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Unformatted text preview: COMMENTARY July 24, 2010 vol xlv no 30 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 24 Chenwei Lin ( [email protected] ) teaches at the Hokkaido University Public Policy School in Japan. The ‘Wandering Aircraft Carrier’ Japan: Difficulties of Regime Shift Chenwei Lin A blundering Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned last month as he was unable to live up to the promises made during the 2009 parliamentary elections – particularly the removal of the United States military base in Okinawa. Trial and error perhaps best describes the past nine months of the Democratic Party of Japan’s performance in government, even as the country cries out for a newer political environment. J apan was once described by the American cold war strategist George Kennan, as the “stationary aircraft carrier” posed off the Soviet “far east”. The strong US security presence in the Japanese archipelago after the second world war ( WW) might have begun with the intention to ensure that Japan would never again b ecome a source of instability in the region. But it is this unique geostrategic p osition of Japan and furthermore the success of its post- second world war democracy and eco- no mic prosperity that drove the US to build a lasting and robust alliance with the Japanese government, which was led by the Liberal Democratic Party ( LDP ) for half a century. This US-Japan security cooperation pre- vailed in spite of the end of the cold war, and successfully repositioned i tself as the cornerstone of stability in the Asia-Pacific as well as a global partnership. In short, “aircraft carrier” Japan was not only “sta- tionary”, it was, for the most part, an excel- lent partner too. This changed somehow on 30 August 2009. The geographic posi- tion of Japan obviously remained station- ary but with the Democratic Party of Japan ( DPJ ) taking over the government, the first change of ruling party in 50-some years, Japan’s political, economic and strategic direction seems to have w andered off. The DPJ came to power with a landslide victory by obtaining 308 seats, a dominant majority of the 480 seats in the Parliament’s lower house. The voter turnout reached 70%, compared to 68% in the previous gen- eral election. The mandate for the DPJ to overhaul the colossal trouble- ridden Japa- nese government of a chronic fiscal deficit and zero-growth economy was overwhelm- ing. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama-led cabinet kicked off with an excellent approval rating of over 70%. But the fervour ended quickly. His approval r ating steadily declined to 21% and after 262 days in office, Hatoya- ma suddenly announced his resignation along with that of the charismatic secretary- general of DPJ , Ichiro Ozawa, on 4 June 2010, the fifth short-lived cabinet in post- second world war Japan....
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