The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Eurasian Nations and the Establishment of the Hatoyama Administration

May 31, 2010

The Democratic Party of Japan has taken over the reins of government from the Liberal Democratic Party, and changes in policy will occur in a variety of areas, including support for Afghanistan, the issue of US military bases, and measures against global warming. Among other areas of interest, questions have arisen about how the countries of Eurasia will view the DPJ government and how situations in Eurasia will affect the new administration in the future.

On October 21, 2009, the Tokyo Foundation’s Eurasia Information Network held an Overview Meeting devoted to the topic of “The New DPJ Government of Japan and Its Implications for Eurasian Diplomacy.” The participants examined such issues as how the DPJ administration is presently viewed by various Eurasian nations and how the future situation in Eurasia might affect the government. The following is an overview, compiled by Senior Fellow Tsuneo Watanabe, summarizing the reports presented by each of the participating research fellows.

Concern in the United States, Optimism in China and Russia

The country that reacted most nervously to the advent of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration is the United States. As I have reported in another Eurasia Information Network report, “A Chilly Washington Reception for Hatoyama Diplomacy,” an essay by Prime Minister Hatoyama that was published in the New York Times op-ed section on August 27 elicited concern, having been mistakenly interpreted as indicating that Japan’s new government intends to downgrade its alliance with the United States in favor of a shift toward China and the rest of Asia. The administration of Barack Obama, confronted with the difficult challenge of healthcare reform at home and facing a difficult situation abroad in Afghanistan, has seen its approval ratings fall to around 50% and can scarcely afford another setback. When President Obama and Prime Minister Hatoyama meet during Obama’s visit to Japan in November 2009, anything that complicates efforts to carry out a realignment of US military forces in Japan, on which the United States insists strongly, could affect the future of the overall alliance between the two countries.

The Hatoyama administration has also called for greater emphasis on relations with China, but the response from China has not been straightforward. According to a report from Research Fellow Takashi Sekiyama , the predominant view in China is that the DPJ is generally friendly toward China and the rest of Asia, and little concern has been voiced over the future. Among other things, this seems to reflect the influence of statements made by Prime Minister Hatoyama at a press conference on August 11, 2009, where he indicated that he would not visit Yasukuni Shrine if he became prime minister and would ask the members of his cabinet to refrain from doing so as well. This was well received among liberals in the United States, who are hoping to see relations between Japan and China improve.

Research Fellow Kenji Someno points out that the Chinese media commonly depicts the situation as one in which the Chinese government has high hopes for better relations with Japan, while the nation’s media itself remains cool to the idea. This reflects the supposition that, due to impediments posed by varying perceptions of history, conflicting territorial and maritime interests, the Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang issues, and public sentiment on both sides, Japan and China will no longer “intersect” on these issues but will move into a “parallel” relationship, with each side maintaining a certain distance from the other. Contributing to this is the fact that both governments are preoccupied with internal affairs. China’s foremost priorities are maintaining control over its internal political situation and, above all, preserving social stability, while the Hatoyama administration faces an election in the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s National Diet, in 2010.

Russia is among the countries that are very hopeful over the advent of the Hatoyama administration. I n his report, Research Fellow Taisuke Abiru cites this statement made immediately following the general election in Japan by Andrei Nesterenko, spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as an embodiment of Russia’s hopes: “We hope that Mr. Hatoyama makes the right choice in this matter, as his grandfather—Ichiro Hatoyama—once did, signing from the Japanese side in 1956 the Joint Declaration that restored relations between our countries.” Thus, Russia is taking a cautious approach to the prospect of a concrete change in Japan’s attitude toward the issue of the Northern Territories. Russia is also watching carefully to see who will lead the negotiations on behalf of the Hatoyama administration. The prime candidate is considered to be New Party Daichi President Muneo Suzuki, who serves as chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rather than insisting on the return of all four of the disputed islands at once, Suzuki favors taking a more realistic approach to negotiations and attempting to secure the return of two islands to start with—an approach likely to arouse controversy in Japan. Abiru notes that the two countries still view the issue differently. Russia hopes to put the Northern Territories issue to rest by returning two islands and then conclude a peace treaty, while Japan regards the return of two islands merely as a realistic way to begin resolving the issue. Either way, difficult negotiations lie ahead.

With regard to relations between the United States and Russia, Abiru notes that the recent US decision to cancel the deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe represents a concession to Russia. Moscow, meanwhile, has displayed a cooperative attitude toward the effort to convince Iran to renounce its nuclear ambitions. These developments, Abiru points out, have paved the way for resubmitting draft legislation on a US-Russian nuclear cooperation agreement to the US Congress. This would be a favorable development for Japan and its nuclear energy policy, since Japan has already concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.

