DPJ seeking alliance of equals with U.S.

by Toko Sekiguchi and Takashi Hirokawa

Bloomberg

The Democratic Party of Japan, which has a good chance of winning power in this year’s election, will seek an alliance with the United States that is less subordinate than that of the last 50 years, a senior DPJ lawmaker said.

“We want to move away from U.S. dependency to a more equal alliance,” DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said in a recent interview in Tokyo. “We’ve followed the U.S. subserviently in the past.”

The DPJ, which has never been in power, is poised to oust the Liberal Democratic Party from its almost unbroken half-century of control. Party head Ichiro Ozawa has called for a more assertive foreign policy and unsuccessfully opposed the use of Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels for refueling aid in the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

With Prime Minister Taro Aso’s approval ratings falling toward single digits, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unusual step of meeting Ozawa and Hatoyama during her stop in Tokyo last week. Clinton and President Barack Obama have emphasized ties with Japan, and Ozawa assured Clinton that a DPJ-led government would still treat the bilateral alliance as Japan’s most important one.

“Ozawa told Clinton he is misunderstood by the U.S.” as being antagonistic toward the alliance, Hatoyama said. “We are only looking for an equal relationship, which we believe the U.S. also prefers.”

Hatoyama spoke hours before Aso, the LDP president, left for Washington to become the first foreign leader to visit Obama. The prime minister’s public support is falling as his plans to lift the world’s second-largest economy from a worsening recession have stalled in the Diet, the Upper House of which is controlled by the DPJ-led opposition camp.

Aso has come under fire from senior members of his own party for his lack of leadership, which was underscored last week when Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa quit after appearing to be drunk at a Group of Seven press conference in Rome.

“Aso’s Cabinet of buddies led to that unimaginable event,” said Hatoyama.

Hatoyama’s party effectively controls the less powerful Upper House ahead of a Lower House election that must be called by Sept. 10. The DPJ’s support rate is at 29 percent, compared with the LDP’s 20 percent, the daily Mainichi Shimbun said Monday. The same poll put Aso’s approval rating at 11 percent.

The DPJ must convince voters that it can govern if it is to unseat the LDP, which has run Japan for all but 10 months since 1955, Hatoyama said. The one interlude, the 1993 coalition government of Morihiro Hosokawa, collapsed amid internal divisions and allowed the LDP to regain power.

“There are many people who, due to the failure of the Hosokawa administration, feel that a change in government means returning to that time of ideological clashes,” Hatoyama said. “There are still those who aren’t confident about putting the government in the hands of the opposition.”