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Will Japan’s New Leader Maintain His Country’s Fealty to Washington?

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Posted on Sep 1, 2009
U.S. Navy / MC3 Joshua Cassatt

The USS George Washington pulls into its new operating base at Yokosuka, Japan. Tokyo picks up 40 percent of the costs of U.S. bases, which serve America’s imperial interests more than Japan’s defense.

By William Pfaff

The landslide election of Japan’s Democratic Party in last weekend’s parliamentary vote parallels the election of Barack Obama to the American presidency last November.

In both cases opposition parties long out of power (in the Japanese case, all but totally excluded from national power during the six decades of the postwar Japanese government’s existence) have been elected at a time of crisis to change the nation’s policy.

Such changes are easier to talk about than think about, or worse, actually to accomplish, as Barack Obama has already found out. In Japan’s case, the main problems are those of Japan’s economy, and of its political and security relationship to the United States: one of tactful fealty to Washington, unchanged since Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.

This relationship initially made sense, allowing Japan to become a great economic power in circumstances of security, despite the war in Korea, the tensions that followed, and subsequent political upheavals in China.

It must also eventually come to an end, and this could become a problem for the newly elected Democratic Party government in Tokyo.

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The negatives for Japan in this institutionalized subordination to the United States have become heavy to bear, not only politically but in certain ways psychologically, and even spiritually. Japan, after all, from its brilliant successes early in the Meiji era, in its 1904-1905 war with Russia, to its defeat by American nuclear bombs in 1945, was probably the most dynamic, ambitious and nationalistic country on Earth.

The leader of the victorious Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, has written about two aspects of the American relationship to Japan today. The first is economic. In an essay published prior to the election, first in Japan and then syndicated around the world, he criticized American-led “unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism,” in which “people are treated not as an end but as a means [and] human dignity is lost.”

He wrote of respect for the “local economic practices that have been fostered through our traditions.” This is a sympathetic position, but it is not clear what he means in practice, even though he suggests that America’s world economic domination is waning.

Japan’s economic success during the years of its greatest prosperity was based on innovative and stylish consumer products of very high technology, sold in the advanced global markets. In addition, its heavy industry was a world leader. Today its competition in consumer goods is great, mainly but not exclusively from other Asian countries, and in heavy industry the competition is from Germany, France and Italy. China, of course, is determined to become a world competitor in every sector.

China’s ambition is usually interpreted as first to replace Japan as Asia’s most important economy, which it may soon do in scale. But it is not likely to outstrip Japan in technological and industrial sophistication for a long time. In discussions of China, there is a persistent tendency toward overestimation, because of China’s size and population, but the productivity of the workforce, and the industrial value added, are the relevant measures.

The most important political question faced by a Japan led by the Democratic Party concerns the Japanese-American security relationship. Mr. Hatoyama is deliberately vague on the question, and a Democratic Party colleague says “it’s complete nonsense” to think that the election of the Democrats will hurt U.S.-Japan relations. But he then adds that “there are many things left unchanged from the last 50 years that need to be re-examined.”

Other Japanese observe that at a time when China is developing its military power and enlarging its global reliance on raw materials, the U.S. military presence in North Asia and the Japanese-American security alliance are sources of stability.

There are, however, two issues the Democrats must face. One is public opinion. The subordinate place Japan occupies in the relationship is humiliating: as an advanced base for American military operations in Asia that have nothing to do with Japan’s security, and on which Japan has no voice (the case during the Vietnam war decade, and now with the war in Afghanistan).

The physical burden of the bases, and the social consequences of having some 50,000 foreign troops in your country, occupying bases for which Japan pays 40 percent of the costs, plus 100 percent of associated labor costs, is both onerous and increasingly exploitative.

These troops were first stationed in Japan as a defeated and unarmed country; then as a base of operations in the Korean War; and subsequently as a base for American operations anywhere in the world. The original security treaty in 1951 stipulated that American troops would remain until Japan was able to undertake its own defense. It has been able to do so for many years. Japan’s present military forces number nearly a quarter-million men and women.

The second issue is who profits from the security relationship.

