In the great electoral clash of October 1996 clear was the victory of the conservatives of Hashimoto (239 seats) over the Shinshintō of Ōzawa (156 seats) and, above all, the disastrous defeat of the Socialist Party (renamed Social Democratic Party) which paid dearly for the coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party (15 seats). On the other hand, the success of the Liberal Party (Minshūtō) was surprising: constituted a month before the elections by Y. Hatoyama and N. Kan, both former members of the Sakigake, it turned out to be the third political force with 52 seats. The Communists, with 26 seats, were strengthened by subtracting votes from the socialist electorate disappointed by the conservative turn of their party; the independents got 9 seats, the Sakigake 2, the League for Democratic Reform 1. All in all, apart from the decline of the Socialist Party (which, returning under the presidency of T. Doi, did not accept the invitation of the Liberal Democratic Party to enter a new government, declaring itself willing only to critical support), the real loser was Ōzawa, who among other things was not forgiven for the decision-making which had always characterized his leadership, so much so that his former collaborator, T. Hata, decided, in December 1996, to leave the Shinshintō, creating the conditions for a new reorganization of parties. The electoral results led to the formation of a new cabinet, led by Hashimoto, who in April 1997 succeeded in obtaining the support of Shinshintō himself to have a law approved by the two Houses that reduced the US military presence in the country. In the summer of 1998, Hashimoto was forced to resign following the heavy and unexpected defeat in the elections for the partial renewal of the House of Councilors. While the Social Democratic Party was definitively withdrawing from the majority, thus formally putting an end to the controversial alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party which lasted four years, in July 1998 The leader of the largest liberal democratic faction, K. Ōbuchi, a traditional politician, devoid of charisma but skilled in guaranteeing a harmonious functioning of the group and in creating consensus, was installed at the head of a new government.
According to VAULTEDWATCHES.COM, the first initiatives of the new cabinet concerned the economy: a banking reform was launched (October 1998) and incentive measures for businesses and public works (November). In the meantime, to strengthen Ōbuchi, an agreement was concluded between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party which, in January 1999, began its participation in the government.
On the international level, the nineties, with the political fragmentation and cultural heterogeneity following the end of bipolarism, constituted a difficult challenge for Japan On several occasions, public opinion criticized the policy of dependence on the United States perpetuated by the ruling class: this was the case for the large share paid to Washington, after strong external pressure, to finance the Gulf War (a war ‘ not understood by the Japanese public opinion) and for the painful approval by the Diet, in June 1992, of the law that allowed the country to participate in UN security operations in Cambodia, and subsequently in Mozambique, with its own contingent in charge of logistical and non-combat tasks. At the same time, a push towards a ‘regionalistic’ choice was affirmed in the country, mainly supported by a transversal alignment characterized by a generational commonality of its members, born after the war and therefore extraneous to the syndrome of dependence on the United States. The proponents of the regionalist option argued for the need for a ‘return to Asia’ in the face of the decline of the United States as a hegemonic power and, conversely, of the emergence of (Confucian) East Asia as one of the most economically dynamic poles on the planet.,it had upset the economies of some countries in the region (Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea). It was a group of countries that presented a certain homogeneity from a cultural and social point of view, all framed in the formation of a ‘flight of wild ducks’ behind the Japan, who was the leader, each ready to exploit in sequence the respective comparative advantage based on parameters such as the technological level and the cost of labor. On the other hand, it was in this perspective that the proposal of the premier of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, to establish, as an alternative to APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), an East Asian Economic Caucus, from which the United States and other ‘white’ Pacific countries would have been excluded. In short, a sort of ‘Asia of the Asians’. The fear of the formation of overly protected economic spaces elsewhere (EU, NAFTA) and, above all, equipped with what Japan was lacking: raw materials, total food security and armed forces also contributed to push Japan towards a regionalistic solution. able to intervene on a large scale. But there were numerous obstacles to the realization of this option: the anti-Japanese sentiments of the neighboring countries, attenuated but not disappeared; the increasingly accentuated commercial contrasts; the fact that the region had heterogeneous political regimes and was severely exposed to political tensions and uncertainties, to potential territorial conflicts (Korea, Taiwan, Islands of the China Sea) and of guerrillas (Philippines, Burma); but above all the Japanese fear of the strategic vacuum that would derive from the US disengagement from East Asia.
Finally, there was also a choice of progressive remilitarization of the country: a logical option from the point of view of traditional doctrine and easy to implement from a technical and technological point of view, given the advanced position, and in some sectors even avant-garde, which Japan held, but which was contrasted by the profound hostility to a militarization of the country by the Japanese people, the only one on the planet to have suffered the atomic trauma.
According to Japan, the choice therefore seemed to return to the dilemma between a regionalist policy and the traditional relationship of dependence on the United States, even if, in this second case, an assumption of political responsibilities commensurate with its economic potential. But to become an Asian power, Japan needed a political legitimacy that could only come from China. In turn, China, for its own economic development, needed Japanese cooperation in terms of investments, technological assistance, aid. The two countries therefore found themselves having to choose between opposition and cooperation.