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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Kan's cabinet appointments revealed his conservative and backward-looking stance on Sino-Japanese relations. Over the last year, the DPJ broke its manifesto commitments on the Futenma issue, attracting fierce criticism. To appease the electorate, Prime Minister Hatoyama resigned as a scapegoat. Since coming to power, Kan has shown no appetite for testing US patience. His appointment of the pro-US Maehara as Foreign Minister gave a clear signal that he sees the US-Japan Alliance as paramount.

But despite Japan's hard-line stance on the Diaoyu dispute, it does not follow that Kan is more hostile to China than Ozawa. On the contrary, under Ozawa, Japan's China policy might well have been tougher and more unpredictable given his commitment to a "militarily normalized Japan". China would surely rather face a militarily weak Japan dependent on US protection, than a heavily armed and independent neighbor.

DPJ politicians and ministry bureaucrats

Observers of Japanese politics can never ignore the influence of ministry bureaucrats. The DPJ is a new party lacking in government experience. It remains to be seen how far it can implement its policies. In Japan, foreign policy is formulated by the Self-Defense Force, the Ministry of Defense (MOD), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Ministry of Finance (MOF). When the DPJ came to power last year and announced the idea of an "East Asian Community" it received a chilly response from the MOD, MOFA and MOF. Japanese bureaucrats are not convinced by the DPJ's foreign policy, and they know that, while Prime Ministers come and go, bureaucrats remain. Without support from the ministries, DPJ policies are little more than empty slogans.

The DPJ wants to put politicians in charge over ministries when it comes to policy making. But it has made little headway. Ozawa has attacked Kan's inability to establish control over the ministries, and claimed Kan was heading back to the "bureaucratic politics" of the LDP period. Ozawa's criticism is probably valid. If anyone could redress the balance of power in favor of elected politicians it would be him rather than Kan. A political legacy of Kan's victory may be the slow "LDP-ization" of the DPJ. That would mean its "Asianization" policy would be reduced to a cipher. China would obviously not want to see that.

Kan's re-election probably means we will see a middle-of-the-road period in Sino-Japanese relations – no worse than the LDP period, and no better than the Hatoyama period. Strongmen in Japanese politics mean unpredictability. They can be as positive as Tanaka Kakuei, or as negative as Junichiro Koizumi. As for Kan, foreign relations are not going to be his major policy focus. He will be happy to maintain the status quo in East Asia during his tenure in office.

The author is an editor of Phoenix TV InfoNews channel. tyoboki@hotmail.com


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