Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s reference to former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in his new book was grossly, and maybe deliberately, misinterpreted in Japan. It was the most recent in a collection of unfair criticisms from U.S. and Japanese opponents who didn’t need Hatoyama to succeed whereas he was in workplace and who nonetheless appear decided to stop a good evaluation of the person and what he hoped to perform.
In his newest memoir, “A Promised Land,” Obama called Hatoyama a “nice if awkward fellow” after which went on to complain:
Hatoyama was Japan’s fourth prime minister in lower than three years and the second since I’d taken workplace—a symptom of the sclerotic, aimless politics that had plagued Japan for a lot of the last decade.
Hatoyama’s opponents are interpreting Obama’s remark in a approach that makes it appear that it was solely Hatoyama’s Democratic Social gathering of Japan (DPJ) authorities that was sclerotic, and never the Liberal Democratic Social gathering (LDP) governments that preceded him. The error could possibly be chalked as much as issues understanding Obama’s language. However it’s extra possible an intentional slight in opposition to the primary and solely Japanese politician within the historical past of post-war Japan who resoundingly defeated the LDP on the polls.
This sort of petty political animus shouldn’t be uncommon in democracies. However Obama’s failure to acknowledge that Hatoyama received his workplace in an election each bit as dramatic and groundbreaking as his personal is beautiful, and unlucky. That one of the vital well-read and clever U.S. presidents in fashionable historical past nonetheless lumps Hatoyama along with the LDP leaders who preceded him suggests a saddening lack of expertise of the importance of Hatoyama’s victory.
I’ve usually puzzled why these two males with comparable values didn’t get on higher. If they’d, East Asia may look very totally different as we speak. Hatoyama was a peacemaker who needed higher relations with each Koreas and with China. He needed a extra unbiased however less pretentious Japan keen to unequivocally atone for the sins of World Struggle II. And he sought a extra equitable distribution of political energy in a extra tolerant, open and democratic Japanese society and tradition.
Hatoyama’s detractors described him as an “alien,” however he was not an iconoclast or a insurgent. His grandfather served as prime minster, his father served as overseas minister, and the Hatoyama household is among the wealthiest in Japan. In that very slender sense, he was a Roosevelt-like determine that some overseas commentators compared to John F. Kennedy. Had Obama seen him that approach, as a substitute of as simply one other “sclerotic” Japanese politician, maybe they’d have had a extra fruitful relationship.
As a result of an opposition get together had by no means held political energy in a post-war Japan dominated by the LDP, DPJ officers had little expertise governing. Additionally they had no significant relationships with their counterparts in america. They have been simply studying the ropes when Obama and Hatoyama first met. Maybe that’s why Hatoyama appeared “awkward.” It might even be as a result of Obama’s Asia advisers gave him an earful of disparaging assessments of the brand new prime minister and his authorities.
Hatoyama and the DPJ championed a number of points that upset Jeffrey Bader, Obama’s senior director for Asian affairs on the Nationwide Safety Council. Hatoyama didn’t wish to construct a new U.S. military base in Okinawa that 70 percent of the island’s inhabitants and a stable majority of Japanese voters nonetheless oppose, partly as a result of the development will destroy a coral reef that’s dwelling to numerous endangered species. Stopping the bottom was a signature challenge within the election marketing campaign.
Katsuya Okada, Hatoyama’s overseas minister, wrote a letter in help of Obama’s Nobel prize-winning Prague speech on nuclear disarmament through which the brand new overseas minister expressed his private help for a U.S. declaration it could not use nuclear weapons first in a battle. Okada additionally initiated an investigation into the LDP’s secret help for U.S. nuclear weapons insurance policies that violated Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles. Bader believed Okada’s actions implied the Hatoyama’s authorities “would have reversed a long time of U.S. nuclear doctrine.” Earlier than Obama had an opportunity to fulfill the brand new Japanese prime minister, his senior director for Asia had already concluded Hatoyama was “strategically incoherent.”
Not lengthy after that first assembly, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Richard Armitage spoke for a lot of U.S.-Japan “alliance managers” when he publicly ridiculed Hatoyama’s authorities earlier than a big gathering of involved officers and consultants. He known as a delegation of 140 Japanese legislators and 300 Japanese entrepreneurs who met with Chinese language President Hu Jintao “the Japanese liberation military.” He lamented that Hatoyama was making an attempt to make good on the marketing campaign guarantees that swept him into workplace, guarantees the U.S. overseas coverage elite apparently didn’t take critically.
Japanese voters anticipated a politician with Hatoyama’s pedigree to make good on his guarantees. Washington’s intransigence on the brand new navy base in Okinawa, and the well-publicized friction it created in U.S.-Japan relations, undermined public confidence within the political and diplomatic expertise of their new prime minister. Underneath relentless U.S. stress, Hatoyama capitulated to U.S. calls for to maintain the bottom, breaking the best profile promise of his marketing campaign. It severely broken his credibility.
On the identical time, Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ Secretary Normal, grew to become embroiled in a marketing campaign finance scandal. Ozawa was ultimately acquitted, however when the scandal broke Hatoyama withheld judgment of Ozawa, an vital political ally. That call additional weakened Hatoyama’s place each in his get together and with the general public. After solely eight months in workplace, he selected to resign. He apologized to get together leaders for “inflicting bother” with america and to the general public for failing to stay as much as his promise to reform Japanese politics.
Deep disappointment with the short collapse of Hatoyama’s authorities lingers to today. So many have been so hopeful when the LDP was defeated. Former supporters nonetheless can’t forgive him for losing a uncommon alternative to finish to Japan’s one-party rule and the corrupt incompetence it engenders.
Hatoyama’s political opponents known as him a traitor in 2013, 4 years after he resigned, for visiting a conflict memorial within the Chinese language metropolis of Nanjing, the place an estimated 300,000 individuals have been massacred by the Japanese navy in 1937. He invited extra criticism for commemorating the seventieth anniversary of World Struggle II by kneeling and expressing regret for Japanese colonialism throughout a go to to an imperial-era jail in South Korea.
The previous prime minister is now not within the political enviornment and is unlikely to return. So, why did the present LDP management and their cheerleaders within the Japanese media bounce on the chance to assault him once more in such a openly dishonest method over a single sentence in Obama’s ebook?
Maybe it’s a prophylactic measure supposed to assist stop a brand new coalition of opponents, chastened by Hatoyama’s errors, from unseating the LDP a second time. Prime Minister Abe’s resignation may have created a gap. Progressive Japanese legislators, impressed by their counterparts within the U.S. Congress, have formed a brand new caucus. Along with extra moderate opposition leaders they’re constructing new relationships with america that don’t depend on the entrenched alliance managers who undercut Hatoyama.
If the Japanese opposition can break by means of once more, historians – in distinction to Obama’s description – could keep in mind Hatoyama’s authorities, because the fitful starting of the tip of sclerotic one-party rule in Japan.
Gregory Kulacki, Ph.D., is a senior analyst with the World Safety Program of the Union of Involved Scientists.