Maehara Daijin

Some thoughts and genuine curiosity arose after reading Peter Ennis’ latest. First of all, I for one am interested if Maehara is given anytime, what he might do with the role he has. There has been, for example, discussion of the balance in security policy slowly moving towards the MoD and away from MOFA. Is Maehara likely to be one to change this balance? Either way I have much respect for his thinking and biography.

Second, Peter suggests that there is a striking inability on the part of the responsible US officials to convince their political masters of the genuine complications that exist in regards to the Futenma issue. It does lead me to wonder how the Japanese equivalents at the high bureaucratic level perceive the US attitude? And how are they communicating it to their political masters? I wonder if they view it as a test of Japanese commitment…and I wonder if so, whether they think it reasonable or unreasonable? (or at least unreasonable to the point of it actually forcing a foreign policy strategic rethink of some kind)

The Japanese media, and I suspect the bureaucracy are doing a commendable job in keeping this from becoming a broader public issue/issue of identity. Perhaps too commendable. Especially considering how out of joint people’s noses seem to get when there is a perception of even a whiff of undue Chinese pressure, or too much is conceded to “Chinese” interests in diplomatic interaction. (I am not referring to the latest Senkaku issue to be sure)

To me at least, I find it curious that genuinely mutual Chinese-Japanese interests are often perceived in terms of how much it serves Chinese interests in certain media commentaries, while on the other hand, marginal Japanese interests but strong US interests are often perceived to be much more mutual. I guess it is testament to the strength of the alliance and the, up until now, the skill of US foreign policy vis-a-vis China. But I am not sure if it really serves Japan so well long-term.

For the purposes of Japan engaging in a “realist” appraisal of its own interests, there probably needs to be more sensitivity directed towards its own interests in the US-Japan relationship, and a little bit less directed towards China’s in the Japan-China relationship.*

I suspect even then though the analysis will still come down strongly in favour of a substantive US-Japan relationship. Its logical base will probably be different – upgraded and configured for both the current geopolitical climate as well as the relative technological capabilities available. It may even require some legal and/or constitutional changes. Maybe.

I just wonder if there is the political or bureaucratic will to engage in that conversation. Will the US’ policy more or less force it by putting the Japanese government in an untenable situation? Will the US policy change unilaterally (whether due to domestic dynamics, or an eventual US higher official realisation of the intractability of the Futenma situation), and a re-evaluation of the alliance structure be undertaken whether Japan likes it or not? Or is there some inkling of thinking that this may well be an opportunity for Japan to exert itself constructively but firmly in regards to the alliance, its interests and win a little bit of respect (self or otherwise) in the process?

I am interested in anyone’s thoughts on this. I am certainly in no position of connectedness which would allow me to make such a judgement, at least in regards to the questions posed in the second paragraph. Japanese bureaucrats involved in foreign policy making are often portrayed in some discourses as unthinking slaves to US interests who view Japan’s foreign policy exclusively through the lens of the US-Japan alliance. (See a few posts earlier on Terashima) As a former bureaucrat myself though, I often know how easy it is to be mischaracterized as having intentions and interests that you do not.

Nevertheless, the question should be begged. In my own country I know for certain that even the conservative, spineless bureaucrats (I am being half facetious here!) would start to question the US foreign policy disposition and attitude, if not the policy.

*This is in no way a declaration of the religious/IR school of thought to which I belong.

4 thoughts on “Maehara Daijin

    • Masa, it is interesting that you say that. I wonder if it is a reflection of the way the US “sells” the alliance in Japan when they perceived Japanese resolve weakening. It does appear that as a last resort the US emphasizes how much of a good financial deal that the Japanese are getting in having the US forces there. But don’t be fooled – the US gets a good deal in terms of financial support for troops and in terms of how the alliance generally supports US aims in East Asia. There is some discussion of streamlining and reconfiguring the Marine Corps mission in the future in the US – but with Japan subsidizing a portion it is not quite yet a burden.

  1. “Will the US’ policy more or less force it by putting the Japanese government in an untenable situation? Will the US policy change unilaterally (whether due to domestic dynamics, or an eventual US higher official realisation of the intractability of the Futenma situation), and a re-evaluation of the alliance structure be undertaken whether Japan likes it or not?”

    I have no confidence whatsoever that the leadership in the U.S. will see the intractability of Futenma and will instead just plod along, dragging Japan along until Japan decides the path of least resistance is to go along with it. There’s also no domestic dynamics on the issue, sadly. The American people only care about things that are on fire (Iraq, Afghanistan) and then only to a point.

    It would take a serious shock to the American system to re-evaluate the U.S.-Japan alliance in any way whatsoever. A more belligerent China would give Japan more leverage in the alliance, but the question is would Japan take advantage of the opportunity…

    • It was interesting (I forget where I saw them) but Biden made some comments at a meeting/dinner commemorating the 50th year of the Mutual Security Treaty recently and none of them mentioned Futenma. Some interpreted this as meaning the US might be open to going past Futenma. But I wonder how recent events have changed things. Possibly not much – there is still the issue that the Japanese government would more or less have to subvert the democratic will of the Okinawan people depending on the November election. I suspect the consequences of that will be real to many non-Okinawans as well, even if they tacitly agree that having Futenma is a good idea.

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