While the initial Japanese reaction by some politicians and commentators seems to emphasize Hatoyama’s 無責任 musekinin (irresponsibility, lack of concern for responsibility) in resigning after only 8 months on the job, I believe that the domestic situation will not dramatically worsen because of it. In fact, if anything can be read into it, the Japanese sharemarket went up on news of Hatoyama and Ozawa’s resignation. Curious. This might have more possibly to do with Ozawa – it would take a minor miracle for Kamei Shizuka to get the much disliked postal reform bill before the Lower House given the opposition to it in the Diet, and the fact that an election for new representatives will take place on the fourth and an extension to the current parliamentary session will not be required.
Hatoyama is receiving some criticism in regards to Futenma still- one view seems to be that by walking away now he is somehow jeopardizing the Futenma relocation plan (and US-Japan relations). I doubt it. It would be difficult to actually implement the plan anyhow. It seems that there might also be something going on behind the scenes in terms of the US-Japan relationship- Jun Okumura posts an interesting comment here about the possibility of a Status of Armed Forces (SOFA) revision. On top of this we have an interesting article by new contributor at the Diplomat, Takahiro Katsumi*, on some curious developments. I found the link to the YouTube conversation with Shelia Smith on Japanese TV particularly interesting (who the program describes as the/a brain in the Obama administration – I have no way of refuting or endorsing this as I am not aware of Washington’s dynamics).
We also has some interesting conversation taking place in the (soon to be former) Cabinet in regards to East Asian integration. It seems (jp) there will be an effort to clarify the specific content of what is meant Japan intends to get out of an East Asian regional framework, recognising that up until now it has been nothing much more than slogans, a novelty and a “mish-mash” of ideas. At the same time, there seems to be an explicit desire to re-emphasize the importance of the US relationship and the importance of the US to Japan and the region given worries about Japan and US drifting apart. If any of this is meaningful, it might indicate that Washington is starting to understand the political dynamics (and the fact the DPJ will be in power for a few more years yet) in Japan and the need to work with, not against them. And Japan will likely reciprocate by giving some consideration to the US in the development of any future East Asian regional architecture (it is an idea that has come too soon – worth continuing to work on – but as the article suggests not to the detriment of making no progress in other areas or in other forums.)
(At the same time Hatoyama in his resignation speech mentioned something about Japan not being able to depend on the US for even 50 more years, (indicating a Japanese desire for an independent defense capability) which got Koike Yuriko a little bit excited on Twitter! **)
However, possible repercussions might come about in terms of the relationship between Japan and new “friends” in South Korea and China. Already there has been some consternation in Chinese internet forums (“Japanese Prime Minister changes again?” (jp)) – the Asahi reports (jp) that the Chinese government will be watching closely as to who will replace Hatoyama, given as I posted previously Hatoyama and Premier Wen came to a cordial agreement to speed up negotiations of joint East Sea gas field development. A top Korean official has apparently been reported (jp) as saying that they had “lost a friend” in Hatoyama. I guess the concern here is that irrespective of who is elected progress on some key issues will be held up. And there is always the risk (though not great with the DPJ) that a less East Asia friendly PM or Foreign Minister may come into the picture.
While I think things will recover if the same policies and approach to East Asian affairs persists, personal relationships do matter in international relations. It might take some time to rebuild these relationships – although given Hatoyama’s short spell, logic dictates not much longer than 8 months all going well.
*According to his bio: Takahiro Katsumi is Secretary to Sen. Tadashi Inuzuka, a Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Councillors and member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Katsumi is also Secretary General of the Japanese Network for the International Criminal Court.