TOKYO -- A solid victory in Thursday's Liberal Democratic Party leadership election has paved the way for Shinzo Abe to remain Japan's prime minister until September 2021, which would make him the country's longest-serving premier under the constitutional system.
No Japanese leader has held power for that long since shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi in the mid-19th century. That seems appropriate, as Japan now faces a global landscape perhaps not seen since the days of the American "black ships" that arrived during his rule.
Trade war, populism and strongman rule are some of the characteristics of today's world. The next three years will be crucial in determining Japan's path going forward.
The factors behind Abe's victory fall into two categories: a strong economy, as demonstrated by stable employment figures, and the prime minister's diplomatic presence on the global stage.
Abe himself said on Thursday he plans to use the next three years to "settle the accounts of our postwar foreign policy." In such uncertain times, having one of the longest-serving leaders in the Group of Seven at the helm is reassuring to the public.
Yet, the next three years are expected to be very different from the previous six.
"The world has entered a new era of imperialism," says Akitaka Saiki, the foreign ministry's former top bureaucrat.
Russia has challenged the post-Cold War international order with its 2014 annexation of Crimea by force. China is moving to expand its interests, while the U.S. puts "America first" under President Donald Trump. Even the reclusive North Korea has stepped onto the international stage.
With positions and alliances continually shifting, Abe will not be able to settle Japan's diplomatic accounts without a muscular foreign policy.
Diplomatic influence is underpinned by economic clout, and globalization and digitization have given rise to an economy that hardly resembles the 20th-century model driven by financial institutions and a massive manufacturing sector.
As rumors swirl that the government is weighing an exit strategy for Abenomics, Abe must use his remaining three years to reform Japan's social security system while laying the foundation for the country's next economic plan.
The prime minister has remained in power so long because of the pragmatic, business-oriented policies he has pursued alongside his right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. He encouraged investment from overseas, and when a shrinking population and a growing economy brought on a labor shortage, he took steps to accept more foreign workers. This "quiet revolution" could be fairly called a second opening of the country, following the black ships that forced open Japan's tight borders 160 years ago.
After opening its doors to the outside world, Japan became an economic superpower in the post-war-period and reaped the benefits of the global free trade system. The country's prosperity has been bound up with free trade since the Meiji Restoration 150 years ago.
That system now faces a crisis. Abe, with a strong party mandate in hand, is now tasked with setting Japan's path forward with a stable economy and hard-nosed diplomacy.