Letter From Tokyo: New Regime, New Relationship?

A New Era in U.S.-Japanese Relations

Courtesy Reuters

Yukio Hatoyama became prime minister of Japan on September 16, two weeks after a landslide election victory made his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) the first single opposition party to take over Japanese government since World War II. The DPJ now holds nearly two-thirds of the 480 seats in the Japanese Diet's powerful lower house, which approves budgets, initiates most legislation, and selects the prime minister. Given such dominance, the party, however fractious, will likely remain in power for at least the four years of its new parliamentary mandate -- influencing the country's political-economic landscape during a crucial period of transition in East Asian affairs, and potentially in U.S.-Japanese relations as well. Weighty issues affecting both Asian regionalism and the U.S. security role in East Asia loom over the next half decade.

In his campaign for office, Hatoyama stressed the need to deepen relations with Japan's Asian neighbors, particularly South Korea and China, and advocated expanded Asian monetary integration. He also champions the notion of yuai -- analogous to the French notion of fraternité, or brotherhood -- as a communalist alternative to the confrontational, unilateralist "market globalism" that he argues has pervaded international economic affairs in recent years. This rhetoric underlies his plans to reverse former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal reforms (which proposed to privatize Japan's massive postal savings and insurance programs) and may have broader implications for trade and economic regulation.

Some analysts suggest that Hatoyama will try to separate Japan from the United States, but this interpretation is simplistic. More likely, his international dealings will be informed by his cosmopolitan and intellectual streak; he holds a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University, the alma mater of the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos. In informal discussions with senior Japanese and foreign officials, Hatoyama has stressed the importance of maintaining Japan's diplomatic relationships -- its most important, of course, being with the United States. And he has shown clear regard, especially in the final

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