International ties

Japan's political turbulence

By Wang Hui (
Updated: 2010-06-03 17:12
Large Medium Small

With Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's announcement Wednesday that he would step down, Japan's political scene plunges deeper into a vicious cycle of turbulence that has reigned on the island country in recent years.

In four consecutive years, Japan has witnessed the resignation of four prime ministers, with each of them keeping the post for less then a year's time. The magnitude of the frequency itself is rare among many countries in the world.

Political turmoil will cast a lot of uncertainties on its economy, which is recovering but still fragile. With the country searching for new directions, investors will very likely opt for a wait-and-see attitude. Whether the new strategy adopted in June for shoring up economic growth will be continued is also a big question mark now. All this does not bode well for the country's economic prospect. Given Japan's status as the world's second-largest economy, neither is it good news to regional and world economic recovery.

Related readings:
Japan's political turbulence Turbulent times
Japan's political turbulence Japan's PM quits as poll ratings dive
Japan's political turbulence China to further bilateral ties with Japan
Japan's political turbulence Debate: Will Hatoyama's resignation affect China-Japan ties?

The sudden change and foreseeable confusion in the political arena also make Japan's Asian neighbors fidget. The change of political power would inevitably trigger new adjustments, if not big changes, in the country's foreign policy. This will eventually have a negative impact on regional co-operation in Asia.

Many netizens in China have expressed their grave concerns over Hatoyama's sudden resignation. As the most important neighbor to Japan, China hopes Japan's new leadership will continue to foster positive momentum in bilateral ties.

Mishandling of the issue over Futenma, an unpopular U.S. marine base in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture, has largely catalyzed Hatoyama's fall. The issue itself is very sensitive in Japan, given the country's close ties with the United States and the local people's strong opposition against the presence of the base. None of Hatoyama's predecessors have ever ventured to take a clear-cut stance over the issue. Under pressure from U.S., Hatoyama went back on his words about relocating the military base, a promise he made before being elected. The flip-flops have tarnished his image as a credible leader.

However, credibility does not always decide the fate of a politician. A deep-seated reason behind the Futenma scenario is that Hatoyama has miscalculated U.S. influence over his country. In recent years, some politicians like Hatoyama have been trying to shake off the grip of U.S. The lesson of Hatoyama indicates Japan is still not strong enough to make a significant move towards that direction.

On the one hand, Washington would not easily allow anyone to compromise its influence over a major ally in the Far East. On the other hand, pro-U.S. forces in the island country will protect their vested interests by promoting the security the world's sole super-power could provide to Japan.

It seems Washington is the biggest winner in the latest round of political turmoil in Tokyo. The U.S. influence over the island country could only be strengthened for the time being. Any political forces that strive to estrange Washington and Tokyo and court the country's Asian neighbors will have to wait for their chance again.