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The New Japan and Japan-U.S. Relations in the 21st Century

July 29, 2004
Katsuya Okada

1. The Start of a Dramatic Change in Japanese Politics

The Upper House election of July 11 has clearly shown that the age of the two-party system has arrived in Japan. Our party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), gained more seats than the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP). In addition to winning in the major cities, which has been our area of traditional strength, our party went neck-and-neck with the LDP in the outlying regions of the country as well. Most importantly, in the proportional representation race, we captured a total of 21 million votes, exceeding the 17 million votes that went to the LDP by a margin of more than 4 million votes. In terms of the ratio of total votes received for proportional representation, we captured 38 percent, as opposed to 30 percent by the LDP. Similarly, in voting in electoral districts, we came home with 39 percent, as against 35 percent for the LDP.

Many of the Japanese people do not view these election results to be a temporary phenomenon. Already in the Lower House elections of November 2003, even though we did not actually oust the LDP from power, the DPJ outperformed the LDP in the proportional representation race by a margin of nearly 2 million votes. In public opinion polls taken after the Upper House election, nearly 70 percent of the people indicated that git was a good thingh that Japan has moved toward a system of two major parties. Moreover, a majority of voters in their 30s, 40s and 50s responded that a DPJ administration was more desirable than a LDP one. For the first time in the 60 years of Japanfs postwar political history, the country is advancing into an age of a two-party system and a viable choice of administrations.

I was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990. Three years later, I left the LDP and participated in the establishment of the Hosokawa administration, a non-LDP administration. Thereafter, for more than ten years, I have been a member of the opposition and have worked ceaselessly for the creation of a new party capable of accepting the mantle of government. During this period, I remained firm in my determination to transform Japanese politics. I have been criticized as being gToo straight, too serioush, but if being serious is considered a bad thing in politics, then I believe that there is something wrong with the Japanese political world. Since the establishment of the DPJ six years ago, I have served in various party posts, such as Chair of the Policy Research Committee and Secretary General of the party. Since May of this year I have been serving as President of the DPJ. In my days as Secretary General, the second highest post in the party, I pursued reforms with the goal of achieving greater transparency in party management. For instance, we became the first among all Japanese political parties to decide to have our income and expenditures report for political contributions audited by a certified firm of accountants. In another reform that we introduced, we broke away from the traditionally exclusive press system and opened our press conferences to all domestic and international press organizations. In the July Upper House election, we defeated Prime Minister Koizumi and his LDP by advocating ghonest politicsh and greal reform.h

For 50 years, Japan has not experienced a real change of government. Now the people are seriously thinking about changing Japanese politics. We want to put an end to the LDPfs politics of corruption and vested interests that results from being in the seat of power for far too many years, take back the reins of power and put them squarely in the hands of the people. Prime Minister Koizumi did create temporary excitement when he proclaimed that he was going to gdestroy the LDP.h But the people have seen that real progress was not made in reform. They now feel very strongly that that reform cannot be achieved without a change of government.

Seventy percent of the DPJ members of the Diet won their seats for the first time after the formation of the DPJ. In other words, ours is a political party made up primarily of young politicians who were first elected to the Diet during the past six years. They come from highly diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some came to politics from the business world, while others were bureaucrats, lawyers and aid workers. What they all have in common is a burning desire to revitalize Japan, and this is what has drawn them into politics. Standing free of all the bonds and fetters of the past, these people can truly engage in reforming Japan. The mission of the Democratic Party of Japan is to take full control of the reins of government in the general election that will be held at some time within the next three years, and to thereby transform Japan. Time is running out for Japan. I have committed myself to bringing about a change of government and to reforming our country.

I really appreciate having the opportunity to speak with you today on my vision for the reform of Japan and the DPJfs foreign policy goals.

2. My Philosophy of Reform

The greatest problem facing Japanese politics, particularly domestic politics, is that it has failed to respond to the dramatic changes in the environment surrounding Japan. During the period of accelerated economic growth, what was at that time an excellent and optimally efficient system was created. But this system has now come to haunt us as the greatest obstacle to progress. Japan must implement fundamental reforms if it is to successfully respond to the new age of low economic growth, and the rapid movement toward an aging society with declining birth rates.

