Friday, July 31, 2009

ACCJ Meeting on Japanese Election

As Prime Minister Taro Aso has dissolved the Diet on July 21, the Government Relations Committee of the American Chambers of Commerce in Japan hosted a forum on Japanese General Election to be held on August 30. The meeting which was held on July 22, focused on the impact of this election on lobbying processes.

The most critical point is how to secure lobbying links which was built through long time efforts. ACCJ and American businesses have been exploring to expand policymaking network into Japanese diet, bureaucracy, and business. It is vital to find a right person for lobbying activities, according to the agenda. Once finding right contacts among Japanese leaders, American lobbying groups provide “education” for policymaking.

Most attendants expressed serious concern that possible victory of Japanese Democrats will destroy the lobbying link, and American businesses need to spend much time to find right lawmakers and “educate” them. Though one attendant insisted that the Democratic Party was realist enough to maintain close US-Japanese alliance, American lobbyists were worried that they would have to deal with the sheer number of newcomers who did not know sufficiently about critical policy agendas. Quite interestingly, attendants at the forum were not obsessed with Karel van Wolferen’s strong antagonism to Japanese establishments and the system. As opposed to Wolferen, they regard Japanese bureaucrats as reliable partners, rather than unaccountable and arrogant elitists. In other words, they are very realists to make use of established Japanese policymaking processes. American lobbyists in Tokyo are completely different from some idealistic policymakers in Washington, whether positively or negatively.

During the discussion, a similar change in the past had come up to my mind. In 1993, Morihiro Hosokawa was elected as the Prime Minister to put an end to single party dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party since 1955. I asked one lawyer who has been in close contact with Japanese politics whether American lobbyists learned some lessons from past experience under the Hosokawa administration. He replied that Democrat newcomers would be so incompetent that he would only have to wait until the return of the LDP.

Unlike Bill Clinton who assumed US presidency during the Hosokawa era, current President Barack Obama is reluctant to impose American idealism on Japanese bureaucrats. He is even willing to talk with America’s enemies. Judging from his attitude to Iran, Honduras, and Russia, Obama shall never dream of Clintonian intervention to crack down “notorious” Japanese bureaucrats. Furthermore, he is too shy to address American or Western idealism in his diplomacy. Therefore, both Washington policymakers and Tokyo lobbyists will take substantially different approaches to the post election administration of Japan from those taken under the Clinton administration, whether they learn some lessons from the Hosokawa change or not.

The Government Relations Committee Meeting is an invaluable opportunity to understand US-Japanese political interactions. Committee members are directly involved in Japanese politics to pursue their business interest. Some agendas discussed at the meeting are more vivid than those talked at the forum of Washington think tanks. Policy experts in Washington do not have to care about day-to-day profits. I had good experience to attend conferences by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, in the past. A combination of non-profit academic approaches and business oriented approaches will be of much help to understand American foreign policy and US-Japanese relations.

Special thanks:
ACCJ Government Relations Committee

Note: This post does not entirely reflect the viewpoint of the American Chambers of Commerce, and the contributor is responsible for everything written here.