Okada diplomacy

Not even a week into the Hatoyama government, it is clear that Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya will be a force to be reckoned with in the new cabinet.

Even before the government formed, Okada raised the alarm that the new national strategy bureau would encroach on his turf in foreign policy making — prompting Hatoyama Yukio to stress that the bureau’s primary task will be budgeting (i.e., it will not follow Okada’s lead on foreign policy, if it plays any foreign policy role at all).

In the days since the government formed, Okada has become the sole voice on the DPJ-led government’s approach to the world, which for the moment means the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The point is not that the policy content of Okada’s diplomacy is markedly different from the party as a whole. Rather, Okada has made clear in his public remarks that he will be the voice of the government on foreign policy, not a bad thing seeing that he is perhaps the most articulate member of the government when it comes to explaining why the DPJ wants a more equal partnership with the US, what that will mean in practice, and why Asia should be at the center of Japan’s foreign policy — and why that is a good thing for the US. (See his interview in the FT here.) And he has shown on multiple occasions that he has a knack for showing why efforts to paint the DPJ’s foreign policy beliefs as anti-American are mistaken.

Meanwhile, it seems clear from Okada’s remarks that the DPJ will try to get everything it wants on the alliance. I thought it possible that if the Obama administration continued to say no to any discussion of Futenma, that the Hatoyama government — having softened its language on negotiations — might sound a retreat so as not to have a dispute with the US harming its position in advance of the 2010 upper house election. But Okada has said that the government wants to come to a decision with the US on Futenma within the year, or “100 days,” as he told the FT.

Okada said that the reason for the rush is to ensure necessary outlays are included in next year’s budget, but it also looks that from a political standpoint, scoring a quick and substantial diplomatic victory — and showing that under a DPJ government Japan can be allied with the US while still disagreeing over the details of bilateral cooperation — could neutralize foreign policy as an issue in the 2010 upper house election. It is not that voters are all that concerned about whether there needs to be a new realignment agreement, but that voters may be looking for reasons to question the DPJ’s capabilities and cast a protest vote for the LDP next year. Recall that the LDP polled substantially better than the DPJ when it came to which party respondents felt more confident in on foreign and security policy. But if the DPJ’s push for renegotiation results in another round of protracted, working-level discussions, its gambit could fail or at least do little to win the government recognition for boldness in foreign policy.

For its part, the Obama administration appears more pliant than it did last week, when talk was of Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell’s encouraging Japan to continue the refueling mission, not long after Morrell’s State Department counterpart completely ruled out renegotiating the agreement on realignment. While in Tokyo, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell stressed that while the administration wants to stick with the current agreement, “We can’t dictate. We have to listen, and clearly the new government has committed to some reviews in terms of certain aspect of our alliance.” Hardly a guarantee of renegotiation, but a marked change of tone from earlier remarks from spokesmen. Elsewhere, Derek Mitchell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian-Pacific affairs, said that the administration is not alarmed over DPJ questions over how Japanese government contributions will be spent in Guam.

At the same time, the Obama administration may also not be particularly eager to rush to forge a new agreement before the end of the year. I expect that Okada may press for a new agreement to be ready when President Barack Obama visits Japan in November, but that strikes me a wildly optimistic.

At least Okada is aware that, in advance of his and Hatoyama’s trip to the US this week, Japan cannot only say no and expect the US to be cooperative. Okada did rule out sending the JSDF to Afghanistan in an appearance on TV Asahi Sunday, but that comes as no surprise. But Prime Minister Hatoyama hopes to secure approval in New York for Japan’s broadening its support for stabilizing the Afghan economy and society.

While Hatoyama will be the one speaking in New York, Okada has already made clear that he will be the man to listen to on the Hatoyama government’s foreign policy. Okada, no less committed to the DPJ’s foreign policy agenda, is clearly more realistic when it comes to his understanding of the give-and-take of the alliance relationship.

One thought on “Okada diplomacy

  1. Anonymous

    What do you think about Okada deciding to pursue a tradeoff with the US between the refueling mission and the Futenma siting issue? IMO the public would be more concerned about the bases issue which is \”closer to home\” than the refueling mission which is not only abstract but an issue that was taken already in the previous LDP government.


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