Did Obama bring down Hatoyama?


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Did Obama bring down Hatoyama?

Posted By Josh Rogin Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 12:57 PM Share
As Asia hands gawk at the news that Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has resigned, there is a lot of talk that the Obama administration contributed to his downfall by refusing to give ground on the issue of how to move the Futenma air station, a regionally important but locally unpopular U.S. Marine air base in Okinawa.

The Washington Note's Steve Clemons was among the first to put blame squarely on Obama, not just for failing to show flexibility in reaction to Hatoyama's attempts to alter the 2006 base deal, which was signed by a previous Japanese government, but also because of the arms-length attitude the U.S. president displayed personally toward his Japanese counterpart.

"Barack Obama put huge pressure on Hatoyama, asking him 'Can I trust you?' He has maintained an icy posture towards Hatoyama, hardly communicating with him or agreeing to meetings - making the Prime Minister 'lose face,'" Clemons wrote.

It's true that Obama and senior administration officials had sour relations with Hatoyama at the highest levels. But on the working levels, U.S. officials insist, there actually was a determined effort to resolve the dispute over the base in a way that both sides could defend domestically.

Those efforts included giving Hatoyama's government eight months to figure out how to come around to accepting the bulk of the U.S. proposal and offering him some flexibility so that he could argue to Okinawans that their concerns had been addressed.

But in end, the Obama administration sees Hatoyama's downfall as one of his own making, because he failed to manage the expectations of his electorate while also piling on with domestic scandals galore. U.S. officials are hoping the next Japanese prime minister has learned that demonizing the trans-Pacific alliance is a losing proposition.

Behind the scenes, there was another dynamic at play. Hatoyama was trying to reorient the private interactions between Tokyo and Washington, seeking to break what he saw as a stranglehold on the relationship by a select number of Washington Japan hands and their allies both in the former ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and within his own Democratic Party of Japan. He also sought to develop closer ties to China, a prospect many in Washington viewed with concern, albeit tempered with confidence that Beijing would ultimately prove an unworkable partner for Tokyo.

Hatoyama sent envoys, such as Sen. Kuniko Tanioka, to Washington to try to create alternate channels of communication. But those efforts were neither coordinated nor skilled enough to have real traction.

Meanwhile, the Japan hands who have been managing the alliance for decades engaged the Hatoyama government, but still kept up their strong contacts with their LDP and DPJ friends who had a more conventional view of the relationship.

"The DPJ ascendance was a symbol of the changing Japan," said Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, a Japan-focused non-governmental organization. "The problem in Washington is that there is LDP nostalgia. We should be focused on building up this new generation and we should be more supportive of a more equal relationship between Japan and U.S."

Kotler said that the Obama administration didn't intentionally undermine Hatoyama, but didn't help him much either.

"There's no reason they couldn't have been more flexible and giving him more political space on Okinawa," she said. "They did a terrible public relations job of explaining that the U.S. military does actually contribute there."

Obama administration officials emphatically stress that a vibrant, two-party democracy in Japan, as represented by the success of the DPJ, is in U.S. interests. But they don't want the U.S.-Japan alliance to be the political football that Japanese politicians kick around as they jostle for domestic positioning.

As for Hatoyama himself, many in Washington are perfectly happy to see him go. He is likely to be replaced by Naoto Kan, the current finance minister. Kan is not exactly a champion of the U.S. alliance, but analysts say he may cede national-security issues to Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who is highly regarded.

"The Obama administration played it right because they got the agreement, Hatoyama is gone, and we'll get a new leader who is better on this issue and will be ready to move on to other issues," said Daniel Twining, senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund.

Kotler argues that whether or not the Okinawa issue is actually resolved, the Japanese political atmosphere will continue to change, and the U.S. approach to Japan must change with it.

"It's a pyrrhic victory and there's still lack of demonstrated understanding that there has been change in Japan," she said. "The overall problem has not gone away."


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Hatoyama bows out

By Purnendra Jain

ADELAIDE - Political commentators and Japan pundits have talked about a "new era" in Japanese politics since 1993 when then-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was defeated for the fist time since the party was formed in 1955.

But the LDP bounced back quickly after coalition governments led by opposition parties crumbled within a year. When the LDP's Junichiro Koizumi became prime minister in 2001, similar commentaries were made and optimism prevailed with the expectation that the LDP would renew itself and change its old habits of playing backroom politics and unethical practices. This expectation also vanished as three prime ministers following Koizumi stepped down one after another, each within a year. And now a fourth, from the party that promised to break that pattern, has fallen on his sword.

After less than nine months in office, Prime Minister Yukio

Hatoyama resigned on Wednesday, citing confusion over the relocation of the United States Marine Corps air station on Okinawa as the main reason. Japan's stock market ended the trading day in Tokyo down, with the Nikkei 225 index surrendering the gains it had made for a brief time after the news of the resignation, closing down 1.1% at 9,603.24 points.

The immediate trigger for Hatoyama's resignation certainly was deep anger resulting from his broken promises to relocate the base off Okinawa, Japan's southern prefecture where most of the US's forces and facilities are located.

The Okinawa base is not the only promise Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan have failed to keep. Most campaign pledges of the DPJ remain unrealized and voters now doubt whether the party is capable of delivering its promised "change" and clean-up of Japanese politics.

