Third in a series

After more than a decade of challenging the ruling coalition on their conservative diplomatic policies, the Democratic Party of Japan will head into the Aug. 30 election with a legitimate shot at taking control of the Diet.

But experts say center stage could bring out the DPJ’s true colors, possibly causing disarray that could even end up in an in-house exchange of blows.

“The DPJ has many unanswered questions regarding its strategy on foreign affairs,” said Yasuhiko Yoshida, an international politics professor at Osaka University of Economics and Law. “Diplomacy is likely to be a factor that will cause quarrels with other parties as well as within the DPJ.”

Chasms run deep between the foreign policies of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ, with the two groups clashing over the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces overseas to the more complex reconfiguration of the U.S. Marine Corps presence, and possible downsizing, in Okinawa.

With the chance of gaining the upper hand at the Diet in sight, the DPJ hastily softened its position by promising not to immediately pull the Maritime Self-Defense Force from its current logistic support in the Indian Ocean.

The party also said it will work on an inspection bill directed at North Korean ships in line with U.N Resolution 1874, which it chose not to discuss in the previous Diet session.

Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, an LDP member, was quick to pounce on the DPJ’s inconsistency, noting the party’s five priorities described in its policy platform did not include diplomacy.

“Excluding foreign affairs from the list of the party’s priorities seems a bit odd to me. Their stance on diplomacy remains unclear,” Nakasone told reporters last month.

Foreign Ministry bureaucrats are also at a loss over how their role will change after the election, with one senior official admitting having no clear clue about the DPJ’s diplomatic strategy.

Being an ensemble of lawmakers with diverse backgrounds, including LDP defectors and former Socialists, the DPJ’s diplomatic stands has been ambiguous since its launch in 1998.

On the liberal side are those who joined the party from the now-defunct Socialist Democratic Federation (Shaminren), including current Upper House President Satsuki Eda and DPJ acting President Naoto Kan.

Yoshio Hachiro, the foreign minister of the DPJ’s shadow Cabinet, comes from the former Japan Socialist Party, which has since become the Social Democratic Party. He strongly supports Article 9 of the Constitution and questions the legality of dispatching the SDF overseas.

Members of the party’s conservative camp, including former President Seiji Maehara, meanwhile do not oppose sending the SDF abroad and favor exercising the right to collective self-defense.

Lower House member Jin Matsubara caused controversy in 2006 by referring to the 1937 Nanjing Massacre as “propaganda” by the Chinese government. Matsubara’s comments came four years after Kan was criticized by rightists for visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and sending wreaths to a monument for victims of Japan’s atrocities.

“There are so many opinions within that party,” a Foreign Ministry bureaucrat said when asked about the DPJ’s position. “They have many things going on even within their own factions,” and uncertainties remain until it really takes power, the bureaucrat said.

Regarding bilateral diplomacy, many say DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, who would presumably become prime minister if the party wins the election, may seek to revise Japan’s relations with key partners, most notably the U.S.

Hatoyama, a graduate of Stanford University, said he will seek an “equal” partnership with Washington based on mutual trust. The party’s list of policies published last month said Japan will fulfill its share of international responsibilities, but will also assert its claims to Washington.

True to the pledge, Hatoyama raised eyebrows by hinting at a revision of the 2006 road map on the reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan. The U.S. was quick to disapprove.

In its policy package, the DPJ also states it will seek a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

The party has also said it will disclose secret pacts between Tokyo and Washington, including an agreement that required Japan to shoulder $4 million of the costs for Okinawa’s 1972 reversion to Japanese rule and the agreement on stopovers in Japan of U.S. warships and military aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

The current LDP-New Komeito government maintains those pacts don’t exist, despite a raft of evidence, including declassified U.S. documents, and testimony.

Yoshimitsu Nishikawa, a professor of international relations at Toyo University, said it is natural for the DPJ to try new measures and seek autonomy, but warned that some of its proposals could cause tension with Washington.

“If in fact the DPJ pulls the MSDF from the Indian Ocean, there could be reaction from the U.S.,” Nishikawa said on Hatoyama’s signal that he wound not extend the Indian Ocean mission beyond January.

The DPJ will probably make substitute proposals to the U.S. to bring the MSDF flotilla home, but this could backfire on ties with Washington.

Nishikawa reckoned that in a worst-case-scenario, the U.S. could become less inclined to closely collaborate in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat and in putting pressure on Pyongyang to resolve its kidnapping of Japanese, and even decrease the level of bilateral security cooperation.

“Sadly, it’s also true that the U.S. doesn’t mind what Japan chooses to do at this point,” Nishikawa said, since the U.S. can simply cut its favors for Tokyo if Japan chooses not to collaborate. “In reality, Japan isn’t a crucial partner for the U.S. anymore,” Nishikawa figured.

On Russia, Hatoyama appears confident of modifying ties since his late grandfather, Ichiro, is known in Moscow as the man who signed a joint statement with the Soviet Union in 1956.

Policies toward North Korea may not see a full makeover, but the DPJ’s liberal strategies, which include creating a new war memorial in place of the contentious Yasukuni Shrine, could ease tensions with neighboring countries, particularly China and South Korea.

But Toyo University’s Nishikawa doubts any substantial diplomatic progress with those countries, because the DPJ would not be expected to deviate too far from the policies of the LDP.

“Hatoyama said he will push for a conclusion of the territorial row with Russia, but he hasn’t proposed any specific measures,” he said.

Although the DPJ is often said to have closer ties with other parts of Asia, particularly China, than the LDP, Nishikawa questioned whether the party’s links with Chinese leaders, for example, are strong as the party has never been in power.

“I don’t see any DPJ lawmaker who has strong ties with Chinese counterparts,” he said.

But Osaka professor Yoshida questions whether the DPJ will get that far to begin with, since a coalition with the other opposition parties, including the SDP, is inevitable unless it wins the Aug. 30 election by a landslide.

“In reality, the DPJ’s policies are closer to that of the LDP than the SDP,” Yoshida said, indicating a coalition with the left-leaning SDP could alienate the party’s conservative players and cause an internal meltdown.

“It’s easy to picture a scenario where the DPJ administration fails in a year or two — and a new group of liberal LDP and conservative DPJ members fuse together to create a new administration,” he said.

In this series, we take a close look at possible changes under a DPJ-led government and compare them with current policies under LDP rule. The next piece will appear on Page 3 on Wednesday.

Competing foreign policies

Japan-U.S. relations:

LDP: Seeks to strengthen bilateral ties, calling the relationship with the United States “the axis of Japan’s foreign policy.” DPJ: Has pledged to create an “equal” partnership with Washington and “build a relationship of mutual trust.”

Futenma Air Base:

LDP: Backs the 2006 road map on realigning U.S. forces in Japan, including the prompt relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa. DPJ: Questions the relocation process, hinting it may oppose the road map and try to move the Futenma air base outside Okinawa.

Maritime Self-Defense Force dispatch to Indian Ocean:

LDP: Supports the mission as a key element of Japan’s contribution to international security and the fight against terrorism. DPJ: Opposes MSDF participation in the mission, hinting it will not extend the dispatch beyond January.

Self-Defense Forces:

LDP: Believes in the need to provide support to allies, including the launch of interceptor missiles to protect U.S. vessels. DPJ: Argues the SDF should maintain a defense-only posture.

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