Sea Change in Japan? Western Market Fundamentalism Denouncing Opposition PM Candidate Leads Polls

Japan may be on the verge of some major shifts, The fact that what amounts to one-party rule in Japan appears at an end ought to be significant, but the proof will be in the pudding. The island nation has been ruled by the Liberal Democratic Party for virtually the entire postwar period, with politics consisting of fights among various party factions.

But Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, appears slated to become Prime Minister next month. And, at least on paper, he is firmly renouncing “market fundamentalism” and placing higher priority on social values.

Even more so than in English, it is possible to give speeches in Japanese that sound great but are devoid of content, so the lack of clarity on policies is not surprising. But one has to wonder if this might mean less willingness to accede to US demands. For instance, Japan has quietly playing both sided of the street, aligning with American or China on various issues while taking care not to alienate either party. But US influence is waning. Japan wanted to sponsor Asian-led rescued during the 1997 Asian crisis, but the IMF and US Treasury aggressively beat back the measures. Some of the economies, South Korea in particular, were forced to remake themselves on Western lines. Plans are now moving forward to develop a fund to facilitate salvage operations in the region, If nothing else, if Hatoyama wins and can implement its vision, Japan may become more willing to distance itself from US initiatives and stand with its region.

But many Americans are not willing to see the US as a fading power.

From the Financial Times:

Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of Japan’s opposition Democratic party who is strongly placed to become prime minister after elections this month, has condemned “US-led market fundamentalism” and vowed to shield his nation from the effects of untrammelled globalisation.

With the era of US unilateralism ending and worries about the dollar’s future role growing, Japan should also work towards regional currency union and political integration in an “East Asian Community”, …

Mr Hatoyama offered a robust defence of his political philosophy of yuai – fraternity – which critics have derided as wishy-washy wishful thinking, but which he declared a “strong, combative concept” and “banner of revolution”….

A poll released by the Kyodo news agency on Monday found nearly half the respondents thought Mr Hatoyama most suited to be prime minister, compared with 20 per cent for Taro Aso, the LDP incumbent.

In his essay, Mr Hatoyama said the global economy had “damaged traditional economic activities” while market fundamentalism had destroyed “local communities”…

“Under the principle of fraternity, we will not implement policies that leave economic activities in areas relating to human lives and safety, such as agriculture, the environment and medicine, at the mercy of the tides of globalism,” Mr Hatoyama wrote.

Analysts say that wide policy differences within the often fractious DPJ make it difficult to predict how such statements of principle might be put into practice. Mr Hatoyama highlighted the need for better welfare, more child support and wealth redistribution.

He made clear that while security ties with the US would remain a “diplomatic cornerstone”, Japan must do much more to tighten links with Asian neighbours such as China and South Korea.

“As a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis, the era of the US-led globalism is coming to an end and …we are moving away from a unipolar world led by the US towards an era of multipolarity,” the DPJ leader said, adding that fears about China’s military rise were a big factor in “accelerating regional integration”.

Japan should “aspire to the move towards regional currency integration” and “spare no effort” in building the security frameworks needed to make union possible, he wrote, adding that the example of European Union showed that integration itself could be the best way of defusing territorial disputes often seen as an impediment to closer ties.

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  1. Purple

    So who will be the dominant power in the Asian EU – Japan or China ? There isn't room for both.

    Many elements in the Japanese elite would love to see China weakened, so they could re establish the type of imperial blocs that existed in the early 20th century.

  2. Anonymous

    That's fine with me. The US can pull troops out of KR and JP, withdraw the nuclear umbrella, and let everybody there face down CN on their own.

    We can't afford our global empire-in-all-but-name anyway.

  3. ndk

    "Time to let Japan be Japan"

    It's a little funny to hear you say this.

    I was chatting with one of my Japanese colleagues, and she opined that she thought Koizumi had actually laid a lot of the groundwork for Japan's recent problems. He apparently really tested a lot of social contracts in the name of systemic reform to build a more westernized system.

    But she complained that Japan is not the UK or the US, and workplace or economic policies appropriate for the UK and US can't be blindly applied to Japan. It was time to, indeed, let Japan be Japan.

    If your sentiments are anywhere near commonly shared, this transition shouldn't come as a surprise.

  4. ComparedToWhat?

    I haven't seen much reason to believe that the Ozawa faction (aka DPJ) will be any different than pre- or post-Koizumi incompetents, regardless of campaign rhetoric.

    The only thing that really matters for Japan is whether the gamble on humanoid robots pays off and soon enough.

  5. Anonymous

    George Friedman of "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century" envisions a re-emerging militaristic Japan. Now that would make for an interesting 21st century.

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