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Japan-South Korea rift

58% in Japan support export curbs on South Korea: Nikkei survey

Respondents divided on sending Self-Defense Forces to Strait of Hormuz

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks with reporters in Tokyo on July 22, a day after the upper house elections. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)

TOKYO -- Japanese export curbs on key semiconductor materials to South Korea are supported by 58% of respondents in Japan, a Nikkei-TV Tokyo survey has found.

Tokyo's restrictions enjoy wide approval, backed by 67% of respondents who support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration and 54% of those who do not support his government. Overall, only 20% of respondents oppose the policy.

Trade tensions between the two nations have spiked since early July, when Japan tightened its controls on exports of some materials used in making chips and displays, citing security reasons. The curbs are expected to have a wide-reaching impact on supply chains, and Seoul has taken the dispute to the World Trade Organization.

But the survey respondents are more divided about whether to send Japan's Self-Defense Forces to guard private oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran. While 41% favor sending the SDF, 42% are against the proposal -- a virtually even split.

Support for sending the SDF totals 51% among Abe backers, but only 31% among non-supporters of the prime minister. Opposition was especially high among women, with only 29% favoring the idea. This contrasted with the 51% support among men.

Abe's approval rating stood at 52%, a four-point decline from the previous Nikkei survey in June. His disapproval rating was unchanged at 38%.

Abe's ruling coalition scored a comfortable victory in the recent Diet upper house election, in which a major issue involved whether to proceed with a national referendum to change Japan's pacifist constitution for the first time since it was enacted shortly after World War II.

The prime minister has said that he would hold a referendum by the time his term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party ends in September 2021.

The survey respondents support Abe's idea of holding a referendum by that date, with 52% in favor and 33% against.

Support for a referendum is especially high among younger respondents. Those in the 18-29 age bracket favor the idea, 63% to 26%. This contrasts with the more nuanced support of those older than 60, among whom 43% said "yes" and 40% said "no." In all age brackets, support for holding a referendum leads opposition to a vote.

Yet this does not necessarily signal support for a change to the constitution itself. The survey this time asked whether respondents support Abe's proposal of holding a referendum within his term.

In the June survey, which asked whether respondents supported Abe's proposal of launching a new constitution by 2020, just 37% were in favor while 45% were against.

Japan intends to increase the consumption tax rate to 10% in October from 8% currently, a move that receives support from 43% in the latest survey compared with 50% expressing opposition. Among men, 50% support the plan while 45% do not. Among women, 56% oppose the tax hike, with just 34% in favor.

The survey was conducted Friday through Sunday in Japan by Nikkei Research via telephone, including cellphones. The poll received 923 respondents, for a response rate of 45%.

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