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How will parties deepen Japan-US alliance?

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun:

In the campaign for Sunday's House of Councilors election, the two major parties - the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party - have called for a deeper Japan-U.S. alliance and easing the burden placed on Okinawa Prefecture as a host of U.S. military bases.

However, both parties' arguments are short on specifics and are somewhat lacking. Only two days remain in the campaign period, but we want the parties to explain in detail how they would achieve these goals.

In its manifesto for last year's House of Representatives election, the DPJ pledged it would "move in the direction of re-examining the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan." However, the DPJ has dropped this policy from its campaign pledges for the upcoming election.

Instead, the ruling party promises to "make all possible efforts to reduce the burden on Okinawa (Prefecture) in line with the Japan-U.S. agreement" reached in May. The agreement stipulates the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station will be relocated to the Henoko district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan repeatedly and explicitly stated his party would respect the Japan-U.S. agreement. This is to be expected. However, how can Kan make progress on this issue when the Okinawa prefectural and Nago municipal governments oppose the Henoko relocation plan? We cannot see how any headway can be made on this matter.

The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly is expected to unanimously pass a resolution Friday asking the government to review the Japan-U.S. agreement.

This situation has arisen mainly because of the policy missteps of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. But since it was a DPJ-led administration that betrayed the trust of the localities, the Kan administration has a responsibility to repair the damage by rebuilding its relationship with the local governments and resolving the base relocation issue.

The DPJ's manifesto this year also stipulates the party will "deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance by strengthening bilateral ties in the areas of comprehensive national security, economics and culture and the like."

We do not deny the importance of Japan-U.S. cooperation in a wide range of fields. However, the manifesto lacks balance as it does not touch on defense cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military - two core elements of the alliance.

The LDP campaign pledges include "rebuilding a stalwart Japan-U.S. alliance" and a "reduction of the burdens of residents around U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture and other areas." New Komeito also favors deepening and developing Japan-U.S. relations and reducing the burden borne by localities and residents.

Under Kan's leadership, the DPJ-led government has taken a more realistic approach that properly values the Japan-U.S. alliance. All the main political parties - except the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party - now want the bilateral alliance to be maintained or solidified. The JCP calls for the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty to be abandoned, and the SDP wants it to be revised.

Differences in the diplomatic and security policies of the two major parties have narrowed. Even if there is a change of government, the nation's basic policies will continue seamlessly. This is a desirable situation.

Unfortunately, each party's arguments are far too general. Voters need to hear more details and specifics.

To deepen the alliance, Japan must be prepared to roll up its sleeves and take on a much larger international role.

Japan could resume the refueling operations conducted by the Maritime Self-Defense Force in the Indian Ocean. It could contribute more to U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sudan and other places. Additionally, it would be worthwhile to expand Japan-U.S. cooperation, including on missile defense, and ramp up strategic dialogues on the environment and arms reduction.

Each party has its own election tactics. But above all else, the parties need to clearly show voters what concrete measures they will take to reinforce the alliance with the United States.



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