumbent Park Geun Hye against liberal Democratic United Party challenger Moon Jae In. The New Frontier Party has long been tough on North Korea. It differs with the liberal opposition, which has inherited Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy." North Korea has repeatedly issued scathing denunciations of Park Geun Hye. It chose to conduct missile tests during the election. It is obviously trying to undermine Park Geun Hye's election bid. But its move has provoked a public backlash that has given Park Geun Hye a boost.
North Korea's long term strategy has been "marginalism." It uses nuclear weapons, missiles, and other military threats as bargaining chips to protect itself. It uses its geopolitical position to pit Mainland China and Russia against the United States and South Korea, and to maintain the Kim dynasty dictatorship. In the past, South Korea provided aid to North Korea. North Korea interpreted this as South Korean political influence. But the impact on North Korean rule and policy was negligible. This is why advocates of friendly exchanges with North Korea are seldom able to convince others that the exchanges were worthwhile.
North Korean policy is not the decisive factor in the South Korean presidential election. The South Korean people understand that the problem is not with South Korea. They understand that it cannot be solved in the short term. But voters must and will take into account the ability of the candidates deal with the North Korean problem. The president-elect will have to confront the challenges posed by Kim Jong-un, this young North Korean leader.
Japan's future leaders also face major challenges. They must deal with a long-term economic downturn. Mainland China has dethroned Japan as the world's second-largest economy. Japan's aging population is a problem without a solution. Political unrest leads to a new Prime Minister almost every year. Japan's "Lost Decade" has become a "Lost Two Decades," and may even become a "Lost Three Decades." A country lost for so long, is obviously is serious trouble.
The rise of Mainland China has demoted Japan to the number two position in Asia. South Korea is also catching up. Japan has lost its dominance. It feels lost. This anxiety has shaken Japanese society. Political parties are now competing to incite nationalist sentiment. They hope to satisfy the public's desire to restore Japan's national prestige.
Rightist Shintaro Ishihara and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda fought to "purchase" the Diaoyutai Islands. Since then, the dispute over Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty has heightened tensions between Japan, Mainland China, and Taiwan. It has also justified tougher Mainland China assertions of sovereignty over Diaoyutai. The outbreak of anti-Japanese protests on Mainland China have seriously damaged the Japanese business interests. Ironically, Japan is in dire need of the Chinese market if it is to make an economic recovery. Short term grandstanding and nationalist demagoguery may exact a high price on Japan's long-term interests and national prosperity.
The LDP was already rightist. Now the Democratic Party is also leaning to the right. Old rightist Ishihara has joined with young rightist Toru Hashimoto's Japan Restoration Association. This has created a force that cannot be ignored. The Democratic Party lacks policy experience and achievements. It is expected to lose. . The Liberal Democratic Party is expected to win. But it still needs to form coalitions with others. Whether the formation of a stable political scenario is possible remains to be seen. But Japan's domestic and international plight is far grimmer than it was during the old LDP period.
Japan and Korea play a vital role in Asia. The surrounding Asian-Pacific strategic picture is more unpredictable than ever. The new leaders of Japan and South Korea must respond prudently. For the Pacific Rim, 2012 is an election year. Several nations are holding elections or changing leaders. They are responding to extremist political actions that have raised regional tensions and led to regional conflicts. Will these leaders return to pragmatism? Will they promote peace and prosperity? That remains to be seen. Naturally Taiwan must pay close attention to this turbulence in the Asian-Pacific region.