Evolution of Japan’s Grand Strategy

A woman holds a Japanese national flag as she takes part in a rally, opposing China's territorial claim over the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, at a park in Tokyo on Saturday, 22 September 2012. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Richard Samuels, MIT

Finding the right distance between the United States and China is the most important strategic choice facing Japan today.

‘Getting it just right’ with these two powers will require both military and economic readjustments. Read more…

Prime Minister Noda and Fixing the Futenma Impasse

A unit of the Japanese Ground Self Defence Force honour guards hold national flags for visiting US Army General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo on 28 October 2011. The idea of relocating Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture greatly raised local expectations that Okinawa's excessive basing burdens might be decreased. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Hitoshi Tanaka, Japan Center for International Exchange

Just a few weeks after taking office in early September, Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, had his first meeting with US President Barack Obama in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

It was widely reported that first and foremost on the agenda for this meeting was the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, with President Obama delivering a stern message that the time has come for results. Read more…

Koreas conflict to mark US-Japan relationship

South Korean survivors arrive as they are surrounded by relatives and media at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

The exchange of fire between the North and South Korean militaries that left two ROK Marines dead and at least a dozen wounded, following closely on the heels of revelations regarding a new North Korean uranium reprocessing facility, strengthens hopes that the US and Japan might be able look past Futenma and strengthen their security relationship. The relationship has, of course, had a bit more wind in its sails since the standoff between Japan and China over the maritime collision near the Senkakus.

Can we really draw a straight line from regional instability to closer security cooperation between the US and Japan? Arguably this logic has worked in the past, with North Korean provocations from 1994 onward stirring Japanese policymakers to bolster Japan’s capabilities and launch new bilateral initiatives with the US, ballistic missile defense being perhaps the most notable example. Read more…

Casting off the old regime: The DPJ’s real challenge

Japan's Prime Minister Kan delivers his policy speech at the start of an extra session of the parliament in Tokyo. (Photo: Reuters)

Author: Haruko Satoh, CSIS

Kan Naoto’s re-election as leader of the ruling DPJ has given him the mandate to continue as prime minister. Most Japanese welcomed this outcome. They are dismayed by the state of national politics and the country’s inability to produce stable leadership since Koizumi Junichiro left office in 2006. Kan is the fifth prime minister since then.

But the path of political renewal in Japan is not over yet. For Kan’s re-election to become truly meaningful and restore the public sense that the change of power last August was the right choice, Kan needs to cast off the legacies of the 1955-regime of left-right tension within his party.   Read more…

US-Japan alliance: the 2006 roadmap’s impasses

U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye in discussion with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, January 2010

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

In the wake of its defeat the Kan government has made it patently clear that the Hatoyama government’s ‘ratification’ of the 2006 realignment plan was nothing of the sort — it is now saying that it will be impossible to complete negotiations before Okinawan gubernatorial election in November. The government once again is considering alternatives to the V-shaped runways to be built at Henoko bay, and is reluctant to impose a solution on the Okinawan people.

But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, American domestic politics is emerging as a new constraint on implementing the 2006 agreement. Both houses of Congress have voted to cut funding for the construction on Guam that is necessary to prepare the island to receive the 8,000 Marines and their dependants that according to the plan will move from Okinawa to Guam in 2014. Read more…

Towards a new security consciousness in Japan?

Japan and the US commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the US-Japan Security Treaty. (Photo: flickr user 'Amphibious Force 7th Fleet')

Author: Tobias Harris

During Japan’s 2009 general election campaign, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ran on a platform calling for a more ‘equal’ relationship with the United States. While the party’s leaders left the meaning of the phrase vague, the general idea was that a DPJ government would be more assertive in defending Japan’s national interests in its dealings with the US, arguing that under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Japan was too submissive when the US came asking for help in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The first test of the DPJ’s new approach to US-Japan relations was the dispute over the US Marine air station at Futenma in Okinawa. Read more…

Japan gets new Prime Minister, but same foreign policy challenges remain

Futenma airbase

Author: Allen Choate

The new prime minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, who last week replaced Yukio Hatoyama after he abruptly resigned less than nine months into his term, certainly will have his hands full trying to reignite his country’s efforts to craft a coherent and sustained set of foreign policy goals and strategies.

Hatoyama’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) predecessor, Taro Aso, spoke about an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ in Asia as the core of Japanese foreign policy. Unfortunately, he was unable to articulate, much less implement, how that was to be achieved. Read more…

Something is wrong with Japanese politics

Japanese Prime Minister-elect Naoto Kan, left, chats with his predecessor Yukio Hatoyama before a general meeting of their Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in Tokyo on June 7, 2010. (Photo: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Author: Satoshi Amako, Waseda University

In September last year, in the lower house general election the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) scored an overwhelming victory, greatly exceeding a majority taking 308 seats. Prime Minister Hatoyama and Secretary-General Ozawa formed the so-called ‘O-bato (小鳩) system’, the books were closed on this hectic change-of-government period, and many people thought that stable government would continue. However, at the beginning of this year the DPJ government began to waver around the issue of the questionable or inappropriate handling of political funds by both Hatoyama and Ozawa.