Little Interest in India, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East

Compared to the countries mentioned above, where there is considerable interest in Japan’s change of government, there is scant interest in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the Islamic nations of the Middle East, and the change of government does not seem to be correctly understood there. According to a report by Research Fellow Sumio Morijiri , India’s media reported the DPJ’s victory in unison on September 1, 2009, with virtually every newspaper carrying a front-page story about the presumptive Prime Minister Hatoyama. An editorial in the daily Hindu , however, while noting that the establishment of a DPJ government signified a turnabout in Japan’s postwar political system and would usher in major changes, focused on the fact that the changes were the result of an overwhelming victory and would be carried out very smoothly. This emphasis on a smooth change, Morijiri notes, with its implication of the surprising absence of a coup d’état or struggle for power within a royal family or imperial court, reaffirms that fact that there are few countries in the world with firmly established democratic systems.

Although India could be expected to have an interest in such issues as Japan’s support for Afghanistan and the movement toward forming a cooperative entity in East Asia, it remains a detached observer. As Morijiri noted in an earlier report, in the light of the difficult internal and external challenges facing India, it seems to be maintaining a deliberate silence. Once the Hatoyama administration presents its overall vision for an East Asian Community and the intentions of various nations are confirmed at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit meetings, however, Morijiri predicts that India will take some sort of action.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of Southwest Asia as well, the inauguration of the Hatoyama administration made little impression on either the governments or the public, according to a report by Research Fellow Nobutaka Miyahara . This reflects the fact that Japan’s involvement in Afghanistan is greatly different from that of the United States. Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada’s visit to Kabul on October 11, 2009, and a subsequent visit to Kabul on October 19 by Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, vividly exemplified this difference. Foreign Minister Okada was in Kabul to provide on-site support for civilian aid activities, while Kerry was there to hear the findings of an administrative review of Afghanistan’s presidential election and encourage President Hamid Karzai to consent to a runoff election. Properly speaking, for Japan’s foreign minister to be “taking an order” for future aid from Karzai at a time when the election results were in dispute should have been problematic internationally, since it amounted to recognizing him as the president. The fact that it caused no problems, Miyahara points out, is evidence that Japan’s political position has essentially been ignored.

According to Miyahara, it is not the national governments in Southwest Asia that are concerned about Japan’s policy toward the region but the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which are closely involved in events in Afghanistan. Now that the Hatoyama administration has informed the United States that it will not extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean beyond January 2010, the United States and NATO are looking to their ally Japan to come up with a new contribution comparable to the refueling mission. It is doubtful, Miyahara observes, that Foreign Minister Okada’s proposal for providing vocational training to encourage Taliban fighters to put down their arms will satisfy the expectations of the United States.

At an Overview Meeting held at the Tokyo Foundation on October 21, 2009, Senior Fellow Yoshiaki Sasaki reported that the Islamic countries of the Middle East do not seem to be paying much attention to the change of government in Japan. As in India, perceptions in the Middle East reflect the fact that there are few nations in the region where democracy is firmly established; those perceptions appear to be limited to a vague awareness that Japan seems to have carried out a gentle and stable transition.

In his report, Sasaki notes Turkey’s increasing prominence as a leading power within the Islamic world and as a representative of the Islamic sphere to the global community at large. The holding of the 2009 annual meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Istanbul in early October exemplifies Turkey’s importance. The fact that Turkey frequently plays host to international gatherings of Middle Eastern nations is attributable not only to its fortuitous geographic location but also to its status as a diverse multiethnic society with roots in Eastern Europe, the Arab states, Central Asia, and other regions. According to Sasaki, many people from the Middle East, upon arriving in Turkey, experience the illusion of having reached their own homeland. Sasaki’s report voices concern that the Hatoyama administration may not fully understand Turkey’s importance. Sasaki expresses the hope that Prime Minister Hatoyama will visit Turkey during the formally declared “Japan Year 2010 in Turkey,” and that the new administration will realize that world events do not exclusively revolve around the United States and Europe.

In addition to the importance of Turkey, a number of participants in the Overview Meeting commented on the importance of Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Islamic population, where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected to a second term in October. Indonesia is among the countries that will play a major role in the Hatoyama administration’s efforts to promote the establishment of an East Asian Community.

Few of the Diet representatives in Prime Minister Hatoyama’s DPJ have experience as members of the ruling party, and the DPJ lacks a systematic bureaucratic structure and coordinating organization like the LDP’s Policy Research Council and its various committees. This situation has caused considerable concern, but it also carries the potential for a new approach to diplomacy that transcends the established frameworks of the past. Systematic diplomatic policies cannot be established overnight, but it is increasingly important to begin by attaining an accurate understanding of the international situation. Information and analysis derived not from bureaucratic input but from real-world perspectives, such as can be obtained through intensified exchanges with and recommendations from members of the media and private-sector think tanks, are expected to be increasingly essential to the Hatoyama administration’s diplomatic efforts. This will impose greater responsibilities on such private research groups as the Eurasia Information Network. ( Translated from a report published in Japanese on October 26, 2009 )

    • Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation Senior Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation
    • Tsuneo Watanabe
    • Tsuneo Watanabe

Featured Content




Click on the link below to contact an expert or submit a question.