September 2, 2009
By Bruce Klingner
The rumbling you heard across the Pacific Ocean over the weekend
was Japan moving further from the United States -- and closer to
China. Japan's left-of-center opposition party, which has long
spouted anti-capitalist and anti-US rhetoric, won a landslide
victory in Sunday's election.
The Democratic Party of Japan wound up with 308 seats in the
powerful lower house of Parliament, trouncing the ruling
right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party, which won just 119 seats.
It's only the second time in 54 years that the LDP has been out of
While historic, the result was no surprise. Japanese voters,
angry at the government's inability to fix longstanding economic
problems, were determined to drive out incumbents -- a case of
"better the devil you don't know."
How will this affect the US-Japan alliance? No one knows -- not
even the DPJ.
The new ruling party is a big tent covering socialists who
advocate pacifism as well as conservatives who favor expanding
Japan's global security role, as the United States has asked. How
far the new government shifts Japan's policies depends largely on
which faction sets the party's agenda.
But Tokyo will certainly be less willing to fulfill existing
defense agreements and more resistant to Washington's future
security requests. A poll of DPJ candidates showed that only a
minority supported such US-friendly moves as dispatching Japanese
forces to Afghanistan and continuing to refuel US ships in the
Indian Ocean to help the global War on Terror.
The DPJ has long called for a foreign policy more independent of
Washington. Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama praises the
US-Japan alliance in broad terms -- but actually promotes a more
Asian-centric strategy for Japan. The apparent aim is to create a
politically and economically integrated regional bloc, similar to
the European Union.
Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ's second-in-command, has consistently long
argued for downplaying the US alliance in favor of deploying
Japanese forces only on UN-sanctioned missions.
The Obama administration will have its hands full balancing the
pursuit of US security objectives with maintaining strong relations
with a pricklier Japanese ally. More than ever, Washington's
ability to influence Tokyo's policies will be hindered by a ruling
party skeptical -- if not suspicious -- of US intentions.
Japan is critical to many US strategic objectives, including
maintaining peace in the region. Washington must call for the DPJ
to affirm the existing alliance and the bilateral policies that
flow from it. It should also press Tokyo to stick by its
commitments, particularly on Indian Ocean refueling, missile
defense and US military redeployment in Japan.
Even under the LDP, Tokyo preferred to emphasize economic
solutions to security challenges and maintained only limited means
to project military power, even to defend its national interests.
The DPJ will be an even greater test of US patience.
Along with its constrained armed forces, Japan's economic woes
and political paralysis have been diminishing Tokyo's regional and
global influence. Meanwhile, China's growing economic and military
capabilities increasingly enable Beijing to fill the gap.
Perhaps the best the Obama administration can hope for with the
new Japanese government is maintaining the bilateral status quo.
Yet that relationship is increasingly inadequate to address either
Asian or global security challenges. Absent more help from Japan,
the US military may at some point be unable to meet ever-growing
demands in the region.
If Japan won't pull its weight, expect greater crises in Asia
and around the world.
Bruce Klingner, is senior research
fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the
First Appeared in the New York Post
The rumbling you heard across the Pacific Ocean over the weekend was Japan moving further from the United States -- and closer to China. Japan's left-of-center opposition party, which has long spouted anti-capitalist and anti-US rhetoric, won a landslide victory in Sunday's election.
Senior Research Fellow, Northeast Asia
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