Japanese Voters Oust Conservative Party, PM-Elect Hatoyama Critical of US 'Market Fundamentalism'

By Democracy Now · 3 Sep 2009

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Picture: Nofrills
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Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Sharif Abdel Kouddous talk to Steven Clemons about the recent elections in Japan where voters have ousted the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, after fifty-five years of nearly uninterrupted governance. In elections on Sunday, the populist Democratic Party of Japan captured a record 308 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, who is expected to become Japan’s new prime minister, has questioned the role of the 50,000 American troops deployed throughout Japan and, in a recent New York Times op-ed, blamed the global financial meltdown in part on what he called US "market fundamentalism."

Steven Clemons is publisher of the popular political blog, TheWashingtonNote.com. He serves as executive vice president of the New America Foundation, as well as director of the Japan Policy Research Institute, which he co-founded with Chalmers Johnson.


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. Well, in Japan, voters have ousted the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, after fifty-five years of nearly uninterrupted governance. The elections on Sunday—in elections on Sunday, the populist Democratic Party of Japan captured a record 308 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. It was the LDP’s worst election performance since its founding in 1955. 

Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama is expected to become Japan’s new prime minister. Calling his victory a, quote, “revolution,” Hatoyama addressed supporters in Tokyo just after midnight on Monday.

YUKIO HATOYAMA: [translated] I would like to thank the people of Japan today for their brave decision in demanding a regime change, the first-ever proper change in government in the history of our constitutional politics.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: During the campaign, Hatoyama questioned the role of the 50,000 American troops deployed throughout Japan. He also vowed to reject a new mandate for Japanese ships on an Indian Ocean refueling mission in support of US-led military action in Afghanistan. Hatoyama has also said Japan will stay nuclear-free and that he will seek a US pledge not to bring nuclear-armed vessels into Japanese ports. 

AMY GOODMAN: But Hatoyama’s party was mainly elected on a platform of expanding the Japanese welfare state, addressing corruption, and undoing the neoliberal policies of the successive LDP governments. 

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Hatoyama blamed the global financial meltdown in part on what he called US "market fundamentalism." He wrote, quote, "In the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism people are treated not as an end but as a means… Unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism… are void of morals or moderation," the incoming prime minister of Japan wrote. 

Well, for analysis on the Japanese elections, we're joined now by Steve Clemons, publisher of the popular political blog TheWashingtonNote.com. He serves as executive vice president of the New America Foundation, as well as director of the Japan Policy Research Institute, which he co-founded with Chalmers Johnson.

Steve Clemons, quite remarkable for a world leader to have made a statement like this. Talk about who Hatoyama is. 

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, Yukio Hatoyama is an heir to the Bridgestone fortune in Japan. He's one of the most blue blood of Japanese blue bloods. But his family has been one of the most vital in Japanese history, all the way back into the Taisho era in the early twentieth century, of creating democratic institutions that challenge the sort of existing order. 

His grandfather was essentially the founder of the Liberal Democratic Party, which Yukio Hatoyama just beat. But it’s important to look back to his grandfather not just as the founder of that party, but he founded the party to knock back the power, essentially, of Taro Aso, the incumbent’s grandfather, who had been handpicked by the US government to run Japan as prime minister during the occupation period. So this is a family rich in building institutions in an environment politically that has been dominated by essentially a monopoly of power. 

So, Hatoyama is very, very interesting, iconoclastic. And I think that this enormous election windfall for the Democratic Party is really what I’m calling "Democracy 2.0" in Japan. It’s the first time that I’ve remembered in decades where I feel that the Japanese public is going to see dramatic change in the way Japan positions itself both at home and abroad. So, Hatoyama is a guy that has shaken things up, and his allies in the party. And the LDP, which has been essentially our ally, the United States’ ally, in preserving a structured relationship that I feel has needed a change, Hatoyama is going to slowly and incrementally dismantle that. 

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And do you think that he'll stick to this pledge? I mean, we just heard that quote from his New York Times op-ed, where he's very critical of neoliberalism, but the New York Times reports today Hatoyama seemed to back away from his tough language a day after his victory at the polls. The op-ed article, quote, "did not present an anti-American way of thinking over all." This is what he told the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily newspaper. Do you think he’ll stay with that stance that he spoke about before? 

STEVEN CLEMONS: This may be unkind of me to say: I think Yukio Hatoyama is going to have essentially the same problem that Barack Obama has had. He said certain things during the campaign that seemed strident and defining an important contrast with the governing party, and then when he’s come into office, he can say, behind the prime minister’s desk, you've got to weigh a lot of different concerns and maybe hedge your bets a little bit, a lot like Barack Obama has, in my view. 

