The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Birth of the DPJ-Led Hatoyama Administration and the Indian Subcontinent

March 15, 2010

On August 12, 2009, the Hindu carried an article titled "Japan tries to loosen the US leash" in its editorial section. This was the first article to appear in the Indian press forecasting the outcome of the general election that would take place in Japan on August 31.

The gist was as follows: The Democratic Party of Japan is ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party in the campaign and expected to come into power. Should this happen, a shift would occur in Japan's currently US-oriented foreign and domestic policy, and there are several possibilities as to how the United States may respond.

Ignorance of Japanese Politics

The editorial, however, was a reprint from the British daily Guardian and was not written by an Indian editor; Simon Tisdall was the author.

There is a tendency in India to esteem the opinions of the British press, and the Hindu in particular is known to frequently reprint articles from the Guardian.. As well as obtaining information that is beyond reach from India, reprinting British articles reflects a conscious choice to follow in the footsteps of the British media. Doing so serves to compensate for situations where the Indian editorial team cannot make assessments of its own. This respect for one's former colonial master is an intriguing frame of mind that is difficult for the Japanese to fathom.

The August 12 editorial appears to have been more an instance of deferring to the judgment and opinion of the British press than of valuing its British pedigree.

From the campaign period up to the DPJ victory, other Indian news organizations—such as the Times of India and the Indian Express—were also largely in line with the Western media.

Awareness regarding Japan's leading opposition party was extremely limited in India, not only in the media but among the greater public as well. At the university where I work, even the faculty and staff of the political science department, including the professor, knew next to nothing.

Moreover, Indians generally had little interest in the Japanese political scene and were ignorant to the doings of the ruling and opposition parties. In a case in point, S. M. Krishna, who was newly appointed external affairs minister following the Indian general election, visited Japan for talks with then Prime Minister Taro Aso and then Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone in June 2009 despite the LDP-led administration's failing popular support. This illustrates his failure to understand that the impending political change was not of a nature in which assurances of continuity in foreign policy could be expected to endure.

The New DPJ-Led Administration and India

On September 1, 2009, Indian television and other media reported on the DPJ victory all at once. DPJ representative Yukio Hatoyama smiled in color on the front pages of every newspaper. I felt rather abashed and awkward as a Japanese.

Prior to this, references to the DPJ and Hatoyama had begun cropping up during the campaign race.

On September 2, the Hindu published an editorial titled "Hatoyama's quest of politics and policy." It was written by P. S. Suryanarayana, a permanent editorial writer. The birth of a DPJ administration "signifies a tectonic shift in the template of Japanese politics" and will bring about a historic change, the editor noted. The transition will have been brought about by a landslide electoral victory and will proceed smoothly. That change will be visible in Japan's relationship with the United States and is expected to greatly impact the Asian political milieu, the article went.

The reference to a smooth transfer of power underlines the fact that the regime change is not occurring as the result of a coup or power struggle. Indian readers know full well that countries with an established democracy are rare in the world, and the writer needed to reaffirm where Japan stands in that respect.

Coverage of the DPJ-led Hatoyama government all but subsided in India after he assumed the reins of government and formed his cabinet. The prime minister and other ministers of India made no significant remarks in the diplomatic arena, choosing to be a silent observer. India remained equally quiet about its position regarding the political change taking place in Japan and appeared to be watching the moves of the new government in silence.

But Hatoyama's address to the United Nations General Assembly must have been impossible for India to bypass. It remains quiet nonetheless because it has not been able to see concrete progress in what Hatoyama pledged nor grasp where the new administration is headed. India has also adopted a wait-and-see attitude with regard to the cessation of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, partly because it has no direct bearings on Indian strategy.

The issue that is likely to bring the new administrations of India and Japan in direct contact in the nearest term is the question of what Afghan assistance after the end of the refueling mission will be like. Effective policies on the part of Japan's DPJ-led government, such as support for economic development and social welfare in Afghanistan, may open up new possibilities for cooperation or an alliance between Japan and the countries of the Indian subcontinent, including India and Pakistan.

Reality in the Subcontinent and Japan's Assistance

Since October 2009, terrorist attacks have frequently hit cities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On October 8, a suicide bombing outside the embassy of India in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed more than a dozen citizens. The attack is reported to have been a protest against a forum on Afghan issues that was held earlier in Delhi, India.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has seen more than urban suicide attacks; terrorists seized one of its military facilities, and at one point over 40 officers were taken hostage. Moreover, terrorist attacks have taken place almost every day in Pakistan from around October 10. In the northwestern regions of Waziristan and Swat bordering Afghanistan, in particular, military facilities have been subject to an endless stream of guerrilla and terrorist attacks. While Pakistan accuses terrorists who have crossed over from Afghanistan for the attacks, the nature of the latest attacks is different from that of the Taliban of the past, and a new situation is evidently developing.

With the military strategies of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coming apart at the seams, attacks using drone aircraft are about the only operation producing results to speak of. In ground battle, especially in mountainous areas where the border is easily crossed, foreign troops have no chance of holding out against terrorists who boast close ties with local minorities. The Taliban is said to have gained control of 80 percent of Afghanistan and recovered to the same proportions as in its heyday. It is now infiltrating Pakistan and beginning to establish a secondary stronghold in the country.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada of Japan visited Afghanistan and Pakistan in October 2009, where he brought up the cessation of refueling operations and discussed assistance measures to take its place. Construction of vocational training centers and educational assistance appear to be on the agenda. But whether these assistance measures will be effective in today's Afghanistan is open to question. In reality, Japan would be running the risk of actually helping the Taliban take power. Moreover, it is plain that Japan's cooperation with Afghanistan is bound to present a grave threat to Pakistan, which faces Taliban infiltration, and to India, which is home to the Kashmir region.

For the time being, India is withholding statements to Japan. But in the upcoming APEC and ASEAN meetings, it is likely to take action one way or another while eyeing Hatoyama's proposal to create an East Asian community. India may be waiting to see what stance China and Australia will take at these meetings.

(Translated from a report in Japanese published on October 21, 2009)

    • Sumio Morijiri
    • Sumio Morijiri

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