Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Washington continues to see Japan slipping away

Writing on the nuclear summit, Al Kamen, who pens a Beltway gossip column in the Washington Post, had the following to say about Hatoyama Yukio:
By far the biggest loser of the extravaganza was the hapless and (in the opinion of some Obama administration officials) increasingly loopy Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. He reportedly requested but got no bilat. The only consolation prize was that he got an "unofficial" meeting during Monday night's working dinner. Maybe somewhere between the main course and dessert?

A rich man's son, Hatoyama has impressed Obama administration officials with his unreliability on a major issue dividing Japan and the United States: the future of a Marine Corps air station in Okinawa. Hatoyama promised Obama twice that he'd solve the issue. According to a long-standing agreement with Japan, the Futenma air base is supposed to be moved to an isolated part of Okinawa. (It now sits in the middle of a city of more than 80,000.)
But Hatoyama's party, the Democratic Party of Japan, said it wanted to reexamine the agreement and to propose a different plan. It is supposed to do that by May. So far, nothing has come in over the transom. Uh, Yukio, you're supposed to be an ally, remember? Saved you countless billions with that expensive U.S. nuclear umbrella? Still buy Toyotas and such?
Ignoring the snide and demeaning comments about Hatoyama's being "increasingly loopy" and "a rich man's son" (what does this have to do with anything?) or the comment suggesting that the "expensive U.S. nuclear umbrella" and US consumers' purchases of Toyotas are acts of charity, Kamen managed to sweep aside all the complexity of the Futenma dispute in the course of a few paragraphs.

This item may be another sign of what I referred to last month as the "losing Japan" narrative. Due to Hatoyama's "loopiness," the US is losing an important ally and increasingly finding it necessary to "bow" to China (see the first paragraph of the column). Naturally media outlets inside Japan have already reported on Kamen's comments, with the subtext that Hatoyama is embarrassing Japan abroad even as the US and China move closer together.

For the record, Mr. Kamen: Japan is a sovereign, democratic nation allied to the United States, not a vassal. However poorly Hatoyama has managed the problem, he is trying to balance the concerns of his country's most important ally with the concerns of the voters who elected him. He certainly deserves better than to be denigrated in this fashion.

UPDATE: I have changed the name of this post to reflect the fact that Kamen's column reflects not just a narrative popular at the Washington Post — although the Post has thus far been its main mouthpiece — but a narrative increasingly popular in Washington and in the Obama administration.


Oscarson Photography said...

I agree with everything in this post but I would rewrite that last bit about trying to answer to the people who elected him.

Tobias Harris said...

I'm not sure what you mean, but if you mean in a literal sense, then yes, he's not answerable to anyone but his own party's caucus in the Diet.

But the literal sense is meaningless.

Does any American really think that the president isn't answerable to
the public in some sense despite literally being elected not by the
public but by an electoral college? Parliaments are just electoral
colleges that continue to sit after they've chosen a leader. An
indirectly elected prime minister is no different from the "directly" elected president of the United States, as their job tenures depend on taking public concerns into consideration — because at some point down the line the voting public will determine whether he will continue to hold his job.

Oscarson Photography said...

Point well taken.

TenThousandThings said...

Many thanks for your sensible, extremely informed, insightful, and dignified reporting on Japan!

Your articles are being praised by Network for Okinawa members like Satoko Norimatsu, who has the best blog on Okinawa. Your's is best and most reliable political blog on Japan.