But I think that what Hatoyama is going to do, because it's not just Yukio Hatoyama, it’s another—other people around him in the Democratic Party, perhaps most importantly Ichiro Ozawa. Ozawa is not well known to many Americans, but he was the one in 1993 who broke away from the Liberal Democratic Party, fractured that party, brought a number of these people apart, wrote a book called A Normal Nation, essentially Futsu no Kuni, to argue that Japan needed to move towards a viable, real, two-party system. And Ozawa, who is a—you know, not the cleanest guy in Japanese politics and part of that old, I would even say corrupt, power politics of backroom deal making in Japan, is one of the power bases of the Hatoyama government. And it has been Ozawa who’s been committed to sort of regaining Japanese sovereignty over its own interests and its own issues and has been not trying to say the US relationship is not important or that Japan shouldn’t be allied with the United States, but the notion that Japan would just do what United States wanted and be a puppet of American interest in all places, Ozawa has been rejecting for a long time. 

So I suspect that what Hatoyama is going to do is incrementally move Japan away from the kind of manic neoliberalism that he’s talked about, but honestly, that's more traditional for Japan anyway. Japan is a champion of essentially managed trade, egalitarian distribution. It’s going back to its roots, if anything, for the last several decades. So that’s not a big issue. What I do think are the big issues are the foreign policy and national security issues, where I think there’s going to be greater distance with the United States. 

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that. Very significant today, from Afghanistan to—I don't know if people understand the Japanese Constitution, that the US wrote, of Japan not having a military, going back to World War II. 

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, this may sound a bit crude, but it gives a quick image. To some degree, after the American occupation and during the American occupation and the many decades that followed, Japan was sort of existing, you know, in a lobotomized sense, that it didn’t have the normal wherewithal, the thinking about deploying forces and military capability in ways that would normally be ascribed to a nation pursuing its interests. 

It adopted a self-defense doctrine, built a very large military, combined with the US, around self-defense, and essentially, as a result of Article 9 of its Constitution, at least intellectually and spiritually pledged not to deploy force in any affairs in the world again. This somewhat changed, has been incrementally changing for a long time, when Koizumi, a former Japanese prime minister, essentially pledged oil refueling, which was just mentioned on your show, and other forces, self-defense forces, in Iraq, in a way that was not consistent with Japan’s previous negation of those kind of activities. 

AMY GOODMAN: Isn't it the US that has been pushing to change— 

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, yeah. 

AMY GOODMAN: —the article that the US wrote? 

STEVEN CLEMONS: Well, I'll never—yeah. 

AMY GOODMAN: Especially to get them involved with Iraq and Afghanistan. 

STEVEN CLEMONS: We've been pushing Japan since the beginnings of the Cold War, when John Foster Dulles wanted Japan to rearm completely and become a strong, solid ally. And Japan, while it has been building up, has never really done as much as we would have liked. 

And I remember during the Gulf War—or not during the Gulf War, during the Iraq invasion, Richard Armitage, after 9/11, essentially told the Japanese leadership at that time, "Show the flag," and this was very, very controversial in Japanese politics. And it was Koizumi who essentially translated that into creating an expanded anti-terror law that was deployed externally so that it could rationalize and legalize Japan’s military support of US forces abroad. And that has been very, very controversial. The Democratic Party of Japan, under Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, Ichiro Ozawa, had been steadfast against that kind of automatic collaboration that they feel runs against Japanese interest. So, to some degree, what we’re seeing in this DPJ victory is Japan moving beyond this lobotomized state. 

And I think that Hatoyama will keep the US relationship as its key relationship. But, you know, Japan is going to be with us on some occasions and against us on some occasions. They're going through, in, I think, a less dramatic way, to some degree, what Germany did under Gerhard Schroeder. It was very controversial when Schroeder apparently unleashed the political gains of a growing anti-Americanism in Germany. But to some degree, that was very important, because, in a way, Germany was a lot like Japan for us. They were satellites of American interest in their respective regions. And to some degree, under Gerhard Schroeder, Germany, in my view, reclaimed control of itself and sovereignty of itself, said, "We can support you on some occasion, oppose you on others." And I think that's exactly where Hatoyama and Ozawa are going to take the Democratic Party of Japan. 

And people like me think that's very, very healthy; that a notion that you can have Japan essentially subordinate, a puppet of American interest, controlled by us on all fronts, I think, is a recipe for disaster down the road. And we’ve been seeing, until this election, a kind of nasty, right-wing, history-denying conservatism and sort of nationalism in Japan that I felt was sort of a reaction to this control. So this vote is about the healthiest thing that one could hope for, if you were hoping for sort of a healthy balanced nationalism and a more constructive and healthy US-Japan relationship. 

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Clemons, we want to thank you very much for being with us, publisher of the political blog TheWashingtonNote.com. We will link to it at democracynow.org. He is the director of the Japan Policy Research Institute and also executive vice president of the New America Foundation.

This interview was originally published by Democracy Now. To listen to or watch the interview, please click here.

This transcript is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

You can find this page online at http://sacsis.org.za/site/article/347.1.

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