Japan's new government aims at regional Currency - Gavan McCormack
Hatoyama, Hope of Japan
Kyunghyang Sinmun essay, published in Seoul two days ago (Tuesday 8 September).
A new government comes to power at last in Japan. Not since 1947 has a governing party been rejected by the electorate, and save only for a brief interlude in the 1990s the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has held power since its founding in 1955, so the events of 30 August were indeed historic. The Japanese people have decided they would tolerate no longer its collusion, corruption, arrogance, incompetence and lying.
In any other country, the end of such prolonged one-party rule would have occasioned outbursts of joy, perhaps dancing in the streets, but Tokyo's mood was dour. Surveys found that though people wanted change, and above all wanted to get rid of the LDP, but most did not really expect the new government to be able to accomplish fundamental change, and were skeptical about some its policies, such as subsidies for farmers and children and abolition of freeway fees. More than half wished they had more of a choice than that offered by the current two party system. But most were pleased, and, at least for the time being, welcomed the new regime.
The new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is a weak vessel for the kinds of reform the country needs. Headed by the grandson of a founder of the LDP, it comprises a loosely knit coalition of former LDP conservatives and former Japan Socialist Party members. Years of opposition has nevertheless attuned it to the concerns and values of civil society. In his policy statement issued shortly before the election, Hatoyama adopted the French revolutionary slogan of "fraternite." The era of "US-led globalism" and "market fundamentalism" in a "unipolar world," he said, was ending. He promised a more inclusive and caring society, the regeneration of communities and attention to restoring the ravages of nature. While the Japan-US Security Pact would remain "the cornerstone of Japan's diplomatic policy," the "East Asian region must be recognized as Japan's basic sphere of being," and his government would pursue the goal of a regional community, with its own currency. As well, he made a somewhat remarkable promise: to seize power from the bureaucracy. 62 years after democratic government began, it was telling that such a pledge should have to be made, and that many commentators thought this might be his biggest challenge.
Hatoyama's predecessor and mentor, Ozawa Ichiro, was more explicit about what the renegotiation of the US alliance might mean, saying that the construction of a new marine base in Northern Okinawa - core component to the "Reorganization of US forces in Japan" under the US-Japan agreements of 2005-6, would not go ahead and that the US should be satisfied with the presence of the 7th Fleet in East Asia and therefore not need its chain of bases in Japan and Korea. Ozawa was ousted as party leader shortly after he made that statement, and a drumbeat of "warnings" have been issued from Washington ever since as to the consequences of any attempt to renegotiate deals done between the US and LDP governments. Since the Hatoyama victory, Washington is reported to be deeply "concerned," fearful, it seems, that Japan might be about to declare independence.
Two basic facts are impossible to gainsay. First, economics, as Marx observed, determines politics. The economic shifts of the 21st century are so momentous that sheer realism demands adjustment. Just since this century began, Japan's trade with the US has halved (to 13.5 per cent) while that with China has doubled (to 20.3 per cent), and that with Asia as a whole has grown steadily (to 48.5 per cent).
Second, closely related, the US decline is not just economic but comprehensive, in political, military, and above all moral terms. While the Asian region has grown increasingly inter-dependent and even grown a measure of cultural coherence, US-led military ventures around the world have proved ineffectual or counter-productive, driving whole countries and regions into chaos and the US economy itself into crisis. Following the Wall Street-induced global economic crisis, the once globally hegemonic Washington consensus on economic and social policies is also in tatters. Under such circumstances, the self abasement of the world's No 2 power as a US dependency has become increasingly incongruous.
The LDP's 21st century governments have promoted agendas for which there was minimal public support: on the one hand neo-liberal economic and social policies designed to "Americanize" Japan and on the other diplomatic and security measures to lock it into the American embrace. The electorate has now rejected the former for the social costs it has entailed, and has awakened to the fact that the latter has amounted to the LDP selling out the Japanese national interest, turning Japan into a "client state." Despite the stress by LDP figures on national pride, beauty, and uniqueness, they lament Japan's lost sovereignty and lack of independent diplomatic initiatives or global voice, especially in its own region. They are especially angry at the LDP over recent revelations that the "alliance" to a large extent rested on lies. Successive Japanese governments combined a public pose of non-nuclear principles with a secret assurance to the US to ignore them, preferring to deceive the Japanese public rather than disappoint their American ally.
Hatoyama's desk must already be stacked with files. Apart from the huge domestic policy issues he faces, should his government maintain the Self Defense Force's Indian Ocean mission? Should it continue with the merger of intelligence and command of US and Japanese forces and with the subsidizing of global US military interventions? Should it allow the relatively pristine environment of Northern Okinawa to be sacrificed for the construction of a new base and port for the US Marine Corps? Should it authorize the payment of $6 billion to build houses, schools, shopping malls and sewerage systems for the US on US territory (Guam)? Should it, in short, "honor" the deals shamelessly pushed through the Diet by LDP governments with minimal debate while they enjoyed the two-thirds majority in the Diet won by Koizumi's promises of "reform?" Should Japan continue to treat with deference the annual lists of reforms desired by the US government? Hatoyama's intellectual and moral fibre will be tested as he grapples with such matters.
One file on his desk will cause him special difficulty: should Japan continue with the bankrupt North Korea policies of its predecessor governments and rely exclusively on sanctions to force North Korean submission, or should it return to the spirit of the Pyongyang Declaration of 2002 and make every effort to normalize this most abnormal of all relationships? If he can solve that problem, it will become so much easier to renegotiate the US alliance and the bases, scrap Japan's nuclear weapon-based defense policies, and advance the cause of an Asian regional community.
For the last half century, the US government has continued to dictate basic Japanese security and other policies, squatting like a large elephant on Japan's tatami, while government and media and academic pundits pretended Japan was a sovereign and independent state. The bribes, threats and promises by which the US had its way in the early Cold War years gave way to "softer" means as LDP learned how to internalize, anticipate, and serve Washington, but in the 21st century the dependence deepened and its debilitating effects spread.
It is too early to predict that a fundamental realignment of the structural plates under the region might be underway, but the chances are better than they have ever been. Hatoyama does not look like a revolutionary, but Japan needs one to reverse course away from its half century of submission and he is its best hope.