When asked what effect the election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and a new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, would have on Japan’s alliance with the US, a Japanese diplomat in Tokyo was succinct: “Nobody knows.” A US official, asked the same question, sighed: “We don’t know yet.”
The Japan-US alliance, considered until now to be vital to the best interests of both nations, has entered a time of uncertainty for two reasons: The DPJ’s recent election victory and the choice of Hatoyama, who is scheduled to take office today, has brought to power a band of inexperienced politicians led by a prime minister who has made vague, meandering and apparently contradictory statements on foreign policy. Secondly, the White House lacks an articulated policy toward Japan that consists of more than platitudes, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit last winter, and the appointment of Ambassador John Roos, whose only credential is political fundraising.
Hatoyama published an opinion article in the Japanese monthly journal Voice that was translated into English and quoted in the New York Times, startling some Americans with its anti-American tone. Hatoyama, who said his statements had been taken out of context, had the entire essay translated. The anti-US tone remained — but was diluted by windy passages lauding the philosophy of Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi.
Coudenhove-Kalergi was an Austrian aristocrat whose mother, Mitsuko Aoyama, was Japanese and who was best known before World War II for his advocacy of European integration. He fled Nazi Germany for the US during the war and is said to be the model for anti-Nazi activist Victor Laszlo in the movie Casablanca.
Hatoyama, who wrote that the influence of the US is declining, wondered: “How should Japan maintain its political and economic independence and protect its national interest when caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world’s dominant power, and China, which is seeking to become one?”
He suggested that an integrated East Asian community would be in Japan’s interest.
A close Hatoyama adviser, Jitsuro Terashima, who heads a Tokyo think tank, appears to have carried that further. Writing in the current issue of the influential monthly magazine the Bungei Shinju, he said: “Since Japan is under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella, the Japanese government is not able to form its own foreign policy.”
He did not say whether he advocated Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.
Terashima suggested that Japan require the US to reduce or withdraw its military forces from Japan.
“It is unusual that Japan still allows the US to keep forces in Japan more than 60 years after the end of the war,” he wrote, adding that Tokyo “should go back to common sense.”
He proposed that the US shift its forces to Guam and Hawaii.
Roos, who has had little experience in Japan, in diplomacy, in coordinating the work of other agencies with officials at the embassy, or in dealing with the bureaucracy in Washington, arrived last month. He has visited military bases and been briefed on the work of the 23 agencies on his country team, including the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce and Justice and the CIA.
Roos has met Hatoyama and prospective foreign minister Katsuya Okada, another advocate of decreasing reliance on the Japan-US alliance.
Okada has been quoted as saying: “It will be the age of Asia, and in that context it is important for Japan to have its own stance, to play its role in the region.”
Richard Halloran is a freelance writer based in Hawaii.
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