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Published: Saturday, 12/22/2012

Old faithful

Japanese voters gave the familiar Liberal Democratic Party a landslide victory at the polls this week, making veteran politician Shinzo Abe the country’s new prime minister.

The LDP has presided most of the time since the end of World War II, except for the past three years, when the Democratic Party supplanted it. The Democrats’ tenure included a number of developments for which the party was not responsible: last year’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. The global recession also struck Japan particularly hard.

Since Japan’s current growth rate is negative, the state of the economy and what the parties proposed to do about it became the primary focus of the campaign. Voters turned back to the LDP, which claimed to have reformed itself and proclaimed a strong message of economic nationalism.

For the United States, Mr. Abe and the LDP are known and relatively comfortable partners. The militant campaign positions he took on the rocky outcrops in the East China Sea whose ownership Japan disputes with China, and Japan’s old quarrels with South Korea, are expected to moderate. Testy nationalism won’t improve relations with either neighbor.

U.S.-Japanese relations continue to have difficulties. Washington sees the presence of 51,000 U.S. troops and many military bases in Japan, particularly on the island of Okinawa, as necessary to fulfill its treaty obligations to defend Japan. But that costly presence remains an irritant 67 years after the end of World War II, and to some Japanese they compromise the nation’s sovereignty.

As the United States seeks to balance its trade with Japan, the Japanese economy remains somewhat closed to imports. Washington will not want Mr. Abe’s rhetoric on China and South Korea to impair President Obama’s policy “pivot” toward Asia. But for now, U.S. diplomats and Japanese voters at least have the comfort of dealing with a known quantity.

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