What does the United States really furnish to Japan’s defense?

Putting aside North Korea, which is unlikely to wish to invade Japan (or even to fire rockets at it to attract attention and concessions), the think-tank scenarios of potential war in the Far East relate to the rise of China, whose primary enemy would presumably be the United States—not Japan. It is not evident that being America’s principal ally and base in the region would then be to Japan’s advantage.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, September 6, 2009 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

We need to close all the bases in Japan and return home. 

Same with all the other U.S. bases on foreign soil around the world. 

If military bases are needed to keep local peace they should by U.N. bases and manned accordingly.

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By Jean Gerard, September 5, 2009 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kannamichi is probably right, with more recent experience in Japan than mine.  No doubt I am reacting with wishful thinking based on the few people with whom I am in contact there. Further, I was not talking about Japan “going it alone.” Rather, about levelling up the relationship and treating relations with Japan more fairly, not as if Japan is subservient,  which the word “fealty” implies, and which bases like Okinawa perpetuate.

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Kanamachi's avatar

By Kanamachi, September 5, 2009 at 12:29 am Link to this comment

I think that a not a few of the comments here are over the top or miss the
mark. Yes the US-Japan military relationship has been and is exploitive, but not
in its entirety. The Japanese get huge value out of the US being in Japan. The US
plays an important role in the defence of Japan and shares a tremendous
amount of intelligence with the so-called Japanese Self-Defence Forces, and
the Japanese are allowed to take the credit. There are too many US Forces in
Okinawa, and most Japanese agree with that even though the LDP allowed the
situation to happen in the first place by making Okinawa a dumping ground for
US Forces that were not wanted on Honshu. However, if Japan even wanted to
go it alone, they would find it tough going considering the mess their finances
are in, again thanks to the LDP. Most Japanese would be happy to have the
relationship continue if it were seen to be more equal and if the merits were
made more generally clear to them. The LDP leaders and the bureaucrats have
not allowed that to happen and I suspect that after the DSP get into office, their
view will change somewhat. They, hopefully, will make needed changes, but I
do not see them throwing the US out, it would be suicide for Japan to do so at
this time, one only needs to think China.

One person here made the comment that young people in Japan are more
worldly and open. I do not know what planet they read that on, but the
opposite is more true. Japanese youth, according to several recent surveys, are
more inward looking and less concerned or interested with anything non-
Japanese than the previous three or four generations have been. Living here for
the last 40 years, that has been my experience too. One thing that most
foreigners reporting on Japan do not grasp is that the politicians may come and
go, but the bureaucrats who run the county, and the education system, never
go away. If Hatoyama and the DSP can change Japan, more power to them, but
they must surely know that history is not on their side.

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By Jean Gerard, September 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

1.  “Fealty” is not a good word if you want to win friends and influence people.  2.  The old nationalism in Japan is fading with the death of old men. The modern generations are mostly world-minded.  3.  American military bases, especially Okinawa, are a pain in Japan’s side, unfair and unhealthy.  4.  Probably Japanese are more flexible than Americans, and any recalcitrance in being able to meet necessary changes and make adjustments in this relationship will probably come from the American side.

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By cltx09, September 2, 2009 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment

I just hope that Hatoyama sticks to his guns and doesn’t fizzle and betray his constituents like Obama has done. It’s so obvious that Obama is beholden to
corporate America and not to average Americans. For the most part, America is
an isolated insane asylum, which, to Americans seems normal, suffering from
illusions of self importance and national grandeur. What kind of a “civilized”
country viciously argues about health care for all of its citizens? Quite happily, I
flew out of the cuckoos nest years ago.

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By Carl, September 2, 2009 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Obama folks sound like Bushites when they immediately announce they will not renegotiate recent base agreements. Japan’s land belongs to Japan, and we must renegotiate whenever they want. They reluctantly agreed to pay several billion dollars to move 7000 U.S. Marines to Guam, but then American Generals killed the agreement by presenting an absurdly expensive price tag.

There is a recent article at G2mil.com “Outdated U.S. Military Bases in Japan” which explains how both nations would benefit by quickly shutting down a few military U.S. military installations. It details those bases too.

