I really can’t do better than this NYT headline: Japan Elects a New Premier, Fifth in Four Years:
Naoto Kan, a plain-spoken finance minister with activist roots, was elected prime minister on Friday, making him the fifth Japanese leader in four years.
Mr. Kan, 63, won a vote in the lower house of Parliament and will now go through the formality of being appointed by Emperor Akihito.
Smart choice. Kan is a measured and stable guy, which means he might be able to weather the DPJ through the next couple of years.
Slate asks, Did Washington bring down the Japanese prime minister?, which is a pretty leading question. Hatoyama had political problems out of the gate (scandal, poor response, another scandal, and then Okinawa) that had to have been party to his decision to step down regardless of the futility of his glove-slap at Washington. This was the best graph out of Sneider’s article:
Americans harbored growing concerns about the new government’s desire to strike a more independent pose, along with Hatoyama’s gauzy vision of a new East Asia Community, modeled on the European Union. “The basic issue is that Hatoyama was determined to establish more strategic independence for Japan but did not understand that without Japan developing any alternative strategy for its own defense, this was a dead end,” a senior official told me this week. American officials lectured Japan about the strategic importance of the Marines in countering China’s rise without any sense of irony that the Obama administration is engaged in its own, largely unrequited, courtship of Beijing.
Yeah. That I can believe. When Hatoyama came into office, it was on the wave of being a more independent actor on the world stage. But it’s hard to shake sixty-plus years of close engagement on several levels. I don’t disagree that Japan could or should be a more independent actor, but I think it could have been handled more cleverly. Sheila Smith, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, talks of Japan’s Missed Opportunity:
The change in government last September made obvious Japan’s inability to reconcile itself to today’s proliferation dynamics. On the one hand, Tokyo relied on U.S. nuclear superiority while publicly rejecting the use of these weapons on Japan’s behalf. A recent Japanese government investigation into the existence of “secret agreements” between Tokyo and Washington on the transit of nuclear weaponry brought this deep postwar controversy back into the headlines. After months of government deliberation, Mr. Okada was confronted in Parliament by a fundamental question–what would the government do if Japan was threatened? He pointed out that Japan’s three nonnuclear principles–not to possess, manufacture or allow the introduction of nuclear weapons–were designed to keep its citizens safe from the threat of nuclear use. But he had to acknowledge that the government would have to make its best judgment should Japan be threatened based on the need to protect its citizens.
In this light, Mr Hatoyama’s struggle is reflective not so much of its deep and entangled relationship with the US, but of deep and contradictory motivations within its own nation.
Will Kan do better? There’s only so much a prime minister can do when a nation can’t unify around the question of its future defense.