Japan: A ball of confusion
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
News reports stemming from Japan over the past week have likely convinced all that Japan is in a serious crisis. Its economic situation is in shambles with record unemployment, massive public debt and a banking sector saddled with bad loans. However, not only is its credit rating comparable to Botswana's but its pathetic political situation characterized by instability and infighting continues to put even the most unstable of political systems to shame.
Prime Minister Koizumi's main opposition (his own Liberal Democratic Party), is already talking about calling early elections with some including Shizuka Kamei going as far as to predict a coup in September (Linda Sieg, Reuters, 2 December, 2002). According to Sieg, LDP members who oppose Koizumi's economic policies are thinking of overthrowing him. Apparently the results of the recent by-election held in October indicated that while Koizumi remained extremely popular his supporters were more likely to stay at home than to get up and vote. Koizumi rivals are convinced that the media savvy Prime Minister has a loyal following only on television and not at the polling station. What this outcome suggests to foreign reporters such as Sieg is that Koizumi will likely not be able to force the ruling coalition to carry out reforms. Furthermore his ability to remain as the head of the LDP will depend on whether or not he is willing to compromise on his pledge to cut off money to public works and be strict on banks.
Worse yet, the main opposition party (the Democratic Party) is on the verge of collapse. After ideas for a tie-up with another opposition party named the Liberal Party were canned, Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama's political career seems to have ended and serious doubts remain as to whether or not his successor will be able to save the party. The virtual demise of the Democratic Party is fatalistic for all opposition parties who have record low public support.
Amidst this political chaos, the outside world continues to receive mixed messages from Japan on extremely important foreign policy and security issues. One example has to do with whether or not Japan will send an Aegis destroyer to assist the US in the Indian Ocean.
On Sunday (December 1), Japan's Yomiuri newspaper published an article which stated that "the Aegis equipped ship is most likely to be dispatched late this month when another destroyer, the Hiei, is scheduled to return". While most foreign news agencies and media sources consider the dispatch of an Aegis destroyer to be in violation of Japan's pacific constitution certain Japanese political figures have started to indicate otherwise. Mirako Kaji, spokeswoman for the Prime Minister, was quoted in a Reuters article as stating that, "no new laws would be required to send the Aegis, so logically it is possible, but I am not aware of any specific decision" ("Japan May Send Ship to Support US Forces - Newspaper", 30 November). The same article quoted an unnamed LDP official as saying that the Buddhist backed New Komeito was likely to abandon its opposition to the plan. This comes as a huge surprise as the New Komeito has been the largest opponent to such a move within the coalition government.
Strange things are continuing to happen in the Japanese political world. Just last week a number of Koizumi's advisors blatantly criticized US unilateralism by stating that "the notion of compromising for the sake of global harmony is hardly found in US diplomacy" (Reuters, "Japan PM Advisors Warns Against US Unilateralism", 28 November 2002). They went on to suggest that it was time to review bilateral ties between Japan and the US and urged Koizumi to carry out independent diplomacy.
Readers of such news abroad are likely receiving the image that Japan is entering a period of massive political upheaval. It will be interesting to see whether or not Prime Minister Koizumi will be able to restore confidence in his leadership one more time. However, the chances appear to be thin.
- "Japan sends ships to aid terror war", The Associated Press, 25 November 2002
- Linda Sieg, "Japan Reform Hopes Fade as Political Murk Deepens", Reuters, 2 December, 2002
- "Japan Denies Beefing Up U.S. Support in Afghanistan", Reuters, 1 December 2002
- "Japan May Send Ship to Support U.S. Forces - Newspaper", Reuters, 30 November 2002
- "Japan PM Advisors Warn Against U.S. Unilateralism", Reuters, 28 November 2002
- Kenji Hall, "Head of Japan's Largest Opposition Party Calls for Merger with Others, Sparks Internal Strife", The Associated Press, 30 November 2002