Were you surprised by the timing of Yukio Hatoyama’s resignation as prime minister?
Yes and no. I thought in December that by setting a deadline for a decision on the Futenma Air Station issue that he had condemned his administration. It’s a bit of a puzzle why he did it, but I think he did so because the pressure on him to set a deadline by the Foreign Ministry and his defence people—those two groups of bureaucrats are used to working with the United States—was enormous. And he thought he would be safe, because he counted on an opportunity to discuss this directly with Barack Obama in the context of a much broader plan of what to do in the future and what kind of strategy to follow as a genuine ally.
And Hatoyama had every right, of course, to think that he would get such an opportunity. But he didn’t. There were three attempts, as far as I know, to speak to Obama in a one-on-one serious discussion, and the people who were running the Japan show in Washington were dead set against it. Washington wanted to torpedo the Hatoyama government and they succeeded.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Washington wants an administration like they had before, that will do what they say. Although of course the Liberal Democratic Party wasn’t doing that—they had a way of shoving it ahead of them. The LDP had been postponing this whole base plan for six years and they were going to postpone it further. Why? Because it’s not implementable. That’s a very basic point, which the Tokyo-based media haven’t been sufficiently pushing because they haven’t been paying attention to Okinawa. The editors get all worked up, as of course they should, about a teenage girl getting raped, but the broader thing they stay away from.
The most important thing to remember is that the LDP would not have carried out the Henoko relocation plan, because you can’t carry it out. It’s impossible. It also means that Naoto Kan’s cabinet could also be torpedoed by Washington. And it may well happen. Because Japan is not an ally of the United States—Japan is a protectorate.
What the LDP did last spring was to reconfirm the whole base issue knowing they were going to be defeated in the elections. So they dumped this in the lap of the DPJ. And what they did was then go to Washington, going around to whoever wanted to listen in Washington, and saying ‘these guys in the DPJ are amateurs, they’re inexperienced, they’re weak.’ And so they were there undermining the government in Japan.
When I spoke to you just after the Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide election win last year, you were extremely optimistic over the prospects for change in Japan.
That hasn’t changed. Kan is a very accomplished member of the DPJ, and he’s fully aware of the structural changes that must be made. If you asked me who among the top people of the DPJ is most aware of the structural changes, I’d say Kan and Ichiro Ozawa. And Kan is probably better positioned than Hatoyama to deal with the bureaucrats and work out a co-operative relationship, which is the most important political task for a Japanese political leader—how do you work out a relationship where you have political control over a bureaucracy that isn’t used to it? You can’t have war between bureaucrats and politicians.