New Leader for Japan: What Will Change?
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Asian experts disagree over whether new Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who took the helm on Sept. 25, will attempt to steer the country in a markedly different direction than former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Fukuda, of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has selected former Japan Defense Agency (JDA) Director Shigeru Ishiba as defense minister. Ishiba served as the JDA director from 2002-03 under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Some observers say Fukuda will be more conservative and pragmatic than Abe.
“Fukuda will probably represent more of a pragmatic change of style and more focus on immediate diplomatic and defense issues compared to Abe, who was more ideological and ambitious in his grand strategy for Japanese foreign policy,” said Christopher Hughes, author of the book, “Japan’s Re-emergence as a ‘Normal’ Military Power.” “I expect Fukuda to pursue something akin to a ‘new Fukuda doctrine.’ I expect Fukuda to concentrate more closely on Japan-China ties and to show more flexibility on Japan-North Korea relations.”
However, Hugo Dobson, a senior lecturer at the National Institute of Japanese Studies and School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield, England, sees no change in the immediate future.
“To be honest, I doubt much will change,” he said. “Fukuda was chosen to be a safe pair of hands after the chaos of the Abe administration. I would expect a period of stabilization until next summer and MSDF [Maritime Self-Defense Force] activities to continue — pressure is already being placed on Ichiro Ozawa [leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)] from within his own party to compromise.”
Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, anticipates more emphasis on continuity than change.
“The basic policy line of maintaining a close alliance with the United States will continue,” Sato said. “If anything has changed, a little leaning toward Gaullism [a long-term preference for strategic independence from the United States] under the Abe administration has perhaps swung back to the centrist position with Abe’s resignation.”
Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group, argues that although Ishiba is very knowledgeable on defense issues, Fukuda will keep a hidden hand on the defense reins.
“Mr. Fukuda, called a ‘shadow minister of defense’ in the past, has great confidence in Mr. Ishiba,” Akiyama said. “However, it is also true that he looks for maintaining his influence.”
Refueling Missions in Question
One point of contention is efforts by the opposition DPJ to end Japan’s refueling support mission in the Indian Ocean for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. James Auer, director of the Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, said that for the short term, there could be setbacks.
DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, he said. “is an opportunist, and he is trying to exert his power by blocking continuation of the law which allows [MSDF] ships to refuel U.S. and allied ships in the Indian Ocean, which is set to expire on Nov. 1.”
Ishiba was quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun as saying, “The prime minister gave me two assignments: to steadily promote the relocation of the U.S. military forces in Japan, maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance, and to tackle the issue of the extension of the MSDF mission in the Indian Ocean.
“It hasn’t been decided yet whether we’ll maintain the current Anti-terrorism Law or make a new law. I’ll make every effort to continue the refueling mission by winning the understanding of the opposition parties and the people,” he was quoted as saying.
Sato warns that the DPJ controls the upper house of the Diet and is trying to block LDP’s attempt to continue the refueling operation.
“Their threats are credible, as scheduling of the upcoming session of the Diet is expected to be very tight,” Sato said.
With the current law about to expire, there is talk that the MSDF may have to temporarily withdraw.
“However, Fukuda might be able to turn the tables on the DPJ, who have opposed the dispatch on the grounds that it has no clear U.N. mandate and that fuel provided by the JSDF [Japanese Self-Defense Forces] might have been diverted for use in Iraq,” Hughes said.
“Fukuda might be able to draw up a new law with very clear demarcations on what Japan can do in Afghanistan, draw on recent U.N. resolutions that praise nations which have supported the Afghan campaign, and also argue that if Japan withdraws in the absence of a true alternative that it will make Japan look like it is slipping back into its past reactivity and will draw international condemnation.”
Akiyama said changing the law to address humanitarian issues is the only way to get the DPJ stamp of approval.