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FOCUS: Koike's foreign, security policies gain attention before election

With Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's newly established Party of Hope
expected to become a major force in the House of Representatives
after the Oct. 22 general election, her prospective foreign and
security policies have begun to attract attention.

Should Koike, believed to have an ambition to become Japan's
first female prime minister, come to influence policymaking in
national politics, some experts suspect her diplomatic stance would
have negative implications for the country's ties with South Korea
and China.

Koike, a former TV anchorwoman, has been regarded as a
right-leaning conservative politician, given that she is supportive
of amending Japan's Constitution and making the nation's defense
system more muscular, analysts say.

In Japan, politicians are generally labeled conservative if they
argue for revision by Japanese nationals of the supreme law including
the war-renouncing Article 9, on the basis that it was imposed by
occupying U.S. forces after World War II.

At the same time, such lawmakers also emphasize the importance
of the Japan-U.S. alliance, especially when the security environment
in the Asia-Pacific region has worsened amid North Korea's attempt to
develop nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles and China's military
buildup in the East and South China seas.

On Friday, Koike, who served as both defense and environment
minister in the early 2000s when she was a lower house member of the
Liberal Democratic Party, announced her new party's platform for the
upcoming election.

The party vows to promote debate on amending Article 9 of the
Constitution and support the "proper application" of the security
legislation pushed through the Diet last year by the government of
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, enabling the Self-Defense Forces' expanded
roles.

The legislation, which took effect last year amid strong public
protest, has loosened the constraints imposed by Article 9 and
allowed the SDF to defend the United States and other allies under an
idea called collective self-defense.

Koike is "quite conservative," said Jeff Kingston, director of
Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

It is also clear she has right-of-center political views, given
her close relations with the right-wing conservative lobby
organization Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, Kingston said.

Koike used to hold a senior position with Japan Conference,
founded in 1997, and many of the 14 founding members of her party
have been linked to the group which is engaged in grassroots
campaigning for constitutional revisions and education to encourage
patriotism.

If Koike's party becomes a political force that is not far
behind the LDP, it would be a welcome development for the United
States, as having conservative parties, typically supportive of the
bilateral security alliance, in power would help reduce the burden on
U.S. military forces in the region.

"Washington is more comfortable with conservative parties due to
their positions on security and the alliance," Kingston said.

Skepticism, however, is growing about whether Koike's party can
build good relations with Beijing and Seoul, against a backdrop of
her previous controversial remarks and actions on diplomatic and
security issues.

Koike, who was elected Tokyo governor in 2016, has opposed a
proposal to give foreign residents of Japan the right to vote in
local elections.

In 2003, she said in answering a questionnaire in a major daily
that Japan should consider nuclear armament, depending on the
international situation, even though the government has upheld since
1967 the three principles of not possessing, not producing and not
allowing the introduction of nuclear weapons into the country.

The JoongAng Ilbo, a major South Korean daily, said Koike is
seen as more right-leaning than Abe.

"If right-wing trends accelerate in Japanese politics, tensions
in North East Asia would increase further," the daily said late last
month.

Koike is also known for her connections with Taiwan. She made
headlines in 2001 when she sent flowers to former Taiwanese President
Lee Teng-hui during his visit to Japan for a heart operation.

Immediately after she took up the post of defense minister in
2007 during Abe's first stint in power, China voiced opposition to
Koike's links with Taiwan.

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory, and has
repeatedly threatened to use force if the self-ruled democratic
island moves toward independence. Japan recognizes Beijing as the
sole government.

"Regardless of who it may be, what kind of political party the
person belongs to or what kind of political views the person holds,
if one is given a government post, particularly a high-level post,
that person should carry out duties from the viewpoint of the
country's interests," China's then Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin
Gang said.

Koike's remarks in recent debates and news conferences remain
short of clarifying her security and diplomatic stance, and views are
still divided over policies she would pursue in these areas.

Some political pundits say Koike is not a right-wing politician.

She is in favor of revising the Constitution in order to achieve
a more "realistic" defense policy, said Steven Reed, a political
science professor at Chuo University in Tokyo. "I do not think it
makes her right-wing necessarily."

An expert on the Middle East and graduate of the University of
Cairo, Koike worked as an Arabic interpreter and a news broadcaster
before entering politics.

She was first elected to the upper house in 1992 with the
now-defunct Japan New Party and won a seat in the lower house the
following year. After association with several other political
parties, she joined the LDP in 2002. (Oct. 9)