Interviewee: Sheila A. Smith
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria
September 17, 2009
On September 16, Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took office and some important cabinet postings were announced including Hirohisa Fujii as finance minister, Katsuya Okada as foreign minister, and Naoto Kan as the head of the new National Strategy Bureau. The new government was sworn in two weeks after the Democratic Party of Japan won national elections in a landslide, ending fifty years of almost uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. CFR's Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Sheila Smith says the cabinet lineup doesn't hold many surprises and "is really designed for a domestic policy agenda rather than a transformative foreign policy agenda."
Smith says Fujii will be a very reassuring presence on the cabinet. A veteran bureaucrat, he knows the finance ministry "inside and out" and comes at this post "with a certain amount of heft because he has served in two cabinets before," she says. It is the new National Strategy Bureau, Smith says, set up to oversee the national budget and the bureaucracy that "will have a significant impact on overall broad macro-policymaking in Japan." The agency is an effort by the DPJ to reduce bureaucratic control over policymaking.
On relations with the United States, Smith says "both governments are quite confident in the relationship overall that this is an important relationship for both countries." However, she says the issue of U.S. military forces in Japan will remain "the key challenge." The DPJ's election manifesto proposed the revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, a reexamination of the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan, and the role of U.S. military bases there.
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