Japan's trade, defense policies in focus as election looms

Countries that have important ties with Japan will be keeping a watchful eye on the country's upcoming upper house election, with South Korea hoping a trade row can be resolved after the poll and others focusing on Tokyo's defense policy.
The recent decision by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to place tighter controls on exports of chip materials to South Korea partly reflects his Liberal Democratic Party's bid to appeal to its conservative support base before the July 21 election, a source in the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo said.
Given the export restrictions would damage both countries' economies, the source said he hopes "there will be room for Tokyo to deal with South Korea in a calmer manner" if the LDP manages to win the election.
Since July 4, manufacturers have been required to file applications with the Japanese government before exporting to South Korea certain products needed for semiconductors and displays for smartphones and televisions.
China is watching to see whether Japan will push ahead with amending its pacifist Constitution. Abe has persistently sought to make the role of the Self-Defense Forces clearer in the supreme law, with his third and last term as the LDP president ending in 2021.
"If pro-amendment forces win two-thirds (of upper house seats), he could seriously work toward amendment," a Chinese government source said. A two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet is needed to initiate a referendum on a change in the Constitution.
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have been improving recently but Abe's hawkish security views have fueled concerns in countries such as China, where bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep.
The United States is paying particular attention to an electoral district in northeastern Japan -- Akita Prefecture -- which is one of the two prefectures where the government plans to deploy a U.S.-developed missile defense system.
Errors were found recently in the government's geographical survey that was used to select the prefecture as a candidate location for the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, sparking local criticism.
A U.S. Embassy source said the introduction of the system could "be delayed if an opposition candidate opposed to the deployment wins."
Russia would welcome an "outcome that would increase the centripetal force of Abe's government" given Abe's continued efforts to strengthen bilateral ties and pave the way toward resolving a longstanding territorial dispute, a Russian Embassy source said.
The dispute over four Russian-held islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty after more than 70 years since World War II.

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