What are the reforms that we are advocating? First of all, we are saying that Japan must make the transition from a centralized society to a fully decentralized one. It is vital that the administrative powers and financial resources that are now monopolized by the central government be completely transferred to local governments. The DJP advocates the abolition of 18 trillion yen in central government-tied subsidies and the transfer of these funds to local governments for use as discretionary spending. Tied subsidies always involve vested interests. This is unavoidable. Thus, in a sense, we are proposing to fight an all out war against vested interests. This is something that can never be done by the LDP because it is a party founded on vested interests. The position of the various reformist prefectural governors that have taken office over the past decade is very close to the position advocated by our party.

The second reform calls for non-intervention of the government in the market. Japan has numerous corporations with outstanding international competitiveness. As for the domestic markets that are effectively cut off from international competition, it is here that the government intervenes and implements protectionist policies. It is my firm conviction that free market competition breeds economic vitality. Hence, it is absolutely necessary to promote fair and free competition through an audacious program of deregulation and the strengthening of the Antimonopoly Act.

Thirdly, politics must play its proper role in areas where the market is unable to generate solutions. I am committed to the realization of a gfree and fair society.h I envision a society endowed with an extensive middle class, a society in which mutual respect is paid to diverse lifestyles, a society in which freedom of choice is guaranteed impartially, a society that carries out its responsibilities to future generations, a society in which people who work faithfully are rewarded, a society in which people who fail are given plenty of chances to try again, and a society that extends a helping hand to people who have not succeeded in gaining a reward for their efforts. The long-term debt of the national and local governments currently stands at 143.6 percent of GDP and severe fiscal restrictions have been created, but we must boldly accept the challenge of realizing these goals.

Specific policies based on this philosophy of reform were spelled out in the DPJ Manifesto that was released at the recent Upper House election. We shall continue to examine our positions and to speedily create a reform vision that enables the Japanese people, and in particular the younger generation, to have hope in the future. Following a change of government, we will revitalize Japan within four years.

3. The Development of a New Foreign Policy

Today, the United States stands as a superpower of a scale unprecedented in world history. It stands far ahead of others in economic, political and military power. It is extremely important for Japan to maintain the Japan-U.S. alliance and to support its continued development. A Japan-U.S. alliance based on a deep sense of trust is an absolutely essential requirement for stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region, which has emerged as the growth center for the global economy. This is my fundamental position. Now, I would like to comment candidly on several key issues.

First of all, as the unchallenged superpower, we wish to see the United States place more emphasis on international cooperation. The world is very concerned with U.S. unilateralism and the doctrine of pre-emptive attack. It is true that world peace cannot be maintained without U.S. military power. I am also fully aware that the United Nations is inefficient and needs reform. However, the pursuit of unilateralism by the U.S. can only lead to greater confusion and tumult in the world. No single country can cope effectively with the threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, no democracy is completely free of the risk of erring in the exercise of its power. I wish to see greater humility and tolerance on the part of the United States, as the worldfs leader. The war in Iraq provides much food for thought and reflection. Japan and the United States should lead the way in reforming the United Nations so that the UN can play a more important role for world peace. It is my belief that Japan should lead the efforts for UN reform and should assume a more important role in a reformed UN as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Secondly, I would like to comment on the future international contribution of Japan. Acting on the lessons learned from the war of 60 years ago, Japan has adopted an extremely cautious stance on the overseas use of military force. The revision of the Constitution of Japan is being now debated, but I believe this spirit of pacifism is important and must be maintained in the future. There are those in Japan who argue that the right of collective self-defense should be widely accepted and that the Self-Defense Forces should be able to join the U.S. military in the use of military force anywhere in the world. I am opposed to this position. However, neither am I in favor of the traditional arguments developed by the opposition parties for the preservation of the Constitution as it now stands. My position is the following. If the Constitution is revised and a clear UN Security Council resolution has been adopted on the matter, it should be possible for Japan to use force overseas, and to make an active contribution to the maintenance of world peace. These two approaches are frequently confused. But it is on the following point that they are absolutely distinct. That is, if the United States takes unilateral military action in the absence of a resolution of the UN Security Council, should Japan be permitted to join the United States in this exercise of force or not? My position is that Japan must not participate in any use of force overseas in the absence of a UN resolution.

Thirdly, in order to further develop and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance, it is essential to gain the understanding and support of the public. In accordance with the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Japan provides the U.S. with military bases that are of extreme importance from a global strategic perspective. It also accepts an annual financial burden of approximately 640 billion yen ($5.5 billion) in support of the U.S. military. Problems related to the military bases in Okinawa have come to the limits of tolerance. As part of the transformation of the U.S. military currently under study, Japan and the United States must consult regarding a revision of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa. We believe that discussions must be initiated, including the government of the Republic of Korea, to consider an overall vision for U.S. military bases in East Asia after the stabilization of the Korean Peninsula, and the way in which trilateral cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea can be used for the stabilization of the Asia-Pacific region.

