Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Foreign Relations of Japan under the DPJ Administration

Ever since the landslide victory of DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan), Japanese media are excessively excited with the CHANGE like the Obama fever among liberal media in the United States and around the world. Shortly after the inauguration, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visited New York and Pittsburgh to attend UN General Assembly and G20 economic summit. Since Japanese public opinion was in the mood of “All Hail the Messiah” to the new DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama, I did not write any posts on the DPJ government in order to stay out of such a laudatory tumult.

Actually, major Western allies paid far more attention to Iran and Afghanistan than to Hatoyama’s debut and his ambitious target for a 25% CO2 emission cut, during the General Assembly in New York.

However, it is time that we explored Japan’s foreign relations under Hatoyama. Prior to the Prime Minister’s trip to the United States, Douglas Paal, Vide President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had an interview on September 16 as shown in the video below. Paal was on the National Security Council as an expert of East Asian affairs under the Reagan and the Bush Sr. administrations.

Basically, Paal foresees no significant changes in Japanese foreign policy under the DPJ administration. Also, he comments the emergence of new government positively, as a path to real bipartisan democracy from the single party dominance by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party). However, he mentions that the new administration will face critical challenges in policymaking communications with bureaucrats, because Hatoyama envisions drastic reform in policymaking processes from those led by bureaucrats to those by the cabinet.

Regarding new policymaking processes, American lobbyists in Tokyo talked about similar points in the forum sponsored by the American Chambers of Commerce in Japan on September 29. Unlike Douglas Paal, they did not give any evaluations to Japanese democracy. This may be because lobbyists are reluctant to say something to provoke antipathy to American business interests. As I said in previous posts (see 1 and 2), think tank scholars in Washington are free to say anything boldly.

Then, let me review the interview. As to the economy, Paal points out that it is unlikely that the DPJ succeeds in reversing postal savings privatization under the Koizumi reform. He is right, because it seems to me that both Japanese leaders and the public do not understand what the reform is.

While Hatoyama’s pro-Asian stance is taken positively among Asian neighbors, Paal says that Japan’s fundamental relations with them will not change so much because there are some difficult issues to reach an agreement, like territorial dispute, East China Sea, and war time history. In addition, I would like to stress that it is quite unrealistic for Japan to cohabit with China in a Common Asian House, just as the EU or NATO accepts Russian membership to a Western democracy club.

The US-Japanese relationship will not change substantially, because Japan enjoys a post modern peace under Pax Americana. However, Paal says that DPJ politicians are reluctant to accept advices from bureaucrats even though they are inexperienced, because the new cabinet wants to destroy bureaucratic dominance. The American side will face difficulties in finding the right channel for policy interactions. Quite importantly, Paal comments that the Obama administration will not impose Japan to continue fuelling for the Afghan operations. Rather, Obama will accept Japan’s alternative approach, such as providing assistance to civil life and so forth in Afghanistan.

In addition to the above analyses, Douglas Paal presents a critical advice to Japan. While Japanese media focus too much on Hatoyama, Obama is another key to US-Japanese relations. As Barack Obama is even-tempered and businesslike, it is unlikely that personal relations between leaders will play a significant role. Nor, will Obama see the world from “with us or against us” perspectives.

Paal’s recommendation sounds right. As shown in the withdrawal of missile defense system from Poland and Czech, President Obama does not regard loyalty to America important. Therefore, Prime Minister Hatoyama needs to suggest some alternatives to fuelling to the coalition forces. Also, the Prime Minister has to re-establish clearly understandable policymaking channels, if he were to restructure traditional bureaucracy-diet relations. Otherwise, American negotiators will encounter critical difficulties in finding the right person in Japan to talk on their own issues. An even tempered and businesslike president may not be patient enough. Keep this in mind Prime Minister Hatoyama.

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