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By beenthere, September 2, 2009 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Most Japanese know that US-Japan security arrangement is both humiliating and exploitative. The resentment and anger have been accumulating for some time.  Hatoyama’s essay did not come out of vacuum. In Japan, there have been far reaching discussions about neo-liberal economy and Japans’ foreign policy directions for past 10 years or so.  Contrary to the Western main media’s reporting, majority of those who voted for DPL expect the party to carry out the promises as stated in the manifesto. I know this because I was there during the election campaign and have listened to many Japanese as well as read many articles about it. By listening to I do not mean an interview I just listened to their conversations in trains, bus stops, grocery stores, etc. (I am fluent in Japanese). They also know that things do not change overnight. They are aware that there is going to be a gerat deal of pressure from the West, US in particular, for Japan to behave as it has been. And they are right. http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-31-voa43.cfm  came put on 09/01.

More and more Japanese are convinced that US is there not for Japanese security but to use Japan as unsinkable aircraft carrier to serve its own interests.
They are concluding that Japanese security and prosperity are best served as a member of the Asian nations not as a client state of the US.

So it will not happen overnight, but it will happen.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, September 2, 2009 at 3:20 am Link to this comment

Yes, konnichiwabeaches, it’ll be a sad day when we leave Japan—for most Americans, who are so used to being “on top of the world”, it’ll be a sad day when the American Empire ends, all over. But the sooner we end it of our own volition (and not allow it to simply fall apart all around us, leaving us looking on stunned and stupidly asking, “What happened?!?), the better for all us—and the less sad that day will be.

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By konnichiwabeaches, September 1, 2009 at 9:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Although politically I disagree with exploiting Japan for a strategic advantage, I did live for 5 years and graduate high school from an army base near Tokyo and wouldnt trade that experience for the world so it will be a sad day for me when we leave…

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By cognitis1, September 1, 2009 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

Note only German-Americans such as Pfaff or Dower
(Dauer)to always describe Japan as “humiliated” or
“exploited”, since German Bauer still can’t
comprehend the effortless Japanese assumption of
financial primacy in 1988, which primacy Bauer have
always viciously desired but have and will never
attain. Japan’s technology—especially its arms
technology—both forced open America’s consumer
markets and also secured the yen as the de facto
world currency; this force Japan recently used to
destroy first US’ industrial base and then US’
banking system. Since 1988 Japan has used US as a
client state and maintained a classic imperial
relationship with US: Japan exports capital and high-
value-added technology to US, while it imports raw
materials; Japan has liberal and complete access to
all US consumer markets, while Japan restricts US
imports to Japan’s consumer markets—this last
ironically similar to the British Crown’s
relationship to the American colonies before the
Insurrection. Although Japan used Germany as an ally
for its own benefit in the Pacific War, no two
peoples could differ more: until 1945 Japan had not
only never been occupied, but it had never even lost
a war; the land today called Germany has been more
often and more brutally raped and pillaged more than
any other, and Germans have never won and always been
slaughtered, usually not even as combatants but as
collateral damage. As Nietzsche observed over 100
years ago, Japanese are a master race, while Germans
(Bauer) are slaves.

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By Folktruther, September 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment

The historical shift from an alliance with the US to an alliance with China is inevitable, as Pfaff well knows.  China is now its greatest trading partner, has ten times as many people, and is developing economically 5 times as fast.  Just as Britain is a realaitvely unimportant island off the American cooast, Japan will serve the same function for China.  Japanese industrialists are already in China, anticipating the change of direction.

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By Dwight VW, September 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm Link to this comment

Last year, the new ruling party opposed refueling operations in the Indian Ocean in support of the Afghanistan war, and questioned 9/11.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7803

The LDP used 24 Japanese nationals who died on 9/11 as a reason for the refueling operations.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/II12Dh01.html

And now:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0830/p06s01-woap.html

“In foreign policy, the conservative-minded Hatoyama is not expected to shift Japan away from its close alliance with the United States, though he has said Tokyo will next year stop deploying refueling ships in support of coalition action in Afghanistan.”

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