Fourthly, I would like to comment briefly on the problem of Iraq. The Democratic Party of Japan opposed the war in Iraq. Nearly 60 percent of the people of Japan are opposed to sending Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. In light of the current situation there, we do acknowledge that it is necessary for the U.S. military to take action for the establishment of law and order in Iraq. However, fighting continues in many parts of the country. As such, we believe that the continued stationing of the Self-Defense Forces in Iraq is problematic from the perspective of the Constitution, which forbids the use of force overseas. The government of Japan decided on the participation of the Self-Defense Forces in the multinational force without clarifying some serious constitutional questions. This has generated very strong criticism from the public. Certainly I believe that Japan must play an active role in the reconstruction of Iraq. Japan has already committed itself to a maximum aid package of $5 billion and is now in the process of implementing this aid. Japan can also provide assistance in such areas as policing, medical care, and education. Once elections are held and the representatives of the Iraqi people duly take office, and once law and order and internal stability is achieved, we believe one of the options open to Japan would be to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to undertake a peace-keeping function, provided that the constitutional questions have been satisfactorily resolved. The important point is to create an environment in which the international community can be united in supporting and participating in the reconstruction of Iraq, and this is where diplomatic efforts must be made.

As a fifth point, I would like to touch on the North Korean problem. North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat to the security of Japan. For Japan, this issue must be resolved as soon as possible in tandem with the abduction issue, which has developed into a major public concern. For its survival, North Korea has no choice but to undertake the types of economic reforms that have been implemented in China. Japanese economic cooperation and financial assistance constitute essential requirements for the success of such an undertaking. We would like to see Japan play an active role in assistance, while strictly adhering to the fundamental principle that the normalization of diplomatic relations and the subsequent provision of economic assistance is impossible unless and until the problems of nuclear arms and abductions are resolved. Quite clearly, in addition to the direct impact of bringing stability to the Northeast Asia and making the North Korean Peninsula nuclear-free, success in the six-country talks can yield two invaluable results for the future stabilization of East Asia. First of all, it will promote the development of a strong three-country alliance in East Asia consisting of Japan, the United States and South Korea. Secondly, with the addition of China, Russia and North Korea, success in the talks will prove highly conducive to the development of a six-country framework that will form a basis for East Asian cooperation.

As my final point, I would like to touch on Japanese relations with China. Today, China stands together with the United States as Japanfs most important trading partner. Needless to say, Japan and China share very deep historical and cultural ties. While accepting the continuation of a strong Japan-U.S. alliance as a fundamental premise, the most important issue facing Japanese diplomatic and security policies is how to develop ties of mutual trust with China. In recent years, the United States and China have enjoyed good relations on an unprecedented level. For Japan, this is a welcome and highly desirable development. I am certain that the ties of economic interdependence among Japan, the United States and China will continue to be deepened in the years ahead. We must not allow ourselves to be hobbled by perceptions that may linger on from the Cold War. What is important is for the three countries of Japan, the United States and China to create constructive ties of cooperation for the achievement of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the past ten years, I have made it a personal commitment to visit China and South Korea every year as far as possible and to engage in various forms of exchange with the next generation of leaders of these two countries. As a result of the war of 60 years ago, Japan lost the trust of Asia and has yet to regain this trust. Japan must win the trust of Asia, not only in the field of business and economics but also in the areas of politics and security, and must arise to play a leadership role in the region. I am committed to continuing my efforts as a politician for the achievement of these goals. As for the Japan-U.S. alliance, the alliance must be strengthened by rooting it in a more widely based foundation of public support. For this purpose, I am determined to strive for the establishment of an alliance of equals founded on the keywords of independence and mutual trust of the two countries. Japan and United States are linked by a wide array of economic and cultural cooperative ties. It was the one year that I spent in the United States and the experiences that I gained in that period that prompted me to aim to become a politician.

The United States is a wonderful country. There is no doubt that the development of a sustainable and more deeply rooted Japan-U.S. relationship is conducive to the national interests of Japan. I believe the achievement of this goal to be one of the most important challenges that stand before me as a politician. I look forward to enjoying your continued advice in the future.

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