firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
A DPJ-ruled Japan and South Korea
The DPJ has outlined its foreign policy stance via campaign pledges and press briefings. Key features are an international order centering the United Nations, a new alliance with the United States, an Asia-oriented policy for the "Asia community," and relationship with Korea and China. On the other hand, regarding the future domestic politics in Japan, we should understand the DPJ's realistic limit and presage its foreign policy direction in a cool-headed and strategic approach.
Will the DPJ rule weaken the U.S.-Japan alliance?
The LDP-ruled administration had put much of its foreign policy focus on the U.S. in an effort to reinforce its alliance with the world's supreme power. The DPJ strongly denounced on August 30 that the LDP's dealings with the principal postwar ally and military protector was "excessively docile" and pledged to build a close and equal relationship with the U.S. It said it would reconsider such thorny issues as the U.S. military base in Okinawa and the "status of force" agreement that keeps 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan. Hatoyama expressed regret over the U.S. excessive influence in the bilateral relations in a column posted at the New York Times' website on August 27.
Considering the recent developments, Japan will likely continue to base its foreign policy on the U.S.-Japan alliance but there would be some changes. The DPJ-led administration will maintain its policy toward the U.S. and alliance but at the same time, it will attempt to strategically improve Japan's status in its relationship with the U.S.
The DPJ, now rising to the ruling party and facing the hard reality, will more likely deal with key issues in question in a flexible and strategic manner than stick to its election commitments. The DPJ has already showed a realistic view on some elements of its policy toward the U.S. It retreated from its strong demand to withdraw Japanese naval vessels from a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and hinted at some tolerance.
Hatoyama went further, declaring at a press conference on August 31 that he was not "anti-U.S." and that his vision for the future Asian region did not exclude the U.S. On September 3, he told the U.S. President Obama in their first call that the Washington-Tokyo alliance would remain the key pillar of his foreign policy and that he wanted to build a construction and future-oriented bilateral relationship.
In conclusion, since the ruling party has different responsibility from the opposition parties, the DPJ would withdraw some of its old claims and maintain the long-standing foreign policy focus on its alliance with the U.S. while making strategic efforts to have a greater say over the U.S. At the same time, it will put more diplomatic weight in the United Nations and Asia in a move to differentiate itself from its predecessor and political rival, LDP.
The impact of the DPJ's rule on the relationship between Korea and Japan
The relationship between Korea and Japan is now facing a critical moment of cooperation, with the U.S. financial crisis spreading into a global economic recession. With the three North East Asian countries getting closer in coping with the global financial crisis, Seoul and Tokyo have enhanced their bilateral cooperation across the board, aided by the shuttle diplomacy between the heads of the two countries.
In particular, the emerging challenges in international political economy such as a weakening U.S. hit by the global financial crisis, the rising power of China and India, and stronger economic and strategic ties between Washington and Beijing, have encouraged the leaders in Seoul and Tokyo to deepen their relationship.
At a summit held in Tokyo on June 28, 2009, the leaders of the two countries avoided discussing thorny issues such as the past history and Tokdo Island which may have few solutions only to cause conflict and instead focused on key impending agenda. As a result, they shared the need for five-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem and agreed on closer economic cooperation. South Korean President asked Japan to transfer its expertise and know-how in the high-tech area and invest more in South Korean plants producing parts and materials. They also discussed how to resume the bilateral free trade agreement talks and global issues such as climate change, terrorism and aid for Afghanistan.
The practical cooperation between the two countries is expected to develop further under the DPJ's rule. Prime Minister Hatoyanma said in a press conference with foreign correspondents during his campaign that he would respect the so-called Murayama statement of 1995 which apologized for Japan's colonial rule. He declared that Prime Minister and cabinet members should not visit the Yaskuni Shrine honoring Japan's war dead and stressed the importance of the Korea-Japan relationship.
The DPJ presented a number of pledges during the election campaign: to establish a state facility that would replace; to deal with the "comfort women" serving the Japanese soldiers during the World War II; to allow foreign residents a right to vote for municipal governments; to rebuild a firm bilateral relationship with Seoul to resolve the North Korean nuclear missile and kidnapping issues; to reinforce the trust with Korea and establish a strong base for trust and cooperation among the three powers in North East Asia. The vows suggested a major departure from the long-standing view held by Japanese politicians over the past history and signified the significance of the Korea-Japan relationship.
Since key policymakers from the DPJ, including as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, National Strategy Minister Naoto Kan and Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa are either friendly to or well aware of South Korea, Japan will put much weight on its relationship with Korea in its Asia diplomacy.
Realistic limit in Japanese foreign policy and Korea's strategic consideration
Some people predict an earthquake-like change in Japan's foreign policy under the DPJ's rule but there remains considerable realistic limitation. First, since the DPJ has failed to secure the absolute majority in the House of Councilors, it should consider the upcoming election slated for July 2010 from the political strategic viewpoint for the sake of more secure footing. The ruling party should now focus on key domestic issues such as land, employment, medical service, and welfare to win more votes, rather than spending much of its political resources in foreign policy. In other words, the DPJ does not have political leeway enough to try a major change in foreign policy.
Second, the DPJ has a number of fractions with different political philosophy, ranging from a conservative group of the defectors from the LDP to liberal and leftist group of socialists. They may face a conflict with different stakes, depending on issues. In other words, there is limited room for the DPJ to raise the issue of the U.S.-Japan alliance at the risk of political tension with the LDP and intra-party uproar.
Third, the DPJ's overwhelming victory in the election does not necessarily mean that the voters blindly support its foreign policy stance. It benefited much from the people's growing discontent with the ruling LDP. The reforms by the Koizumi administration widened the social gaps among the people and the Aso government, called as a "noble cabinet," stood far from the general people. Despite its winning 308 seats on the August 30 election, the DPJ's public support base is still fragile.
Fourth, Japan, along with the United Kingdom, is a key ally in Washington's world politics. Therefore, the U.S. will continue to reinforce its alliance with Japan and put a focus on the bilateral relationship. For its part, Tokyo will keep its relationship with Washington as close as it is, even if it seeks to readjust its relationship with Washington.
Japan's foreign policy strategy may have some different hues along with the regime changes but its basic stance will likely stay in place for the reasons explained above. Japan will continue to develop its alliance with the U.S. as its key pillar while expanding its influence in the United Nations and Asian region to become an "international leader in the 21st century." Against this backdrop, South Korea should look at the DPJ's limitation in reality and take a cool-headed and strategic approach. ■
By Bae Jung-ho / Head of International Studies Center, Korea Institute for National Unification