Monday, January 4, 2010

Unhappy New Year for Hatoyama's foreign policy

A New Year, a new pessimism.

At least, that seems to be the case for Japan's editorial writers. This is surprising given the initial burst of national optimism following last August’s landslide victory by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the House of Representatives election, ending over 50 year of Liberal Democratic Party rule.

Two conservative dailies, the Yomiuri and Sankei, bemoaned the apparently sorry state of US-Japan relations. In two editorials between Dec. 31 and Jan. 4, both newspapers castigated the DPJ and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for its handling of foreign relations and exhorted the government to get a grip, before it was too late.

In its New Year’s editorial, Yomiuri editors thundered that the Hatoyama administration lacked a national strategy, risking casting Japan “adrift on the rough seas of global politics – a dreadful situation.” Sankei, in a December 31, editorial also berated the government for causing the “United States to become more distrustful of Japan.” The daily warned: “For the sake of the security and national interests of Japan, the Prime Minister should make decisions that place top priority on the Japan-US alliance.” It chided that more attention was being paid to India and its strategic interests than to Japan’s ally, the United States.

Both dailies have had long ties to the previous Liberal Democratic Party government but interestingly, a similar critical tone is present in the more liberal papers Mainichi and Asahi. The Mainichi, in a rambling January 1 editorial that even referred to the Nara Period in the 8th Century, urged Japan to engage in a “year of rebuilding,” by putting everything into overcoming a mountain of domestic and external challenges. The rebuilding would also involve savoring Japan’s cultural heritage and exporting aspects of it abroad. Yet, the overall tone was pessimistic: “The road to rebuilding the economy is long and far; doubts remain about fiscal resources to back the budget; and the government has brought on the predicament created by its mishandling of foreign policy and relations with the US.

“There must be a deepening of the US-Japan alliance, which is the axis of Japan’s diplomacy. There needs to be a recovery of the relationship of trust between the two countries that has been shaken.” The relatively liberal Asahi, Japan’s second largest daily, focused its New Year’s editorial on how to best broaden the US-Japan relationship. The focus was on cooperating on such global challenges as President Obama’s call for a nuclear-free world, global warming, and dwindling energy resources. The Asahi editors asked: “In the midst of such tectonic shifts, how can Japan help maintain peace and prosperity in the world, and play a role in stabilizing it?”

Noting that with North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and China engaged in a military buildup, the editorial was unequivocal in its support for the alliance. In language that seems to chide the Hatoyama administration for letting relations with the US slide, the daily noted that the Japanese people were satisfied with US defence of Japan, while balancing the security treaty with war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. Asians were also generally pleased with the security arrangements and their stabilizing impact on the region, the Asahi added. The editorial concluded that even though US-Japan interests may not always converge, there was no other option for Japan.

The business daily Nikkei has emerged in recent months as a sharp critic of the Hatoyama administration. The editors have a long record of strong support for the alliance. Although the business daily, unsurprisingly, focused its January 1 editorial on the sorry state of the economy and the need to rebuild for future generations, it also touched on the alliance. Noting that the security treaty marks its 50th anniversary this year, Nikkei suggested there was “need to give thought to making the alliance more meaningful, taking a future-oriented perspective.”

In a companion editorial on January 3, the daily observed: “Japan-US relations are now neither ‘equal’ nor ‘close’ as Prime Minister Hatoyama wants. The cause is the prime minister’s words and actions centered on the relocation of Futenma Air Station. The alarm bell was sounded, but the prime minister did not hear it.”On Japan’s Asia diplomacy, Nikkei warned: “At a time when Japan is turning more toward Asia and away from the US, ironically, Asia is turning toward America. We fear that Japan could become isolated by this misalignment.”

In all, Japan’s mainstream press is decidedly negative toward the Hatoyama administration. There is a surprising emphasis on foreign policy, especially with the United States. A general pessimism about the future is being wrapped around a criticism of the emerging policies of the DPJ. Although opinion polls still show strong support for the new government and little support for an air base in Henoko, the major dailies do not reflect this public acceptance of the fledgling government.

Picture from here.

William Brooks
APP Senior Fellow

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