Polls show the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s approval rating has plunged since it secured its historic, landslide election victory last year. What do you make of the party’s performance this year?
In policy terms, there are without question remarkably few accomplishments. What I would say that they’ve done well, and something they get far too little credit for, is foreign and security policy. It’s the one area where they have a vision.
Now granted, there’s a lot of continuity from the LDP. But the Futenma (Air Station dispute) and Senkaku Islands issues notwithstanding – they did mishandle those particular issues – I think they’ve been guiding Japanese foreign and security policies along certain lines. And they’ve worked on bilateral relations with countries they need to have better bilateral relations with, such as India and Australia.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The China relationship is hard because it’s difficult to say whether we’re at some sort of inflection point. China is peacefully rising no more and that has consequences for the whole region – every country in the region is scrambling to figure out what this means. So it’s really hard to say that this has been a failure. And if anything, I think as incompetently as they handled the Senkaku issue, Japan ended up not looking too bad out of it.
I also think the new national defence programme guidelines are a sign of how pragmatic the DPJ is going to be, and I think they’ve shown that they’re open to long overdue changes in security policy. They’ve shown that the Japanese government can approach security policy in a way that isn’t necessarily driven by ideology — they’re demonstrating that they’re not crazy hawks who just want to raise defence spending or revise the constitution. They are governing the country, telling people these are changes that need to be made and that they’re just doing what needs to be done. I think this has surprised many people who perhaps although they might have expected it to happen, didn’t expect it to happen as soon as it has. So I think that they haven’t received as much credit as they deserve for being pragmatic, especially since (former Prime Minister) Yukio Hatoyama has gone.
Domestically, it’s much harder to find things to be happy about, and that’s because they’re really hurt by a lack of vision here. I think something is starting to take root and we’re seeing little changes, but it has taken them too long and, given the political situation, there’s no telling how much longer they’ll have to figure it out. It’s taken them a long time to know what to embrace, and when they’ve embraced it, they haven’t quite known how to handle it. With the consumption tax they were reacting to events and they didn’t quite know what they wanted to do. Exchange rate policy has been the same thing. They were like ‘It’s OK if the yen rises, we’re OK with that’. But then when it actually rises, they say ‘Wait a second, we need to do something about this.’ There’s a lot of flailing.