The party’s manifesto for next month’s election, due to be released to the public any day now, considerably softens the language on a number of foreign policy issues on which the DPJ had previously taken controversial positions.
“Soften” is the operative word. The DPJ isn’t necessarily outlining new foreign policy initiatives — it’s simply coming to terms with the foreign policy status quo. The DPJ won’t be taking Japanese foreign policy in a new direction, certainly not in its first year or two. (Although, that said, it is encouraging that the manifesto includes a plank calling for flexibility in negotiations with Russia over the Kirile Islands.) Asahi notes that the manifesto still includes language calling for “an equal US-Japan alliance,” but, if anything, the more the DPJ pursues a more pragmatic course, the more it will rely on rhetoric to distinguish itself from the LDP. Sankei adds that the DPJ has indicated its support for a cargo inspection law aimed at North Korea based on a recent UNSC resolution despite having blocked debate on the government’s bill during the recently concluded Diet session.
Whatever the policy implications of the DPJ’s shift, it makes good political sense for the DPJ to stress continuity in foreign policy. The LDP, naturally, will try to use foreign policy as a way to discredit the DPJ, to paint it as dangerously radical and untrustworthy. (Aso Taro took precisely this line of attack on foreign policy yesterday.) The less daylight between the parties on foreign policy, the less traction the LDP gets from talking about it. The public cares about issues that are at the center of the DPJ’s policy program, health, welfare, and social security. The LDP has performed notoriously poorly in the past four years on these issues. Shifting to the center on foreign policy means it becomes a non-issue. Which is just as well for the DPJ, because it is highly unlikely that the party will do more than what’s promised in the manifesto should it take power next month.
Preserving the status quo on foreign policy, however, should free the party to devote its energy to critical matters like administrative reform. In other words, the shift to the status quo not only disarms the LDP during the campaign, but should the DPJ the LDP will have little choice but to attack from the right if it wants to make an issue of foreign policy, which will do little to draw support away from a DPJ government.