Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Japan, Fiery Rhetoric Subsides After DPJ Landslide

Defense News


In Japan, Fiery Rhetoric Subsides After DPJ Landslide

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Victorious in a landslide Aug. 30 election, the left-of-center Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is already toning down its more radical rhetoric about demilitarization and weaker U.S. ties.

For example, despite DPJ threats to rewrite the 1960 U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is now expected merely to call for slight revisions.

Party leaders are calling now for continuing a “close and equal Japan-U.S. alliance.” DPJ leaders also have called for a “move in the direction of re-examining the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan and the role of U.S. military bases in Japan.”

“I am really not sure how far the DPJ will go with that, as they may simply lack the policy energy and things will just drag on,” said Christopher Hughes, author of the book, “Japan’s Remilitarization.”

Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of the Tokyo-based Okazaki Institute, noted that “it is not clear what ‘equal’ relationship means and what kind of roles the DPJ plans to bear.” Still, fears in some corners that the DPJ would overhaul Japan’s security policies appear to be unfounded.

“In fact, Hatoyama has his hands full with budget choices, economic reform, and precarious health care and pension systems,” said Peter Woolley, author of the book, “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.”

“His central foreign policy challenge will not be changing the alliance with the U.S. but dealing with threats from North Korea. And he will have to meet these challenges while holding together a large new party whose constituents have high expectations.”

The DPJ took 308 seats in the 480-seat Lower House, but did not take over more than half of the Upper House’s seats.

“Since it lacks a single-party majority in the Upper House, the DPJ has entered into negotiations with the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDP) and the People’s New Party (PNP) on the formation of a coalition government,” Kawamura said.

The Social Democratic Party, which is far more anti-military than DPJ, wants to end the SOFA and demilitarize Japan, Kawamura said.

The SDP and DPJ do see eye-to-eye on the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, which allows Japan’s navy to refuel coalition warships in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

The law is set to expire in January 2010, and the DPJ will simply wait for this to occur without taking any preemptive action, said Yoichiro Sato, a Japan analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu.

“On a more general level, DPJ is not necessarily more resistant to overseas peace and security operations,” Sato said. “While in opposition, DPJ has emphasized ‘civilian contributions’ as opposed to military dispatches, in order to appease its center-left members.”

For example, the DPJ has said it would allow the deployment of the Japanese navy for anti-piracy operations off Somalia, something the SDP opposes, Kawamura said.

However, the DPJ wants to revisit the agreement to move the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station on Okinawa to Nago; the party wants the air station off the island entirely.

“Reviewing the relocation of the Futenma Air Station is equal to throwing away the agreements reached after 13 years of negotiations,” Kawamura said.

On other issues, like ballistic missile defense and the threat from North Korea, the DPJ appears no different from the LDP, “although there will be no talk of collective self-defense,” Hughes said.