World Watches as New Japanese Leader Prepares to Shape Foreign Policy
By Kurt Achin
02 September 2009
For now there remain more questions than answers about how the government of Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, will shape its foreign policy. There have been some indications he will seek to forge closer relations with East Asia, and possibly temper the country's tight alliance with the United States.
Yukio Hatoyama, the presumed next prime minister of Japan, has made it fairly clear he will end at least one Japanese collaboration with the international community: the refueling of naval vessels in the Indian Ocean taking part in international stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. The U.S. government has repeatedly praised that effort.
Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman, says Washington will wait to see what Japan decides on another security issue: whether to contribute troops to the Afghanistan effort.
"A stable prosperous Afghanistan is in the interest of the entire international community, including Japan," Kelly said, "but of course it's up to each country to determine how they can best contribute to that effort, and we of course look forward to working with the new government when it's formed and we look forward to a discussion of what kind of role Japan will play. But we'll see how things play out in the next few months."
Afghanistan is one of several areas in which some political analysts believe Japan may cool its cooperation with the United States.
Meiji University Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi says Mr. Hatoyama's party, the DPJ, views the U.S. relationship as less central to Japanese foreign policy than the outgoing conservatives.
"It's evinced by the conviction that many DPJ politicians seem to have of the necessity to reduce the footprint of the U.S. military still further," Taniguchi said. "They're talking about reducing the amount of host-nation support budget to the United States."
Washington stations about 50,000 U.S. forces in Japan. The United States says it will not renegotiate a recently completed deal on U.S. military bases here.
Jeffrey Kingston is director of Asian Studies at the Temple University campus in Tokyo. He says this is a good time for Tokyo to get proactive in relations with the U.S.
"Under Obama in this multi-polar world, allies are going to be asked to pony up [contribute]," Kingston said. "What is Japan willing to do? Don't just say this is what we can't do, are not prepared to do, our constitution prevents us from doing, tell us what you can do."
In Asia, one thing Mr. Hatoyama may do is seek tighter economic ties with China, Japan's largest trading partner.
He can also put some distance between himself and Japan's militaristic history.
He vows he will not visit Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, where war criminals are enshrined, alongside other war dead.
The world may have some time to wait before Japan raises its voice on international policy; Mr. Hatoyama campaigned almost exclusively on domestic economic issues. Kick-starting growth is likely to be the new government's main focus during its first year in office.
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