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Japan's August 30 general elections could revolutionize Japanese politics. For nearly the first time in six decades, an opposition party might seize power from the pro-alliance Liberal Democratic Party. If it wins, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will focus on reversing the country’s sharpest economic downturn since World War
Download Audio as MP3 II, but it will also face numerous foreign policy challenges. The future course of the U.S.-Japanese alliance may be determined by DPJ foreign and security policies over the next few years. The DPJ is questioning current plans for the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa, and opposes continuing Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the war in Afghanistan. DPJ leaders may also tie Japan's overseas security activities more closely to the United Nations and slow down the modernization of Japan's military. What would this historic turnover mean for Japanese domestic and foreign policies? What lies ahead for the future of the U.S.-Japanese alliance?
On September 2, AEI's Michael Auslin will moderate a panel addressing these issues: Kevin Maher, director of the Japan desk at the State Department, Len Schoppa of the University of Virginia, and Nick Szechenyi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies will discuss.
||Kevin Maher, State Department
|Len Schoppa, University of Virginia
|Nick Szechenyi, Center for Strategic and International Studies
||Michael Auslin, AEI
WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 2, 2009 -- Speaking about the August 30 Japanese election at an AEI event, AEI Japan Studies Director Michael Auslin said "the hard work starts now." The election represented a historic change for Japan, with a turnover in power from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) for only the second time in nearly sixty years. Three guest panelists, Leonard Schoppa of the University of Virginia, Kevin Maher of the U.S. Department of State, and Nicholas Szechenyi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies shared optimism for the future of the U.S-Japanese alliance despite the concern of some in Washington that a DPJ government would mean a cooling of relations.
Len Schoppa stressed that for Japanese voters, this election was not about foreign policy, but rather domestic issues. At a time of severe economic stagnation and after years of government mismanagement by the LDP, the DPJ won the "floating" (independent) voters, and rode the coat tails of Obama's campaign mantra of "change." Schoppa stressed, "The DPJ was able to emphasize it was the party of change," but more importantly, change that would "deepen the social safety net." The DPJ ran a substantial number of young and female candidates against LDP heavyweights, a strategy that proved successful and won the DPJ an overwhelming majority, 308 seats of 480.
"This is a historic time, ripe with opportunities," said Kevin Maher. Confident the United States and Japan will be in close consultation during the transition period, Maher expressed optimism that the U.S.-Japanese relationship will remain strong under the DPJ. Maher also emphasized that the Japanese overwhelmingly support a U.S.-Japanese alliance, with public opinion polls showing 80 percent of Japanese in favor. In response to the DPJ's pledge to assume a more equal role in the alliance and demonstrate leadership in Asia, Maher said it is in the interest of the United States and Asia for Japan to "show a more active leadership," and he is confident the new government will be "conscientious and responsible" when thinking about the role it should play in the world.
Nick Szechenyi pointed out the election was a clear referendum on the LDP. Citing public opinion polls, Szechenyi noted that 81 percent of Japanese believe the DPJ won because it represented change, while only 38 percent believed it was due to the party's policies. Szechenyi argued that while public expectations are high for the DPJ's ambitious agenda, this will also be a time of soul searching for the LDP. "Now is the time for the LDP as an opposition party to reflect on why it lost the election and faith of the public, and how they will come up with thoughtful alternatives." Szechenyi also cautioned that the DPJ's emphasis on an "East Asian Community" does not necessarily portend a move away from the United States, but rather, that stronger relations between Japan and her neighbors will also strengthen the U.S.–Japanese relationship.
While all three panelists agreed that there is a certain anxiousness among alliance managers surrounding the DPJ's plans for the United States–Japanese relationship, all asserted that the DPJ's first order of business will be to prove itself to the Japanese people by cleaning up Japan's domestic house.
Michael Auslin, AEI's director of Japan Studies, was an associate professor of history and senior research fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University prior to joining AEI. He has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar. His writings on Japan and Japanese diplomacy include the books Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy (Harvard University Press, 2006) and Japan Society: Celebrating a Century, 1907–2007 (Japan Society Gallery, 2007).
Kevin Maher is the current director of the Office of Japan Affairs, U.S. Department of State, where he is responsible for managing U.S. foreign policy issues with Japan. Prior to assuming the post in early August 2009, Maher was consul general in Okinawa from July 2006 to July 2009. Managing the consular district that is home to over half of all U.S. forces in Japan, he played a high profile political role in managing the security relationship in Okinawa to ensure an environment promoting military readiness and maintaining political support for implementation of the Alliance Transformation and Realignment plan. As a senior Foreign Service officer, Maher’s extensive career managing U.S.–Japan relations includes serving multiple positions at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, including as director for political–military affairs (2005–2006), minister-counselor for environment, science and technology affairs (2001–2005), and deputy chief for political–military affairs (1989–1992), as well as a number of positions held at the U.S. State Department working on security issues.
Leonard Schoppa is a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. He has been a visiting researcher at two Japanese universities, Keio University (1993–1994) and the University of Tokyo (2000–2001). He spent two weeks in Tokyo in August to observe Japan’s election activities in progress. He is the author of several books, including Race for the Exits: The Unraveling of Japan’s System of Social Protection (Cornell University Press, 2006) and Bargaining with Japan: What American Pressure Can and Cannot Do (Columbia University Press, 1997). He has published refereed articles several times, most recently in Comparative Political Studies He directed the East Asia Center at the University of Virginia from 1997–2000.
Nicholas Szechenyi is deputy director and fellow, Office of the Japan Chair, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). His research focuses on the United States’ relations with Japan and East Asia. Prior to joining CSIS in 2005, he was a news producer for Fuji Television in Washington, D.C., where he covered U.S. policy in Asia and domestic politics. Szechenyi coauthors a quarterly review of U.S.–Japan relations in Comparative Connections, an electronic journal on East Asian bilateral relations. His other published articles include “A Turning Point for Japan’s Self Defense Forces,” Washington Quarterly (Autumn 2006), and “Common Values: A New Agenda for U.S.–Japan Relations (with Michael Green), Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (Summer/Fall 2006).