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Stand Up, Japan, and Adopt Coherent Policies

Author: Carolyn M. Leddy, International Affairs Fellow in Japan, Sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd. 2009-2010
April 20, 2010
The Daily Yomiuri

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Stand Up, Japan or Rise, Japan, is the literal English translation of the name of the new Japanese political party formed recently by defectors from the Liberal Democratic Party. The new party seeks to revitalize Japan and realign politics in the country. It also hopes to gain enough momentum to eventually overthrow the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

The task ahead for Tachiagare Nippon is challenging to say the least. Given that the average age of the founding members is nearly 70, many in the Japanese media and public are already questioning whether the party can attract younger followers. The founders include House of Representatives members Takeo Hiranuma, Kaoru Yosano, and Hiroyuki Sonoda; and House of Councillors members Takao Fujii and Yoshio Nakagawa; and Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. Consequently, the jury remains out on whether the new party can garner sufficient public support to win seats in the upper house election in July.

But even if the public doesn't cast their ballots for Tachiagare Nippon, they should adopt the party's motto. Because the principal message of the party is exactly correct: It is time for Japan to Stand Up!

In the nearly seven months that I have been living in Japan, I have been astonished by the absence of a coherent Japanese foreign and national security policy. This lack of vision is personified by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's bungling of the U.S.-Japan alliance over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station. Hatoyama continues to assert that the U.S.-Japan alliance is essential to Japan's security as well as stability in East Asia. But Hatoyama's rhetoric just isn't credible given his deficit of leadership in international diplomacy and his continued dithering on Futenma.

And his dearth of leadership is dragging down the Japanese public, too.

Regrettably, the public seems resigned and indifferent to the declining international role and capabilities of Japan. And such complacency will only grow as Japanese leadership continues to falter.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The LDP did the bare minimum for national security and presided over several years of declining defense budgets. And the United States has been reluctant to press Japan too hard to do more over the past several decades.

Shouldering the burden of the alliance has always been a relatively small price for the United States to pay for maintaining stability in East Asia--a critical U.S. national security interest. But the alliance is in Japan's national security interests, too. And the time is long overdue for Japan to start acting like it understands the essential role for Tokyo in maintaining peace and stability in East Asia and throughout the world.

The reports this past week of Chinese naval vessels off the coast of southern Japan should underscore the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance for the Japanese government and public. Several Chinese warships and two submarines were spotted in international waters between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima island. The demonstration of Chinese naval capabilities in the region is part of a deliberate power projection strategy in East Asia by China. And this power projection is directed primarily toward Taiwan.

But such Chinese military exercises also are a genuine concern for Japan given long-standing maritime territory and resource disputes between the two nations. The most recent Chinese maneuvers follow an incident in which a Chinese helicopter involved in training exercises came within 90 meters of the Japanese MSDF destroyer Suzunami in the East China Sea. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has pledged a government review of the recent maneuvers. And the Japanese government requested an official explanation from the Chinese government.

There is certainly no cause for the Japanese government to overreact to Chinese naval exercises in international waters. But this incident should serve as a wake-up call to the DPJ-led government and the Japanese public of the necessity of a coherent foreign and national security policy.

Moreover, adequate investment in defense and security capabilities is essential for maintaining peace and security in the region. Taiwan may be China's primary preoccupation in East Asia. But Beijing is acutely aware of strains in the U.S.-Japan alliance and Japan's increasing retreat from the international stage.

The pursuit of "yuai"[fraternity, a Hatoyoma buzzword] just isn't going to cut it any longer. Japan needs a sound foreign and national security policy. Moreover, it needs the leadership and vision to execute such a strategy. And senior defense and foreign policy officials, including some in the bureaucracy, must stop downplaying China's military capabilities and start talking openly to the Japanese public about the strategic environment.

Tachiagare Nippon may not be the answer. But the challenge for Japan is clear: Put down your keitai and Stand Up!

Leddy is a 2009-10 Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi Ltd. International Affairs Fellow in Japan, where she is a visiting fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo. From 2003-07, she served as director for counterproliferation strategy at the National Security Council under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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