The past year was one of political disappointment in Japan as the government failed to make breakthroughs in resolving crucial economic and diplomatic problems. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan should reflect on what went wrong, set clear goals that will capture the minds of people and mobilize every possible resource to realize them.
The nation’s economic difficulties, the rapidly graying population, severe competition from emerging economies, the economic and military rise of China, and the deteriorating security environment could make 2011 a watershed year for Japan. The DPJ government must strive to improve the economy and social welfare so people can have more stable lives, and make Japan resilient to whatever economic and diplomatic disturbances assail the country from outside.
When former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made his policy speech before the Diet in late January 2010, it seemed that Japan saw a ray of hope as he set out such ideas as an “economy for human beings,” a “Japan sustained by a New Public Commons,” in which people support and help one another, and reform of the “system of government through political leadership.” His call for moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside Okinawa Prefecture reflected his idealism; failure to achieve this objective led to his government’s demise.
Mr. Hatoyama’s tenure was not without achievements. His administration implemented the idea of making direct payments to people, such as the child allowance and free high school tuition, instead of allowing a taxable-income deduction that mostly benefits those with higher incomes. The Hatoyama administration also introduced income compensation for individual farmers, started a system to openly scrutinize government spending, and crafted relief measures to cover a large number of Minamata disease victims.
Almost unnoticed, Mr. Hatoyama took the initiative in having a bill passed to pay up to 1.5 million yen to former Japanese World War II prisoners of war who had been interned in Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia ― a measure the Liberal Democratic Party had refused to adopt. His handling of the Futenma issue was disastrous, but at least he helped people realize the excessive burden that U.S. bases impose on Okinawans. Mr. Hatoyama apparently was under the illusion that once the DPJ took power from the LDP, he could do as he liked. He failed to comprehend the reality of the dynamics governing Japan’s bureaucracy and Japan-U.S. relations. This failure and his lack of prudence, perseverance and preparedness torpedoed his administration.
In contrast to Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Kan is overly pragmatic, giving short shrift to ideals or principles, as symbolized by his decision to drop what was viewed as a key party slogan ― “From concrete to humans” ― from the DPJ’s manifesto for the July Upper House election. Apparently he did so thinking that public works projects were necessary to buoy the economy. This demonstrates that he lacked both the ability to understand the ideal behind the slogan and the will to follow through on it.
His preference for pragmatism is visible in a variety of issues. He is sticking to the Japan-U.S. accord in May to move the Futenma functions to Henoko ― a less populated area in the northern part of Okinawa Island ― despite strong Okinawan opposition to the plan. In an effort to smooth business in the Diet, whose Upper House is controlled by the opposition, he approached two opposition parties ― first the Social Democratic Party, which upholds the war-renouncing Constitution, and then Tachiagare Nippon, which calls for revising the Constitution and whose express raison d’etre is “bringing down the DPJ.” Both rejected his pitch. Mr. Kan should realize that his overly pragmatic approach will obliterate differences between DPJ and LDP politics.
The DPJ’s manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, which helped the party to gain the overwhelming support of voters, is not perfect. Mr. Kan should prioritize election promises and, if necessary, break some of them while seriously considering what policies are necessary to realize such ideals as an “economy for human beings,” a “New Public Commons” and “reforming the system of government through political leadership.” People want to see such ideals become a reality. With available funds limited, Mr. Kan must strictly prioritize policy measures in an effort to meet their expectations.
The Senkaku incident and North Korea’s artillery attacks on a South Korean island underscored the importance of close cooperation between Japan and the United States. Mr. Kan should work intelligently with the U.S. to develop ways to improve defense preparedness and to reduce tension and friction in the region. He also must quickly develop strategies to deal with China and Russia, and realize mutually beneficial relations.
(The Japan Times, Jan. 1)