Hatoyama's position had become untenable, despite his reluctance to resign, as his popularity slumped to less than 20% last week, after a more than 70% rating when he took office last September.

His popularity began to erode fast earlier this year with his suspected involvement in fundraising scandals and his refusal to sack party secretary and political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, who was also allegedly involved in money politics. While both were cleared by Tokyo prosecutors, four of Ozawa's staffers were prosecuted and one received a suspended sentence.

Resigning his position, Hatoyama declared that "for the sake of establishing a new and cleaner Democratic Party of Japan", Ozawa also would resign. According to some wire services, Ozawa has quit as secretary general of the DPJ. With Hatoyama and Ozawa gone, the obvious question is where the party is headed and what the future holds for Japanese politics. The answers are bleak.

It is highly unlikely that a general election will take place, as demanded by opposition parties such as the LDP and the New Komeito - which ruled Japan for years before the DPJ came to power last year. The LDP is not organized and ready for a general election and it is hard to believe that voters would so soon return to the LDP fold after abandoning it in their millions at the last general elections. In opposition, the LDP has earned no respect from any section of society as a responsible and constructive opposition ready to take power again.

By Friday, the DPJ will announce a new party leader who will then become premier. There are several contenders, but the front-runner is Naoto Kan, deputy prime minister and finance minister, while Internal Affairs Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Transport Minister Seiji Maehara are contenders.

A decision about who leads the DPJ will be made with one eye on the forthcoming elections to the Upper House of parliament, most likely to take place on July 11. Half of the 242-member house will be replaced through the triennial elections. The House of Councillors is less powerful than the House of Representatives, but the Upper House becomes significantly important for passing legislation when a ruling party commands a majority in the Lower House but lacks it in the Upper House.

Although the DPJ had a majority in the Lower House to form government on its own after the August 2009 general election, it lacked a majority in the Upper House. So the party entered into a coalition arrangement with smaller political parties that would provide the DPJ with a majority in the Upper House.

This coalition became unstable as one of its coalition partners - the Social Democratic Party - left after Hatoyama sacked SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima from her ministerial position last week due to her refusal to endorse Hatoyama's back-flip on the base relocation issue. The SDP from the beginning insisted it wanted the base moved off Okinawa, a position that Hatoyama and his party had endorsed.

Undoubtedly, the DPJ will receive a strong electoral backlash for breaking its electoral pledges and Hatoyama's repeated assurances to the people of Okinawa to move the base. Many voters are also deeply angry about Hatoyama's refusal to sack Ozawa, whose popularity has suffered badly in recent months.

Japan is surely headed for a period of more political instability and a policy vacuum as passing legislation will be difficult since no party is likely to gain a majority in the new House of Councillors.


Senior Member
Oct 5, 2009
Japan Elects a New Prime Minister, Fifth in Four Years

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center, leaving Parliament after being voted in as prime minister by the upper house in Tokyo on Friday.

TOKYO — Naoto Kan, a plain-spoken finance minister with activist roots, was elected prime minister on Friday, making him the fifth Japanese leader in four years.

Mr. Kan, 63, won a vote in the lower house of Parliament and will now go through the formality of being appointed by Emperor Akihito.

Earlier Friday, hoping for a second chance to fulfill a historic election mandate for change, the governing Democratic Party selected Mr. Kan to succeed Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned on Wednesday over broken campaign pledges.

Mr. Kan faces an uphill task in trying to win back the public support that Mr. Hatoyama had squandered in months of indecision over the fate of an American military base. He must also help the party regain the momentum it had in August after winning a landslide election victory that ended a half-century of virtual one-party rule.

Known for his quick temper, Mr. Kan gained national attention in the mid-1990s when, as health minister, he exposed his own ministry's use of blood tainted with H.I.V. In the Hatoyama administration, he also served as deputy prime minister and was a point man in the party's push to rein in the secretive central ministries that have run Japan since World War II.

The cabinet resigned Friday morning to clear the way for the new prime minister to appoint a new cabinet.

Before Friday's party vote, Mr. Kan vowed to refocus the party on its original goal of ending Japan's two-decade stagnation. He said he would do this by tackling two of Japan's most daunting problems, its anemic growth rates and ballooning public debt.

"I will carry on the torch of reviving Japan that the Democratic Party received from the people," he said.

Touching on his predecessor's difficulties, he said he would honor an agreement to relocate a United States Marine air base on Okinawa and work to rebuild trust between the allies. But he also said he would place equal emphasis on improving ties with China, with whom Japan now has larger trade relations.

In Friday's party vote, Mr. Kan defeated Shinji Tarutoko, a relatively unknown legislator backed by the party's shadowy power broker, Ichiro Ozawa. Mr. Kan won with 291 votes to Mr. Tarutoko's 129.

Mr. Kan promised to move the party away from the sort of money politics that the scandal-tainted Mr. Ozawa had come to represent.

By choosing Mr. Kan, the party was apparently betting that his background as a former civil rights activist and veteran battler of Japan's powerful bureaucrats would make him a more forceful leader than the indecisive and professorial Mr. Hatoyama.

Mr. Kan is the latest in what has been nearly a turnstile procession of prime ministers in recent years. Shinzo Abe served exactly one year, resigning under pressure in September 2007. He was succeeded by Yasuo Fukuda and then Taro Aso, each of whom served about one year. Mr. Hatoyama took office on Sept. 16, 2009.


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