The DPJ contemplates its opening moves with the US

In a survey of candidates’ political attitudes, Mainichi found that DPJ and Komeito candidates overlapped more than Komeito and LDP or LDP and DPJ candidates. Whether the policy affinities between DPJ and Komeito candidates presages cooperation between the two parties after the election will depend on other factors, but what interested me about this survey was what it revealed about the DPJ itself.

It is common to discuss the divisions in the DPJ, to assume that no matter how well the DPJ does in the general election the new DPJ government will run aground on the internal divisions of the ruling party. This assumption is due for a revision, and the Mainichi survey at least helps suggest otherwise.

Consider questions related to Japan’s constitution. While a majority of DPJ candidates recognized the value of constitution revision generically, only around 20% approved of revising Article 9. Only a fraction more (25%) approved of reinterpreting Article 9 to permit the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. Or the dispatch of the JSDF to Afghanistan, approved by roughly 15% of DPJ candidates. The party is more divided on the general orientation of Japan’s foreign policy, although a clear majority (62%) approved shifting the emphasis to Asia and a clear minority (18%) supported placing the most stress on the US-Japan alliance. It is not exactly clear what the remainder prefers. The DPJ is even more uniform on domestic policy.

The danger therefore is not paralysis but the opposite: that uniformity leads the party’s leadership to take a more reckless course than it might do otherwise. Similarly, as MTC argues, there is the danger that because so many DPJ candidates are running on the basis of the manifesto, they will make it difficult for the party to back away from the manifesto when it inevitably conflicts with reality.

What will this mean for Japan’s foreign policy? A DPJ government could be more confident in challenging the US than perhaps some observers expect. On the whole, I still don’t expect the DPJ to spend much energy on foreign policy within its first year in office, but there are signs that the DPJ might actually attempt to follow through on its goal of halting the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility in Heneko Bay as stipulated in the US-Japan agreement on realignment. Mainichi‘s survey did not include a question pertaining to realignment, but I would imagine that the party may be even more uniform in its opposition to the current plan than on some other foreign policy issues, because even pro-alliance hawks are skeptical of the arrangements for realignment.

Accordingly, Kan Naoto, on a visit to Okinawa (notice how the DPJ’s most radical statements on foreign policy are always made in Okinawa), said that there is a “high possibility” of a discussion between the new prime minister and President Obama in September. What exactly does this mean? Will Hatoyama Yukio go to Washington upon taking office? I suppose it is possible, given that if elected he wants to attend the opening of the UN general assembly on 15 September (which assumes, of course, that Japan will have a new government by then). Kan said that there must be a relationship in which “the new prime minister” can speak from the heart with Obama. A desire for a heart-to-heart (building “fraternity” I suppose) is all well and good, but will that be enough? Having talked with enough working-level US officials who have been involved in negotiations related to Okinawa, I can imagine that Hatoyama’s heartfelt plea would not be particularly welcome in Washington.

That does not mean it shouldn’t be. Problems in the realignment plan continue to emerge, the latest being construction of housing on Guam for Marines relocated from Okinawa, and, more seriously, the Abercrombie amendment to the 2010 Defense Authorization act, which would restrict the use of foreign labor for construction related to the realignment and mandate that laborers be paid higher, Hawaiian construction wages. It is estimated that if passed the Abercrombie amendment would double the already $10 billion price tag for the relocation. On both the Guam and Okinawa ends the realignment plan strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen. It may be completed, but past its deadline, over budget, and having stirred up considerable bilateral acrimony in the meantime. It does seem like alternatives exist. I found this contribution by Peter Ennis of The Oriental Economist to NBR’S US-Japan forum of value: Ennis suggests that the helicopters should move to Kadena, that the only real obstacles are infighting between the US Air Force and the Marines and the need for a facility that could handle surge capacity in the event of a crisis. While the DPJ has said that it wants facilities out of Okinawa entirely, I think that the DPJ would settle for a move to Kadena in place of building an FRF. But as Ennis suggests, it’s going to take executive leadership.

But Futenma wasn’t the only bilateral issue Kan discussed while in Okinawa. Kan also criticized the foreign ministry for its secret agreements with the US, especially the agreement permitting the introduction of US nuclear weapons without consulting the Japanese government in advance. The foreign ministry itself denies the existence of secret agreements but says that there were negotiations of differing interpretations. But Hatoyama has decided to run with this issue, suggesting that just as in the case of Futenma what’s necessary to resolve the matter is a heart to heart with Obama. Hatoyama seems convinced that he can simply persuade Obama to change US policy to accord with the three non-nuclear principles. (Don’t the Japanese realize that there are at least two Obamas, if not more?) And yet, at the same time, only two days earlier Hatoyama said that maintaining the US nuclear umbrella is unavoidable. I preferred Hatoyama’s position last month, when, in the face of the contradiction of the three non-nuclear principles and the US-Japan secret agreement, Hatoyama suggested that he would consider revising the principles to accord with reality.

I think the DPJ’s leaders need to stop talking so much. Win the election first, put together a cabinet, and then decide what the best way to approach the US on these issues is. Keep talking and what remains of the DPJ’s credibility will be gone before the party even takes office. It is revealing that Hatoyama is avoiding burasagari press conferences in order to avoid gaffes. The more Hatoyama and others speak, giving the impression as if policy has been set in stone, the more they will have to retract once a DPJ-led government actually forms.

3 thoughts on “The DPJ contemplates its opening moves with the US

  1. Tobias,Your last paragraph is sort of jarring. While it's clear that you (and so many other academics) are rooting for a DPJ landslide, it is still a little off-putting to suggest that party leaders should hide their incompetence in order to win. If they're really so incompetent, why root for them?Perhaps I read too much into what you wrote. Perhaps there's an implicit \”If the DPJ really wants to win this thing…\” at the start of the paragraph. Or maybe you meant to suggest that DPJ leaders are merely inarticulate, which gives a false impression of incompetence that would be better avoided?


  2. Michael,I clarified the conclusion a bit (I think). There is going to be more to what a DPJ government does than Hatoyama's will. Simply put, he shouldn't write rhetorical checks that he may not be able to cash.I think the DPJ will win this thing regardless of what Hatoyama says. I'm more interested in what happens next.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s