Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Understanding Japan's Elections: What the Elections Mean for Asia and the United States

On September 2, CSIS hosted a panel which discussed the results of the elections in Japan. The panel consisted of Steven Clemons, Mike Green, and Kurt Campbell. Bob Schieffer worked as the moderator.

As for why the DPJ won the election, Mike Green was quick to point out that voters really didn’t like the DPJ, but they voted for the DPJ because “they were sick and tired of the Liberal Democratic Party’s style of politics and governance.”

Mike Green, it seems, did not like the DPJ. He really did not like the recent op-ed written by Yukio Hatoyama. He pleaded with Hatoyama to change his tone now that he had won the election. For his part, Clemons believed that Ichiro Ozawa was “the real strongman” behind the infamous New York Times op-ed. And in sharp contrast to Green, Clemons liked the fact that Hatoyama was creating some distance between America and Japan.

“I predict a much healthier, lively and somewhat reinvented U.S.-Japan relationship,” said Clemons.

Here, I think Clemons was referring to my participation in the discussion. The discussion certainly was lively. It was not healthier. As to whether or not the discussion amounted to a reinvention of the relationship, I can’t say because I don’t how the relationship worked before. On the one hand, I have been led to believe that a small group of experts on both sides manage the relationship. The introduction of a person like me to the discussion, particularly the manner in which I was introduced and the way I participated, certainly seems unique. On the other hand, I subsequently found out that both sides have a long history of using the Internet to disclose information in an attempt to pressure the other side.

Furthermore, Japan does have a history of recruiting some unlikely people to manage the alliance. For example, consider John Roos, the current U.S. ambassador who had zero expertise on Japan prior to his appointment. Or consider Kei Wakaizumi, a Japanese professor, who Japan hired to negotiate the return of Okinawa. You would think Japan would use one of its bureaucrats for that job. Or consider the DPJ itself. Though a few members of the DPJ may have had the experience and knowledge required to manage the alliance, I think they were few and far between. Often, Japan seems to like hiring inexperienced people to manage the alliance. Japan probably has several reasons for doing this. For one thing, hiring an unqualified person slows things down. And if there is one thing that Japan seems to like to do when it comes to relations with America, it is stalling. On the other hand, introducing someone new to manage the alliance could bring a fresh perspective to any existing problems which remain deadlocked. Simply revisiting the same issues with the same people will probably not lead to a resolution. Sometimes, you need to inject someone new into the discussion. And in fact, according to Clemons, Japan did believe that its relationship with America had gotten stuck in the mud.

“Many Japanese felt that the U.S.-Japan relationship on a whole variety of fronts was just stuck too much in the past,” said Steven Clemons.

I have a feeling, based on how the Hatoyama administration unfolded, that Clemons probably believed that the Hatoyama administration would be similar to a famous Japanese saying – “the nail that sticks up must be hammered down” and that is the real reason why he wanted Hatoyama to create some distance between Japan and America.

Kurt Campbell seemed to be of the same opinion. He said America had no problems with Japan trying to improve its relationship with China and South Korea. He said America “would like to see Japan play a stronger leadership role” in Asia.

“We also believe, in that process, they will come to appreciate and understand the significance of the U.S.-Japan alliance,” said Campbell.

Again, it appears that for Campbell, the Hatoyama administration that sticks up would eventually be hammered down. I think Campbell and Clemons would later come to realize that Green knew what he was talking about, at least on this one issue. The Hatoyama administration would go down in ignominious defeat, but not before leading me on the path to the truth, not without moving Japan closer to Asia, and not without moving Japan further away from the U.S. Depending on his true intentions, perhaps Hatoyama views his administration as a great success.

As for the other DPJ campaign promises, Steven Clemons hoped Hatoyama would “find his inner Obama.” Meaning that, much of his campaign promises would have to be delayed or reduced. Apparently, Clemons wanted Japan to spend less of its money on itself and more of its money on bailing out America and Europe. He said as much later on.

According to Clemons, when including private sector assets, Japan had the largest amount of overseas assets in the world. While admitting that Japan had “severe economic problems,” Clemons stated that Japan’s contribution to “the international economic order” was “absolutely vital.” Furthermore, in his view, Clemons believed that Japan had not contributed enough in this regard as the country had “been somewhat internally consumed.” Presumably, Clemons was referring to the political theater of Taro Aso.

Mike Green had his own idea as to why the DPJ seemed so anti-American.

“My sense is that the DPJ is testing the U.S. to see what they can get away with,” said Mike Green.

I really don’t think that is why the DPJ acted the way they did.

Apparently, because they disliked the policies of the DPJ so much, the panelists all advised the DPJ to listen to the bureaucrats in Japan.

“Some of the finest professionals that I’ve worked with in Japan are bureaucrats and I would hate to see a period whereby somehow they are posited as the enemy,” said Campbell.

In fact, the panelists were so uniform in their desire for the DPJ to listen to the bureaucrats that Mike Green said the name of the panel should be “Former and Current Bureaucrats and Staffers Tell Japan, ‘Be Good to Bureaucrats and Staffers.’”

Even the Japanese ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki, seemed to agree with what the panelists had to say.

“In my country, there is a saying that if three people get together, they will produce Buddhist wisdom,” said Fujisaki. “With these three pundits – (laughter) – huge wisdom. (more laughter).”

Fujisaki then went on to repeat his infamous “Three No’s of Fujisaki” – no surprises, no over-politicization, and no taking for granted. According to these three no’s, neither Japan or America should surprise each other in their actions. They should not over-politicize any issue, meaning that they should deal with issues quietly if they can. And they should not take their alliance for granted.

“I think these are more true than ever when the two administrations get together,” said Fujisaki.

It is ironic that Japan selected someone like Fujisaki as their ambassador during the Hatoyama administration. Under the DPJ, both sides would break all of Fujisaki’s rules repeatedly. And in the end, I believe Japan wants to move to a more transparent, more open relationship with America which really violates the second “no” of Fujisaki.

In the Q&A session, Paul Wolfowitz asked the panel if – in an effort to improve its relations with China – the DPJ would examine its history with the country.

According to Green, as the years have gone by, as the taboos have faded in Japan, there is more debate about the history between Japan and China, and that has made it harder for the government to “keep people quiet.” As a result, “more voices will come out on history issues that make it difficult.” However, Mike Green believed that Japan would not tackle this issue until China had completed its own “internal reconciliation” about the history of the Communist Party.

On the other hand, “maybe we’ll be in for a rollercoaster a little while,” said Green.

As it turns out, Japan opted for the rollercoaster. Japan did not wait for China to reach consensus about its own history. There is only one true history and we should not lie about it. Telling the truth may upset some people in China, and Japan’s relationship with China is critical for its future. However, the truth is critical for everyone, including China. We have tried, repeatedly, to run the world based on lies, deceit, and trickery. It does not work. We need accountability, honesty, and transparency.

If some people find this line of thinking objectionable, I don’t care. I must impose my will.

History end here.

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