Spotlight on Geopolitics

An Alien Goes to Washington

Although on paper Japan has been a democracy for over six decades, true political change in leadership has sidestepped it until this fall. On the 30th of August the LDP, Japan’s traditional ruling party – which in practice ruled the country as a one-party state – lost the parliamentary elections in favour of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Yukio Hatoyama.

The new prime minister is on record for saying that from now on, Japan should look more towards Asia than towards the United States. This could amount to a huge shift in Japanese foreign policy focus, one that is sure to please China as well as many South-East Asian political leaders. In an article written prior to the elections, Hatoyama claimed that US leadership in the globalisation process was jeopardized by the military failures in Irak and by the financial crisis.

Internally, Mr. Hatoyama has insisted that his Cabinet ministers are selected on the basis of their knowledge and competence or, as Noriko Hama calls it in Japan Times, their “suitability for office”. This is another departure from the LDP practice of appointing Cabinet ministers on the basis of their electoral contributions to LDP victories and their seniority within the party. The new ministers are required to express themselves in the media without the help of the usual briefings prepared for them by public servants.

His leadership style and views have immediately attracted premier Hatoyama the label of “the alien”, which is not in itself derogatory, on the contrary. Tomorrow, the alien is due to meet his counterparts in Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. One can only hope that the Western leaders gathered there are going to be more tolerant and supportive of the new Japanese leader than his local political crowd.

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