In addition, the government was shaken badly by the ‘Okinawa Futenma base relocation problem’, Prime Minister Hatoyama’s approval rating fell sharply, and eventually on June 1 the issue was put to rest by  Hatoyama’s and Ozawa’s resignations, and the political situation now enters a new stage with the emergence of the new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, and an upper house election. Read more…

Japan, the headless polity

Prime Minister Hatoyama's recent resignation has resulted in Japan having its fourth Prime Minister in as many years (Photo: Flickr user 'TokyoNowadays')

Author: John Hemmings, RUSI

Four Prime Ministers in four years; this fact has been mentioned in various articles in the wake of Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama’s resignation, and it is a source of puzzlement and frustration within Japan and among its allies and neighbours. What hasn’t been asked is ‘why?’ What is causing this rapid turnover of political masters? Can Japan govern itself under these circumstances, and more importantly, what is the true cost of this rapid turnover of political leadership on Japan itself and on the region?

Despite the different circumstances of each prime ministerial career, there are common links in the fall of all four prime ministers. The most obvious has been public disillusionment, evident in low public approval ratings which herald sudden and hasty departures from office. Read more…

Political games have no place in security policy

US President Barack Obama greets Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (R) at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington April 12, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Author: Yoichi Funabashi, Asahi Shumbun

In hindsight, the April 12 conversation between outgoing Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and US President Barack Obama was a watershed.

Seated beside each other at a dinner held during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, the two leaders talked for about 10 minutes mainly about relocating the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Obama told Hatoyama he had not made any public comments until then because Hatoyama had said, ‘Trust me,’ when the two met last November. Read more…

Regime change in Japan?

Japanese PM Hatoyama has announced he plans to resign (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

It appears that the inevitable has happened: NHK reports that Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has informed the DPJ leadership that he intends to step down.

Hatoyama, of course, has no one to blame but himself. In the nine months since he took office, he has failed as a manager of his cabinet, as the head of the DPJ, and as the leader of his country. Unable to make up his mind, he groped from blunder to blunder, before finally making a controversial decision on Futenma without doing any of the work to convince a skeptical public of its merits.

Read more…

Was the Japanese coalition doomed from the start?

Shizuka Kamei, Yukio Hatoyama, and Mizuho Fukushima

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

On Friday, Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, refused to bow to the prime minister’s decision to accept a modified version of the 2006 realignment agreement, forcing the prime minister to dismiss her from her position as minister responsible for consumer affairs.

Not surprisingly, on Sunday the SDPJ decided that it would leave the coalition, although it suggested that electoral cooperation in the upcoming upper house election is still possible. Read more…

Hatoyama accommodates the US on Futenma

Sunrise at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. (Photo: Flickr user 'misconmike')

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

It may have taken a few months longer than I expected, but it appears that the Hatoyama government may have finally accommodated itself to the 2006 agreement on the realignment of US forces. The US and Japanese governments have reached an understanding regarding the future of Futenma following Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Tokyo.

The latest bilateral agreement largely reaffirms the 2006 roadmap: the Hatoyama government has agreed to the construction of a new runway somewhere in the vicinity of Camp Schwab at Henoko Bay, with the details regarding the precise location and the method of construction to be decided by President Obama’s visit to Japan in autumn. Read more…

Washington continues to see Japan slipping away

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama attends a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in Tokyo, on April 19, 2010. (Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

Writing on the nuclear summit, Al Kamen, who pens a Beltway gossip column in the Washington Post, had the following to say about Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama:

By far the biggest loser of the extravaganza was the hapless and (in the opinion of some Obama administration officials) increasingly loopy Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. He reportedly requested but got no bilat. The only consolation prize was that he got an ‘unofficial’ meeting during Monday night’s working dinner. Maybe somewhere between the main course and dessert? Read more…

The domestic politics of Japan’s foreign bases

Anti-base protestors outside the Japanese Diet (picture: AP images).

Author: Tobias Harris, MIT

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio returned home to Japan Wednesday after attending the Nuclear summit in Washington hosted by US President Barack Obama. Whatever significance the summit had for Obama’s diplomatic agenda, as far as US-Japan relations are concerned it was overshadowed by Futenma. Hatoyama’s self-imposed deadline of resolving the dispute by May is approaching, and there are few signs that his government will be able to reach a conclusion that satisfies the US and local communities in Okinawa by the end of next month. Indeed, on the eve of Hatoyama’s trip the government announced that it would be holding off on opening working-level talks with the US because it did not yet have a plan to present.

It is safe to say in terms of the process, the Hatoyama government’s approach to Futenma has failed. What explains the Hatoyama government’s disastrous performance on the Futenma issue? Read more…