Is Japan ready to cut the American leash?
Yukio Hatoyama at the Hiroshima Peace Museum
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission
The opposition Democratic party’s expected victory in Japan’s 30 August general election is creating a new element of uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region, already unsettled by North Korea’s war drums and China’s assertiveness. The ruling conservative Liberal Democratic party (LDP) has held power for 52 of the past 53 years. It is the political linchpin of the US-Japan alliance. Now, largely due to lamentable domestic policy failures, opinion polls suggest it is all but dead in the water.
The centre-left Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), ahead by up to 20 points in some surveys, is committed, on paper at least, to a radical reappraisal of Japan’s postwar defence partnership with Washington. Its manifesto pledges to “re-examine the role of the US military in the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the significance of US bases in Japan”. Questions have been raised about the continuing presence of roughly 50,000 American troops on Japanese soil and more broadly, about Japan’s military support for US operations in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.
At the same time, DPJ leaders are advocating improved ties with former adversaries, notably China and South Korea, strained during the 2001-2006 premiership of Junichiro Koizumi. Party chief Yukio Hatoyama has vowed not to follow Koizumi in paying respects to Japan’s war dead at the Yasukini shrine in Tokyo, seen in Beijing as a symbol of unrepentant Japanese militarism.
Speaking in Tokyo today at a Thomson Reuters conference, Katsuya Okada, the DPJ’s second-in-command, said the party wanted an equal relationship with the Obama administration. “There are various issues of concern between Japan and the US. It is necessary … to work on changing systems based on trust,” he said. Japan lacked independence, he complained. “If Japan just follows what the US says, then I think as a sovereign nation that is very pathetic…”
Nor will the US voluntarily relax its close embrace, just because some new faces show up at Tokyo head office next month. According to Harvard professor Joseph Nye, Washington attaches high priority to its Japanese alliance, “a central feature of stability in east Asia”. Shared concerns ranging from China to trans-national pandemics, terrorism and the threats posed by failed states would bind the US and Japan more closely than ever in the 21st century, he predicted.
It’s a lesson other useful long-time US allies, such as Britain, have learned over the years. Whatever DPJ leaders may fondly think, there’s no escaping America when it doesn’t want to be escaped.
I happen to think Nye is wrong – and Tisdall has been stuck into reading his own copy and that of his peers in the British government just a bit too long.
After all is said and done, he’s giving the United States the same clout the British Empire had up to about 10 minutes after the end of World War 2. That evaporated almost as quickly as did European colonialism in the 3rd World. Same timeframe.
I think the Japanese can come up with as much courage as, say, South Asian nations or Indochina.
UPDATE: The DPJ came up big winners.