Japanese Political Turmoil and the Implications for the U.S.-Japanese Alliance
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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, electing its third prime minister in a year and unable to sell its policy platform to voters, looks likely to lose power to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. For over one year, Japan’s Listen to Audio

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policymaking process has been paralyzed by partisan bickering and political attrition. Consequently, the turmoil has affected U.S. involvement in the region, with Washington finding it difficult to work with its closest partner in the Asia Pacific on critical issues such as military base realignment and efforts to deter a menacing North Korea. What implications exist for the alliance in the face of Japanese political disarray? Will Japanese democracy return to order, or will political chaos persist?

At this AEI event, Mark Manyin, an analyst of Asian affairs at the Congressional Research Service; University of Tokyo associate professor of Japanese politics Masaki Taniguchi; and former Japanese Diet member Hideki Wakabayashi will assess the current state of Japan’s political environment, examine potential political developments, and discuss means by which to bolster the U.S.-Japanese alliance. AEI resident scholar Michael Auslin will moderate.

1:45 p.m.
Mark Manyin, Congressional Research Service
Masaki Taniguchi, University of Tokyo
Hideki Wakabayashi, Center for Strategic and International Studies
3:30 p.m.
Event Summary


U.S.-Japanese Ties at Risk in Tokyo Power Shift



WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 28, 2008--In the upcoming general election, Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is likely to fall short of holding the two-thirds majority it currently enjoys in the lower house of the Japanese Diet, and it may face the end of its half-century-long dominance of Japanese politics, Japan-watchers said at AEI on October 22. Instead, they added, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which currently holds a majority in the upper house, is likely to gain power. Although it is difficult to forecast the exact shape of the post-election political alignment, the panelists agreed that the new political configurations will signal change for Japanese politics and the U.S.-Japanese alliance.

Masaki Taniguchi of University of Tokyo and former Diet member Hideki Wakabayashi viewed the potential regime change as "a positive development for Japan's domestic politics." Taniguchi argued that a more competitive two-party system will benefit Japanese democracy. Until now, "the opposition party was too weak or offered only unrealistic policies," he said, but in the upcoming elections, Japanese citizens will be able to make a real choice. Furthermore, he noted, while the dominant LDP has historically had little incentive to listen to the public, its 2006 loss in the upper house is pushing the party to respond to public concerns.
"The iron triangle has to come down," Wakabayashi added. He criticized this LDP-created iron triangle, which creates clients out of interest groups dependent on bureaucrats or politicians for favors.

Panelists also discussed what new political developments in Japan portend for the U.S.-Japanese alliance and its current priorities, such as the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan and the renewal of legislation that authorizes the deployment of Japanese refueling vessels in the Indian Ocean. Mark Manyin of the Congressional Research Service proposed four different scenarios for the relationship based on the post-election political arrangement. He cautioned that a transition to two-party rule or a DPJ government could weaken the U.S.-Japanese alliance, especially in the short term. Under a two-party system, "Japan will become a less reliable partner for the United States." A DPJ win can also serve as an impediment to the alliance, since the party prefers a multilateral institution–focused foreign policy.

While Manyin expressed some concerns for the future of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, Wakabayashi remained optimistic. Many of the younger DPJ leaders are pro-alliance, he said, and even those favoring greater multilateral diplomacy are fully aware of the importance of the U.S.-Japanese link. 


For video, audio, and more information about this event, visit www.aei.org/event1822/. For more information on AEI scholars' work on Asia, or subscribe to AEI's Asia Policy Update e-newsletter, visit www.aei.org/Asia/.

For media inquiries, contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected] or 202.862.4870.


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