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No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 29, 2011

THE SWEEPING CHANGES IN JAPANESE POLITICS SINCE THE 1990S

In countries with well-established democratic political systems, major political reforms are unusual, and drastic reforms of a comprehensive or multifaceted nature are rare indeed.[1. James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, Rediscovering Institutions (New York: Free Press, 1989), pp. 166-172.] But during the 1990s, under governments led for the most part by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Japan experienced a series of substantial changes in its political system, changes that together add up to what we may call a comprehensive overhaul. The most important change that has taken place in Japanese politics recently is the change of government that took place in 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan took over from the LDP. In this article, however, I will attempt to make the case that the decisive changes in laws and rules, norms, and practices in postwar Japanese politics happened in the 1990s ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 27, 2011

THE LAUGHINGSTOCK OF EAST ASIA

North Korea launches an artillery bombardment against Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, while a Chinese fishing trawler rams a Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessel in the seas off Japan’s Senkaku Islands. As if to mock the ineffectual blunderings of the Democratic Party of Japan government, the Russian president then visits the Northern Territories. Countries around the region are free to act with impunity in this way because Japan is powerless to react. The reason for this impotence is the rift that the DPJ government opened up in the Japan-US alliance by its behavior regarding the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa. Japan’s position in East Asia is likely to become even more unstable. Utterly lacking in strategy and expertise, the DPJ government can no longer be trusted with responsibility for Japan and Japanese diplomacy. North Korea Reads the Signs On November... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 26, 2011

FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS: AN URGENT PART OF JAPAN'S AGENDA

Emerging countries are enjoying robust growth that contrasts sharply with the increasingly uncertain outlook among advanced countries. In relation to this, we need to remind ourselves that Japan occupies a very favorable geopolitical position, given its location on the eastern edge of the East Asian region, which is at the center of the global growth among emerging nations. Today Japan requires a strategy that will allow it to incorporate the demand arising from the enormous population of the Asian market, which numbers around 3.5 billion, as well as the broader Asia-Pacific market, with some 4 billion people, as one part of what might be called its own domestic demand. During its modern history, Japan has faced two great moments of opening up to the rest of the world: the period beginning with the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the period following World War II. ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Jan. 25, 2011

TOKYO'S CHINA PROBLEM: CLAIMING THE HIGH GROUND

In 2010, China overtook Japan in gross domestic product to become the world’s second-largest economy–a distinction Japan had held for nearly 50 years. But this ballyhooed “reversal” is a purely economic phenomenon. There is no reason why it should mean any fundamental change in the role that Japan plays to bring about peace and prosperity as a member of the international community. The real question for Japan today is whether the country can adopt a global perspective on the changes that are already underway, as symbolized by this latest “reversal,” and whether it can succeed in rebuilding an effective and viable international role for itself in the years ahead. The basic focus of that role should be the preservation of a liberal, open international order. After a Chinese fishing trawler rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels in the waters around the Senkaku Islands last ... ... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Dec. 5, 2010

A PRINCIPLED STANCE IN RELATIONS WITH CHINA

TAHARA SŌICHIRŌ In mid-October, when the Sino-Japanese diplomatic situation finally seemed to be calming down after the September 7 collision of a Chinese trawler into two Japan Coast Guard vessels, large-scale anti-Japanese demonstrations broke out in cities around China. Why do you think these protests took place at that time? MAEHARA SEIJI Reports said that most of the protestors were young people responding to calls on the Internet to take part in the demonstrations, but I can’t really see how that could be the case. I should note that Japan received credible assurances through diplomatic channels that the Chinese government was working to cool off these protests as soon as they began cropping up. TAHARA Ties between Japan and China seemed recently to be heading toward normalcy. Is there any chance that they could worsen once again?... [Read more]

No.4
Politics, No.4  Dec. 4, 2010

PROTECTING THE SEAS

INTERVIEWER What is your view of the recent flap over the Senkaku Islands from your perspective as an expert on international maritime law? A problem also emerged in 2005 involving a dispute between Japan and China over development of gas fields in the East China Sea. What sort of legal framework exists for settling disputes over territory and resources? KURIBAYASHI TADAO International law recognizes the right of each sovereign state to protect the territory to which it can assert a legitimate claim and the surrounding waters so as to assure its existence and the survival of its people. When it comes to sovereignty over the Senkakus, though there is room for dispute on a number of points under international law, I believe that most international legal scholars in Japan currently support the Japanese claim. But it’s extremely difficult to rely on judicial procedures for ... ... [Read more]

No.3
Politics, No.3  Nov. 30, 2010

KAN'S DOMESTIC HURDLES

On September 17 Prime Minister Kan Naoto, having fended off a challenge to his leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, announced a new cabinet lineup. Two months later, we look back to analyze the DPJ election and its outcome and assess some of the policy issues confronting the prime minister and his newly reshuffled cabinet, particularly on the domestic front. Of course, the government also faces major challenges in the international arena. Relations with China have been tense ever since Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing crew whose trawler had entered territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. Similarly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s November 1 visit to the island of Kunashiri in the disputed Northern Territories has complicated relations with Moscow. The conflict over relocation of US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station also awaits a timely resolution. But any detailed discussion of... [Read more]

No.3
Politics, No.3  Nov. 27, 2010

THE STRONG PRIME MINISTER: CAN A NEW KOIZUMI EMERGE?

One of the most striking features of Japanese politics in recent years has been the succession of short-lived governments. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō took office in September 2006 and fell from power just a year later. This was followed by two more short-lived governments, led by Fukuda Yasuo and Asō Tarō. Both collapsed after barely a year in office. The trend has continued since the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party fell from power and the Democratic Party of Japan took the reins in September 2009–the government of Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, lasted just eight months, and the current administration under Kan Naoto already finds itself in a difficult position just three months after coming to office. Not too long ago, however, Japan had a government that remained in office for five years and five months, under Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō (April 2001-September ... ... [Read more]

No.3
Politics, No.3  Oct. 5, 2010

UPPER HOUSE ELECTION 2010: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE DPJ?

“I believe that this change of power was brought about by the voices of the public urging something should be done to fix Japanese politics of today. . . . In that sense, the victors in that summertime election were each Japanese citizen.” So declared Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in a policy speech to the National Diet last autumn. But in less than a year after “that summertime election,” large numbers of citizens lost the sense of being victors. The Democratic Party of Japan, which took power after scoring a major victory in last summer’s House of Representatives election, did dismally in this summer’s House of Councillors election. By comparison with the previous upper house election in 2007, the DPJ got 1.25 million fewer votes in the prefectural district races and 4.80 million fewer in the proportional-representation balloting, winning only 28 district seats and... [Read more]

No.3
Politics, No.3  Oct. 1, 2010

HOW SHOULD JAPAN DEAL WITH A RICH, STRONG CHINA?

The economic development that China has achieved over the past 30 years is a historic phenomenon. The key event that set it off was the reform and open-door policy that Deng Xiaoping, an extraordinary leader, launched in 1979. With this revolutionary move Deng stripped the Communist Party of China of its erstwhile moral mission. He conceived the brilliant strategy of opening the gates to the material desires of the masses while preserving the hold of the state over the political system. Over the subsequent three decades this approach achieved great results. We can cite a number of factors that helped make this possible. First, Deng’s capable successors continued his policy line. Second, the economy started from a low level, and so it was possible for it to grow at a rapid pace over an extended period–and to do so without running into constraints on ... ... [Read more]