Japan back in middle of the road on China

By Zhang Muhui
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, September 21, 2010
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Japan's decision to detain a Chinese fishing boat captain for another ten days seems to indicate a hard line stance towards China. But observers say the DPJ government is just using the Diaoyu issue to boost its standing in the polls. It wants to avoid offending China and stirring up anti-Japanese sentiments, and will release the captain after a decent interval. Nevertheless, some see the conflict taking on a life of its own, and point out that Japan's newly-appointed Foreign Minister, Maehara Seiji, is known for his tough stance on both the Diaoyu Islands and Chinese operations in the Chun-Xiao oil and gas field.

Naoto Kan, a rather uncharismatic politician, easily beat Ozawa Ichiro, the "shadow Shogun" of Japanese politics, to remain DPJ president. The myth of Ozawa's invincibility has been shattered. Given his age and health, this failure may spell the end of his political career. Kan immediately filled his cabinet with anti-Ozawa allies, giving only two posts to the Hatoyama group.

The Diaoyu Islands dispute reflects the change in Japan's political climate in the post-Ozawa and post-Hatoyama period. Japan is drawing back from its "pro-China" line and will not repeat former Prime Minister Hatoyama's testing of US tolerance on the Futenma issue.

Stability of the DPJ Regime

From China's point of view, the primary concern is whether DPJ is likely to stay in power. Given the painful history of Sino-Japanese relations in the LDP period, China would like to see a stable and sustainable DPJ government.

From this point of view Kan's re-election should be welcomed by China. Ozawa is a highly divisive political figure who was forced to resign as head of DPJ after an infamous corruption scandal. By contrast, the most recent poll shows that the popularity of the Kan government is rising.

DPJ's China strategy

Secondly, Kan's foreign policy strategy fundamentally differs from Ozawa. Ozawa created the DPJ and is head of its biggest faction. Like former Prime Minister Koizumi, Ozawa is also famous for his political experience, personal charisma and autocratic leadership style. Kan, by contrast, is seen as a technocrat. Nicknamed the "grass-roots minister," Kan has tried to build an image of being close to the man in the street and an opponent of Japan's political dynasties. But as a politician, he lacks Ozawa's charisma and decisiveness. Re-adjusting the US-Japan Alliance and emphasizing relations with Asian countries are basic elements of DPJ policy, that both Ozawa and Kan agree on. But Kan learned a hard lesson from what happened to his predecessor Hatoyama, and is wary of further irritating the Americans. The "Asian dimension" of DPJ policy is likely to shrink during Kan's tenure.

To some extent, Ozawa was seen as a "trouble-maker" by both the United States and China. He called many times for US influence on Japan affairs to be weakened and for equality in US-Japan relations. But he also said Japan should build up its military to counter the threat from China. If Ozawa was Prime Minister, it is highly possible he would take a hard line on the Futenma issue. But he is even more stubborn and hard line on the Diaoyu islands issue than Kan.

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