The Associated Press
Friday, August 3, 2007
TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shattering electoral defeat may threaten Japan’s support of U.S.-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as an energized opposition seeks to redefine a key pillar of the country’s foreign policy — its relationship with Washington.
As the United States’ top ally in East Asia, Japan was a staunch supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, dispatching troops there in 2004-2006. Ground troops no longer remain, but Japan’s air force continues to transport coalition personnel and supplies from Kuwait to Iraq, while Japanese ships in the Indian Ocean provide logistical support for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.
While those missions have been unpopular with the Japanese public, many of whom say they violate the nation’s pacifist constitution, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has always had enough political clout to keep up its support.
That is quickly changing.
Fresh off its victory at the July 29 elections for parliament’s upper house, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has declared it will oppose extending the military’s operation supporting coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The mission, which Japan’s parliament approved under a special law, expires in November. The LDP wants parliament to extend that law, perhaps for another year; the DPJ is making that difficult.
The Democrats have also said they want to end Tokyo’s Kuwait-based air operations, saying Japan’s international efforts should be channeled through the United Nations, not the United States.
“Our diplomacy should not be subservient to the U.S. ,” party Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama said Friday. “We should express Japan’s position more assertively through our diplomatic and defense policies.”
The looming standoff over Japan’s foreign policy highlights Abe’s stumbling fortunes and a dramatic reversal of the stellar support he enjoyed when he took over from his popular predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, less than a year ago.
Promising to build a “beautiful Japan,” Abe won points for mending strained diplomatic ties with South Korea and China, and has boldly pushed to revise the constitution to allow Japan’s military to take a more active role in global security. Abe argued that Japan needs to ease its restrictions on the military to better enable its troops to help allies in times of crisis.
But a series of gaffes and scandals involving key ministers, as well as a huge pensions debacle, has greatly eroded Abe’s political capital, culminating in Sunday’s spectacular defeat — and forcing the embattled prime minister to turn inward, focus on rebuilding his Cabinet and clean up the pensions system.
But the Democrats will still struggle to force major change.
Although the opposition outnumbers the LDP in the upper house, the ruling coalition still controls the more powerful lower house of parliament and can shoot down most of the other chamber’s votes or motions.
Moreover, few expect the Democrats to suggest that Japan completely part ways with the United States. Japan remains heavily dependent on the U.S. for security, with some 50,000 U.S. troops deployed across Japan under a mutual security pact. Tokyo’s own Self-Defense Forces are strictly limited by the constitution.
“The parties will realize the need for some sort of compromise over Afghanistan,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University in Tokyo. “Both sides know the U.S.-Japan relationship is just too important for Japan.”
Still, Abe will likely be forced to make concessions to the DPJ, analysts say. Abe could agree to a much shorter extension of the Afghanistan mission, for example, or to strengthening parliamentary control — a measure that would make it easier for Tokyo to pull its troops out at short notice.
This possibility has U.S. officials worried.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, making a Tokyo stopover after attending Asia’s largest security conference in the Philippine capital of Manila, said Friday “it would be harmful to international interest as a whole” if Japan’s refueling support for U.S.-led anti-terror operations in Afghanistan were to be interrupted.
Members of Abe’s Cabinet have also heavily criticized the Democrats, with Defense Minister Yuriko Koike saying earlier this week that slighting the U.S. would be detrimental to Japan’s national interest.
Abe appealed to the Democrats for a compromise.
“The activities of the Self-Defense Forces are highly appreciated by the international society,” Abe told reporters Wednesday. “From that standpoint, I would urge the DPJ to cooperate.”
Associated Press writer Kozo Mizoguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
It’s about time the newly-strengthened Opposition asserts its independence in national security instead of doing their American overlords’ bidding in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they are to continue their mandate in Afghanistan they should do it within the UN framework, which should not be a problem seeing that the JSDF has had much experience operating as UN peacekeepers in the 90s.
Their continued support for the United States has nearly got their journalists killed in Iraq. Their support would further provoke attacks against Japanese nationals and business based overseas if they knew Japan was providing free fuel to US fighter jets, intelligence work off the the Indian Ocean, and transporting US ground troops into Iraq. Fortunately, their journalists were captured and later released without harm unlike those poor Korean souls in Afghanistan.
The Taleban would be referred to in the past tense if the Americans actually did their job and annihilated them and Al-Qaeda when they had the chance. Instead they decide to destabilise Iraq and outsource the Afghanistan mess to the Canadians and Europeans. If the Bush Administration or any sane American knows history, they would know that the Canadians and the Europeans are incompetent in nation-building, counterterrorism and peace enforcement judging their records in World War II, their failure in stopping genocide in Rwanda and their inability to stop the conflict in Bosnia.
Only a retard like Bush would outsource crucial nation-building and counterterrorism work to the Europeans and Canadians without realising their inherent inability to perform such daunting tasks. In any event, I hope the DPJ succeeds in repositioning Japan’s role in the American War of Terror and restores the SDF’s role as UN peacekeepers and as a national defence-force instead of American tools.