Tokyo Notes

Economy First for Kan

Naoto Kan will need to focus on economic policy first, not foreign policy, Brad Glosserman says.

With the upper house elections just a few days away, the Diplomat caught up with Brad Glosserman, Japan watcher and executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Pacific Forum, for his take on some of the foreign policy questions that have been swirling around the past couple of months.

What did you make of Yukio Hatoyama's handling of the Futenma Air Station relocation issue. Do you expect it to cause the DPJ more problems under Kan?

It was badly handled—and most importantly, didn’t have to be. He made it a big issue for his government when most Japanese would prefer he focus on economic issues, as Kan is now doing. Of course, there were promises to the Okinawan people, but expectations had been inflated by the election process. I think that was a cynical move by the then opposition to maximize votes, but I have no sense that the DPJ thought through the consequences of that particular tactic.


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Does the row say anything more about the underlying dynamics of the US-Japan relationship?

Not really. Or, what is does say is pretty banal. Japanese want more equality within the alliance—as they long have, and most US allies do. It also showed the DPJ is woefully uninformed about the particulars of security policy and the alliance in particular, and that although the Okinawan people have deep and intensely felt grievances against the mainland, no Japanese government is prepared to pay a political price to address those grievances.

More broadly, what have you made of DPJ foreign policy in Asia—has there been any break with the LDP?

The drive to ‘rebalance’ relations is a good move—if that conceptual notion ever actually acquires any substance. I expect less outright confrontation with China from a DPJ government, although that trend was in place once Abe left office, and Chinese policy is also going to make accommodation more difficult. The real obstacles to deeper integration with Asia remain—and they aren’t only the product of Japanese actions.

Do you expect any foreign policy shift under Kan?

The focus of the Kan administration is likely to be economic policy. It should be—that has to be fixed first before Japan can move forward on many of its other concerns. I don’t see much substance yet in this field either, but it’s where I look for most substantive and important change. Success in economic policy will be the bellwether of this government. But I’m not optimistic.