Monday, September 10, 2007

The DPJ in Yoshida country

With the DPJ making the anti-terror special measures law the main point of contention for the autumn special session, it seems increasingly clear that the DPJ has found a solution to the problem of how to distinguish itself from the LDP. The DPJ's positions on social and economic policy not being all that different from the LDP, foreign policy is once again the main partisan cleavage in Japanese politics.

But this is not a return to the cold war, when pacifist left squared off against the nationalist right, to the benefit of the pragmatic LDP mainstream. The triumph of the revisionist right and its emphasis on a strong, global alliance with the US means that the LDP has vacated the center on foreign policy. As I noted in this post, the LDP is more uniform on foreign policy issues than in the past; while some LDP chiefs are pushing for compromise on the anti-terror law for political reasons, I have yet to hear a significant LDP politician dissent from the ideal of Japan's supporting the US (and others) with warships in the Indian Ocean.

Accordingly, with the LDP having moved to the right, especially in the six years since the 9/11 attacks, the center — the Yoshida line of a limited US-Japan alliance due to Japanese domestic constraints — has been vacated, and Mr. Ozawa's DPJ is preparing to occupy the center. The foreign policy debate that was once contained within the LDP is now the debate between the DPJ and the LDP. The DPJ is essentially calling for a US-Japan alliance restored to old limits, and a Japanese security policy that adheres to domestic constraints (and the added twist of UNSC approval). While the not inconsiderable support for constitution revision within the DPJ suggests that the party is willing to consider adjusting those constraints, the party's overall stance is that of moderation in the face of the overcommitment of the Koizumi and Abe governments.

Not surprisingly, then, one of the DPJ's first acts in the new Diet session was to submit legislation to end the JSDF mission in Iraq.

By shifting the emphasis to Japan's international responsibilities — "the promise to the world" that Mr. Abe made in Sydney, described by Asahi today as "selfish" — the government seems to be trying to reclaim the center (and it has Yomiuri's enthusiastic support). But a couple weeks of talking about Japan's obligations to the international community deriving from its position as a commercial power will not undo six years of emphasizing the value of the US-Japan alliance over all other elements of Japanese foreign policy, particularly with US officials having spent the last month practicing their gaiatsu.

The DPJ's stance is anything but radical (which is why Amaki Naoto is so disappointed in the party). It marks a return to the more moderate past — and, more importantly, a return to the thinking of the Japanese people. Washington might want Japan to change radically, but the changes envisioned by Koizumi and Abe are not sustainable over the long term; a correction is in store. Japan will change. It will take on a greater international role. But the change will be grounded in the moderate center, and will acknowledge and embrace limits on what Japan can and can't do internationally and in cooperation with the US.

The DPJ should use this Diet session to better articulate this vision for Japan's foreign policy: that much Yomiuri has right. I think the DPJ will find that it enjoys the support of the Japanese public, and also of some Americans (not to mention Europeans).

In the meantime, Mr. Abe, apparently determined to relive his grandfather's life, is set to sacrifice his political career for the US-Japan relationship, except this time, it is unlikely that it will be necessary for the people to encircle the Diet to make him go. (Having joked for the past year about Mr. Abe getting himself confused with Kishi, it's eerie that Mr. Abe's end may play out in a similar way.)


MTC said...

Interesting proposition...that the DPJ has taken over the role and tactics of the LDP doves.

Makes one wonder what Kato Koichi's, Tanigaki Sadakazu's and the New Komeito's next moves could be.

Bryce said...

On the money again, but I don't think that the DPJ has "moved into" any center position. They were always there. The LDP just moved away from the centre as the "reform" factions (the old Fukuda clique) took over.

I've often thought in the past couple of weeks that Abe's stance on the Floating Petrol Station Law is akin to Kishi's insistence on renewing the treaty and that it could all end up a much mider version of the same.