Japan's foreign policy likely to change if DPJ wins

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, August 28, 2009
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By Richard Smart

As Japan prepares for an election on Aug. 30, it seems that nothing but a miracle will be able to keep the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power as a tide of change looks likely to sweep the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) into governance.

If the DPJ does win the election, it is likely, argued Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University, that there will be changes in Japan's foreign policy and international relations, particularly the nation's relationship with the United States.

"I don't think that the DPJ will do anything to inflict irreparable harm on the bilateral alliance with the United States," said Kingston in an interview with Xinhua.

"I think the Obama administration is ready to update the relationship and make it somewhat more equal. However, in this new multipolar world the United States expects more of its allies, so in the case of Japan, Washington will expect not soldiers, but engineers, educators and doctors, things like that, to contribute to the rebuilding process in the Middle East," Kingston said.

The DPJ, however, seems more likely than the LDP to generate tension with the United States. In particular, the DPJ "will expose the secret agreement that allows the US to routinely violate the three non-nuclear principles."

Japan's three non-nuclear principles are not possessing, producing or permitting the bringing-in of nuclear weapons on its soil. However, over recent years, documents from the United States and statements by former government ministers have pointed to the existence of a pact that allowed the United States military to carry nuclear weapons in Japanese waters. Revealing the documents is unlikely to have disastrous consequences, but it will mark a change in the way Japan deals with its ally.

How the DPJ deals with US hopes for support in its Afghan mission is also a potential stumbling block, as the DPJ has stated that it will not extend Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to support US troops once the deal expires next year.

Kingston, however, said that this will not be the end of the world.

"If Japan makes some gesture in the direction (of the Afghan war) then that will be taken as sufficient," he said.

In the DPJ's manifesto, the party said that it hopes to "take the lead in eliminating nuclear weapons," but Kingston said that this is unlikely to lead to an end to the US nuclear umbrella, and will have little effect on ties with the US.

"The Japanese government has long wanted the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) to be a reality, but in that sense, they are on the same page as Obama, so that shouldn't be a problem," Kingston said.

Eliminating nuclear weapons has taken on a new sense of urgency in Japan since the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) developed a nuclear program last year. Kingston argued that the DPJ may be better equipped than the LDP to make progress in the six-party talks, which include the DPRK, South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

The professor said that while the LDP has focused on resolving the abduction issue -- to the annoyance of other members of the negotiations -- "there is hope the DPJ can get out from behind the abductee problem."

Another area that has caused Japan a large number of problems is the nation's legacy from World War II. Many LDP politicians have visited Yasukuni Shrine -- where 14 class A war criminals are enshrined -- and there are still a lot of prisoners of war and forced laborers demanding compensation and an apology from the Japanese government.

While Kingston saw the DPJ suggestion of creating a new secular war memorial where ministers could pay their respects to the war dead as being a positive development, he is less sure on the suggestion that the DPJ may try to provide compensation to former POWs (prisoners of wars) and forced laborers.

The DPJ "will almost certainly be unable to meet the expectations of the victims, and anything they do will be too much for Japan's right-wingers, who think that what Japan did was fine. History remains very divisive and now the LDP is set to lose power, they can really pull their gloves off and show their true views on history, which we get a taste of every once in a while," Kingston said.

On these issues, as with many others, it seems that winning the election will be the start of a challenging period for the DPJ, and not the end of a difficult time.

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