October 29, 2009: Professor Akihiro Iwashita and Professor Nobumasa Akiyama

(Click to Enlarge) From left to right: Professor Iwashita, Professor Akiyama, and Dr. Mark Borthwick discuss Japan's foreign policy.

Japan's Foreign Policy under the New Administration

(Washington D.C.) October 29–The new Japanese administration will stress U.S.-Japan Alliance management issues and regional cooperation in its foreign policy priorities. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar co-sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and Hokkaido University’s Global COE Program, Professor Akihiro Iwashita, director of the Slavic Research Center at Hokkaido University, and Professor Nobumasa Akiyama, associate professor at Hitotsubashi University and adjunct research fellow for the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), discussed the policies of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration and the changing regional environment that will shape Japan’s foreign policies.


Professor Akiyama explained that the new DPJ government’s foreign policy will be defined by four important characteristics. First, the new administration will want to be seen as different from the previous Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration, showing Japanese voters that there has been a true regime change in Japanese politics. The DPJ will focus on policy-led decision-making with an emphasis on “fraternity” in the region and the world. Finally, the DPJ will attempt to enact the ideas included in their campaign manifestos. Professor Akiyama noted, however, that the new government is not dominated solely by the DPJ, but by a coalition government including the DPJ and other parties, which means that any new policies by the DPJ will need to be approved by the coalition partners. He further explained that it may be difficult for the DPJ to implement some of the policies included in the pre-election manifestos as resources are limited due to the economic crisis.


At the top of the new DPJ government’s foreign policy priorities is management of the alliance with the United States. Prime Minister Hatoyama has stated a desire to alter Japan’s position in the relationship from “dependency” to “independent partnership.” The DPJ has also indicated that it would like to review plans by the previous administration and the United States to redeploy American bases in Okinawa Prefecture. Professor Akiyama explained that this review may pose a serious challenge to the alliance: constant debate or tension about the base issue will distract policymakers from more important issues and undermine the alliance’s ability to react to important problems such as nuclear proliferation and regional security.


These DPJ declarations concerning the alliance, Professor Iwashita explained, have led to concern among U.S. policymakers that Japan may seek to make fundamental changes to the current alliance structure. However, he noted that the U.S.-Japan Alliance has long been a keystone of stability not just in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in the world, and that both countries are deeply invested in it. The alliance, he argued, should be able to overcome its current problems and remain strong. He suggested that the alliance should, in the future, begin looking to form more concrete relationships with other regional powers such as China and Russia to enhance the reach of its policies and activities.


Other issues that the new Prime Minister has stressed include establishing deeper ties with Asian countries, pushing for disarmament and environmental protection, and increasing Japan’s participation in UN-led peacekeeping missions. However, Professor Akiyama stressed that the DPJ’s first policy priority will not be foreign policy, but the current economic situation in Japan and the region. Without a strong economic foundation, the new government will find it difficult to implement and fund any new foreign or domestic programs. Further, he noted that if the DPJ government wishes to survive the next election, it must demonstrate to the Japanese people that it can overcome the current economic crisis and provide for the everyday needs of the population.


Akihiro Iwashita is a professor and director of the Slavic Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan. Previously, he was a visiting fellow at the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at The Brookings Institution (2007-2008). He was awarded the 2007 JSPS Prize and the 2006 Osaragi Jiro Prize for Commentary. Professor Iwashita’s publications include Toward a New Dialogue on Eurasia: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Its Partners (Slavic Research Center, 2007); and Eager Eyes Fixed on Eurasia: Vol. 1 Russia and Its Neighbors in Crisis and Vol. 2 Russia and Its Eastern Edge (Slavic Eurasian Studies No. 16-1,2, Slavic Research Center, 2007).


Nobumasa Akiyama is an associate professor in the Graduate School of International Law at Hitotsubashi University and an adjunct research fellow for the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA). Previously he served as a senior research fellow at JIIA (2005-2007), and a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Law at Kyushu University (2005-2006). Professor Akiyama’s publications include “Fukuda Doctrine Revisited: Is There a Japanese Vision for Asian Regionalism?” in Aileen Baviera, ed, Regional Security in East Asia: Challenges to Cooperation and Confidence Building (The Asian Center Publication Office, University of the Philippines, 2008); and “Dynamics of Global-Regional Concerns on Proliferation: Who Should Be Responsible?” in N.S. Sisodia and A.K. Behuria, eds., West Asia in Turmoil: Implication for Global Security (New Delhi, Academic Foundation, 2007).