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“I wonder to what extent the Hatoyama administration relies on bureaucrats for its foreign policy,” a diplomat from a Middle Eastern country said recently. “It has not expressed its own messages on issues such as Iran’s nuclear weapons programs and the Mideast peace process. That makes me wonder who really is calling the shots in drawing up Japan’s Mideast policies.”

Ever since assuming power last September, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been propagating ambiguous concepts like “diplomacy based on fraternity,” a “more equal partnership with the United States” and the creation of an “East Asian Community.” Although he has made his positions somewhat clear regarding Japan’s relations with the U.S. and China, he has failed to clarify his policies toward other parts of the world. Nor has Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada taken any major initiative.

This doesn’t mean that bureaucrats have taken the lead role in formulating and implementing the government’s diplomatic and security policies. An interesting contrast exists within the Foreign Ministry.

On one hand, officials of the Foreign Policy Bureau, who are responsible for policies related to multilateral issues and overall international strategies, have languished. They fear meddling in matters to be handled by the National Strategy Bureau of the administration and garnering politicians’ displeasure. The NSB is a symbol of the basic stance of the Democratic Party of Japan that policymaking should shift from bureaucrats to elected politicians.

On the other hand, those dealing with countries not as important as the U.S. and China are active. They say both Hatoyama and Okada attentively listen to their opinions. This is because politicians have little knowledge of those nations and must rely on bureaucrats. Such confusion within the ministry shows up in the inconsistency of the Hatoyama government’s foreign policy.

For example, when Foreign Minister Okada visited Turkey just after the yearend to observe the 120th anniversary of bilateral relations, he did not bother to call on neighboring countries in the Middle East despite the government’s oft-repeated slogan of serving as a bridge across the world. There is no explanation for this. Japan has no serious outstanding problems with Turkey.

Last November, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tetsuro Fukuyama visited Afghanistan and a month later, the other vice minister, Koichi Takemasa, toured Jordan. Neither extended his trip to other countries in the region.

The seemingly haphazard manner in which these three top diplomats went abroad suggests a lack of coordination among DPJ lawmakers, including Okada, at the top echelon of the Foreign Ministry. Despite such criticism, Okada appears in high spirits. In February alone, he made short trips to South Korea and Australia, hailed by his supporters as “shuttle diplomacy.”

He is said to have instructed Foreign Ministry bureaucrats to schedule overseas trips for him on weekends and holidays so that he doesn’t disrupt his attendance at parliamentary deliberations.

According to some insiders, though, the real reason he prefers multiple short trips abroad for every long one is to avoid jet lag, although, as they point out, that means paying more for airfare and runs counter to the government’s fundamental principle of cutting back on wasteful use of taxpayers’ money.

On his visit to Canberra, Okada hoped to agree with his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, on how to deepen cooperation at the upcoming U.N. conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Instead, their discussions focused on Australia’s opposition to Japan’s whaling activities, giving the impression that bilateral relations were strained.

One observer has lamented Okada’s failure to coordinate with and give broader authority to top lieutenants. Leadership in this area would expand the scope of Japan’s diplomacy.

More fundamentally, though, some critics wonder how Okada is able to keep his job, since he has, on more than one occasion, expressed views that contradict those of Prime Minister Hatoyama, especially on the controversial issue of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa. If the foreign minister has basic disagreement with his boss on diplomatic and security policies, they say, he should resign. Perhaps Okada is insensitive to such discord; if so, that explains why he hasn’t even considered submitting his resignation.

Since assuming his position six months ago, Okada has spent much of his time and energy on two matters unrelated to promoting the nation’s diplomacy: (1) investigating whether Japan entered into past secret agreements with the U.S. and thus allowed, among other things, American aircraft and naval vessels to enter Japanese territory and territorial waters with nuclear weapons in direct violation of Tokyo’s long-standing principle of not possessing, manufacturing or permitting the entry of nuclear weapons; and (2) dealing with the disclosure that part of the “secret” diplomatic budget was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office.

His involvement in either issue has done little to strengthen Japan’s diplomatic positions. Indeed, it has only caused confusion.

Okada apparently thinks that what he has been doing is consistent with the government’s basic principle of shifting power in diplomacy from the bureaucracy to elected politicians. There is fear, however, that his absurd and incoherent behavior before long will irreparably distort the nation’s diplomatic and security policies.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the March issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.

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