Japan Must Remain Strong

Published on September 8, 2009

By Nehginpao Kipgen


The Korea Times – September 4, 2009


The election victory of Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) marks the dawn of a new chapter in the history of the tenth most populated nation on earth. The DJP’s victory is also an end to over 50 years’ rule of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) since its formation in 1955.


The downfall of LDP began when the party suffered a major defeat in 2007 election, and lost its majority in the upper house (House of Councillors) for the first time in history.


During the 1950s to 1980s, Japan had a rapid growth of economy and rose to a major economic power. The LDP government had successfully brought Japan to the status of the world’s second largest economy.


After fiercely fighting against each other during World War II, the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace with Japan, under which terms Japan regained its full sovereignty. While the LDP-led government was pro-Western, the DJP is seen to be somewhat less enthusiastic of the West, especially with the United States.


Similar to what had happened in the U.S. presidential election in 2008, the Japanese people wanted a change after five decades of the LDP government. Though many have questioned the experiences of the newly elected leaders, they wanted to see new faces in the government that could usher in fresh ideas.


The election campaigns were centered around two broad agendas: domestic issues and foreign policies. Of the two, the DJP was more focused on domestic issues, such as promising direct spending toward consumers, cutting wasteful spending and reducing the power of bureaucrats.


Though foreign policy was not the primary focus during election campaigns, the LDP is believed to be paying close attention to its neighbors in Asia. The bilateral cooperation between Tokyo and Washington is also not likely to become a priority for the new government at least in the next few months.


During campaigns, Yukio Hatoyama, who will become the next Japanese prime minister, suggested establishing closer ties with China. He also indicated about re-examining plans to beef up the U.S.-Japan security alliance and realigning U.S. forces in Japan, and to question bilateral cooperation in Afghanistan and other areas.


Yukio Hatoyama is seen to be impressed about the gradual simultaneous development of China economically and militarily, and China’s greater influence in the region and around the world.


Primarily because of its status as one of the world’s major economic powers and its potential military power, the election was watched closely by the international community.


Due to its strong economic and strategic alliance, the United States closely followed the development of the election and what the outcome might impact the bilateral relations between Washington and Tokyo.


The LDP government, under then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, was a strong ally of the United States in its war against terrorism. After the Iraq war, Koizumi sent 1,000 soldiers of Japan Self-Defense Forces to help the reconstruction work. It was Japan’s biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II.


Though details of his foreign policies are not released yet, Yukio Hatoyama is not expected to make a dramatic shift in U.S.-Japan relations. Instead, the new DJP government is likely to build relationship with both Washington and Beijing.


One fundamental difference between Japan and China is their system of governments. While Japan is a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy, China is a single-party socialist republic. Even if there is a shift in Tokyo’s policy toward Beijing, it will not be at the cost of severing ties with its long-time security and strategic partner, Washington.


On the other hand, Washington needs Tokyo’s cooperation and support in its efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan’s cooperation in the denuclearization of North Korea and winning war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan is important.


As a neighbor and member of the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program, the DJP government may consider developing its military capability. In fact, Japan is one of the few nations in Asia that can counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region.


Regardless of the leadership changes in Tokyo, Japan must remain strong economically and politically as a major power of the world. The international community, particularly the Asian nations, looks forward to a stable and thriving Japan.


As a responsible Asian power, Japan needs to show an exemplary role in protecting human rights, and should extend all possible helps to establish democratic societies in the region, including Burma.


Nehginpao Kipgen is a political analyst and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Asia for many leading international newspapers.