Commentary Magazine


Topic: Liberal Democratic Party

Naoto Kan’s Foreign Policy

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

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Obama’s Japan Fumble

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

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Japan Leaves the War on Terror

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

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Two Collapses

Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

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Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

The Chinese, in comparison, look full of vim and vigor. They are also heading to a political transition. The so-called Fourth Generation leadership, led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, is beginning to select the Fifth. The Communist Party will hold its elaborately staged 17th Congress next month. When the last speech is finished to great applause—as such speeches inevitably are—we will know the lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee and thus be able to guess who is in the running to succeed the inscrutable Hu at the 18th Congress, scheduled for five years from now.

Although their governments are completely different in structure, both Japan and China will pick their next leaders in backroom deals arranged by heads of factions wielding immense power. Both governing systems are rotten in their own ways, and both are fragile. The only difference is that the breakdown of Japan’s “1955 System”—yes, it’s that old—is taking place in public view and change will eventually come at the ballot box. In China, the Communist Party will not give up power without the loss of even more life.

So Japan only looks like it’s failing. We are seeing the regeneration of politics in Japanese society as the old is reluctantly making way for the new. In China, the transition to the next form of governance—coming soon—will not be as smooth.

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Japan’s Bad Memories

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

“Japan caused great damage and pain to people in many countries, especially in Asia,” Shinzo Abe said yesterday. “With a strong sense of regret, I express my sympathy to these victims on behalf of the people of Japan.” On the 62nd anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister paid his respects at a secular memorial. Yet he did not visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead.

Some criticized him for not doing so. About ten sound trucks showed up in front of the prime minister’s residence blasting nationalist slogans and labeling Abe “a traitor to the Japanese people.” Abe stayed away from Yasukuni in an effort to avoid triggering protests in Asia, and to keep relations with the region on track. Beijing and Seoul, in particular, have been upset by the regular visits to Yasukuni by Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s immediate predecessor. (Koizumi, incidentally, visited the controversial Shinto shrine yesterday, greeted with shouts of “Banzai!” from his supporters.)

Analysts will undoubtedly pore over yesterday’s events in Tokyo. Many worry about rising nationalism in Japan. Even Abe, who has devoted much of his short tenure to soothing relations with neighbors, has worked to institute patriotic education and strengthen Japan’s military. He has also triggered controversy this year by making comments absolving the Japanese government and military for sexual slavery during the war. China, for its part, has authorized a new round of commemorations of the Nanjing Massacre, in which, beginning in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese civilians (if not more) were slaughtered by Japanese troops. If Koizumi replaces the unpopular Abe, as some Liberal Democratic Party stalwarts want, we will undoubtedly see a new round of Yasukuni visits—and protests around Asia.

Tokyo and Moscow have never formally signed a peace treaty with each other to end World War II. Even if they do so—not likely, due to ongoing disputes over islands that Soviet troops grabbed at the end of the conflict—it does not appear that the war in Asia will be over anytime soon.

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Goodbye, Abe

Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

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Yesterday, the coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minster Shinzo Abe lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet, the national legislature. The LDP, with junior partner New Komeito, won 46 seats; its chief rival, the Democratic Party, won 60.

The Japanese sometimes complain that their country is not “normal.” Yet there was nothing out of the ordinary about Sunday’s landslide against the LDP, which has dominated Japan’s politics since 1955. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi, his charismatic predecessor, Abe presented a cold and diffident face to the average citizen. His central policy goals—improving relations with China and South Korea and bolstering the military capabilities of Japan—are critical tasks for any Japanese leader. But they were not high priorities for voters far more concerned about worrying economic trends.

The Japanese economy has done relatively well under Abe’s short tenure, with growth up and unemployment down. Yet Japan is facing the same problems seen in the West, especially widening income disparity. Most Japanese think that unchecked globalization is not beneficial for them. Abe, the youngest prime minister in post-war Japan, seemed indifferent to their plight. Instead of paying attention to bread-and-butter issues and dealing forcefully with scandals in his cabinet, he spoke abstractly of building a “beautiful Japan.” That’s largely why Japanese voters hammered Mr. Abe’s party yesterday.

Hidenao Nakagawa resigned as the secretary general of the LDP, taking public responsibility for what Abe called an “utter defeat.” It seems as though the prime minister will be the next high-level casualty of yesterday’s debacle. Abe thinks a mere reshuffling of his cabinet will satisfy the electorate, but others are demanding he step down, or call immediate lower-house elections.

The Bush administration will not want to see a staunch friend like Abe leave office. Ichiro Ozawa, the head of the victorious Democratic Party, would be far less accommodating to America. But there’s nothing that Washington can do to save the now-embattled Abe. All politics in Japan these days is domestic.

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