Conservative Tide in Asia
Japan and South Korea steer right
There are no permanent victories in democratic politics and no permanent defeats. Thus, even as conservatives in the United States are working to find better ways to present our ideas in the 2014 and 2016 elections, we should pause a moment to celebrate some successes overseas.
The results of last month’s elections in South Korea and Japan show the two nations recognize the need for strong conservative principles to address growing security challenges and to lead the way for pragmatic economic solutions.
First to Tokyo, where Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party scored a sweeping victory in the election for Japan’s lower house of parliament. Mr. Abe’s LPD will now hold 320 of the 480 seats, a supermajority that will allow him to override any veto threats from the upper house.
The election was a resounding public rejection of the ousted Democratic Party of Japan, tossed out after less than four years in control. The DPJ had criticized Japan’s longtime alliance with the United States, calling it “unfair.” It had favored pivoting toward closer relations with China.
Predictably, however, that proved unworkable. Beijing continued flexing its muscles in the region instead of working on an alliance with Japan. The two countries are arguing over territory, in particular the Senkaku Islands.
Mr. Abe is more of a realist than the leaders of the government he’s replacing. “China is an indispensable country for the Japanese economy to keep growing,” he announced after his election. “We need to use some wisdom so that political problems will not develop and affect economic issues.” He also wants to repair Japan’s alliance with the U.S.
That provides both sides an opportunity. Washington should encourage Japan to play a larger role in its own defense. That should include increasing defense spending, allowing its troops to engage more in overseas operations and building a new U.S. Marine Corps air base on the island of Okinawa.
Of course, there will be potholes. While Mr. Abe improves Japan’s foreign policy, he should be careful not to repeat the domestic-policy mistakes of the outgoing government. For more than two decades, various Japanese leaders have tried to spend their way to prosperity. It hasn’t worked. Mr. Abe has vowed to throw money at government spending programs and to increase the country’s money supply. He ought to reconsider and pursue pro-growth policies instead.
As for South Korea, Park Geun-hye made history with her election as the country’s first female president. Ms. Park is the daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee. She’s excelled in the public spotlight while serving as South Korea’s first lady after the tragic killing of her mother by a North Korean assassin in 1974. Back in the spotlight, she’ll continue to shine.
Since entering public office, Ms. Park has advocated for pragmatic engagement with North Korea while upholding the defense of her country. She met with previous North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and recently described a policy of “trustpolitik” to energize inter-Korean relations. Ms. Park’s victory is an acknowledgment by the Korean people of the need for stalwart leadership during troubled times. She also supports strong relations with the United States, including the crucial Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
Her close ties will be important. This year, we must renegotiate a new civilian nuclear agreement with the Koreans, and that could become contentious. Seoul hopes to get the same permission to reprocess excess fuel from civilian nuclear reactors that Japan enjoys. Handled carefully, we should be able to reach a deal.
As a new year begins, conservatives have reason to take heart as our two most important Asian allies choose sensible new leaders.
Voters in two crucial Asian nations have elected governments that will move those countries to the right, while strengthening trade and military ties with the United States. These won’t be permanent victories, of course, but they’re another indication that the tide of history is still moving in the right direction.