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New Administration in Japan: Increasing Presence of the EU in Japan?

hatoyama1It has been a while since Yukio Hatoyama, a new Prime Minister in Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), took his administration in September 2009 in Japan. Since Japan had four different Prime Ministers from 2007-09, I was not personally expecting much change in domestic politics this time, to be honest. However, I came across an article that Hatoyama published on New York Times website on 26th August 2009, which is before he took his administration; and some keen analysis by Dr. Ryo Sahashi, and I thought I would jot down some of my thoughts about it here. Links of both artciles are as follows:

Yukio Hatoyama, “A New Path for Japan”, New York Times, 26th November, 2009.

Ryo Sahashi, “Hatoyama’s New path and Washington’s Anxiety”, East Asia Forum, 6th September, 2009.

I have been working on two-way norm diffusion between the EU and Japan for my PhD thesis – whether or not the EU has a capacity to influence or even modify Japanese culture of justice through the example of the death penalty – and my hypothesis had long been that we cannot expect much influence from the EU. This is because whilst the influence from the US in Japanese domestic politics is still significant, the equally important relationship with the EU has been often neglected for several reasons that I will discuss below. However, we might be able to expect a change in response or resistance of Japan to any influence from the EU according to the establishment of a new cabinet headed by Hatoyama in DPJ.

Japanese Cabinet was occupied by Liberal Democratic Party for 16 years since 1993 and its policy was characterised by its subordination to the US and inconsistent attitude toward its neighbourhood countries by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, the official visit of which by prime ministers are seen as disrespectful behaviour toward colonised countries. The partnership between Japan and the US has been extremely intimate since the end of the war. In fact, Japan concentrated on economic growth under the security umbrella of the US, and the influence of the US in Japanese decision-making especially in security field is still huge.

It is of course incorrect to mention that the importance of the EU was being totally neglected. Particularly in the field of environmental issues, the EU’s initiative in the Kyoto Protocol was remarkable. However, despite the accelerating partnership with the EU, the media mainly features the economic partnership, and any trend of examining the EU as a model political power was absent. Scholars in East Asian security studies also have long been very sceptical about the power and impact of the EU to the wider world beyond economic arena, and EU studies was often considered to be a simple regional case studies. This trend is particularly prominent in the debate on the scenario of the construction of East Asian Community given the different security environment, and this is mainly because of the difference in nature of each entity as well. Whilst Japan is a historic colonial power that characterised itself as an empire in Asia by the end of the World War II, the EU is an active one – the EU has been expanding its security zone by its enlargement policy and is currently comprised of 27 member states.

In the meanwhile, Hatoyama declared in his article titled ‘A New Path for Japan’ that Japan would not necessarily follow the US unilateralism, and showed his interest in the construction of the East Asian Community modelled by the EU as well. Furthermore, it is worthwhile that he appointed Keiko Chiba as Justice Minister, who is an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. This can have an impact on the future death penalty practice in Japan indeed, which I have been working on in my thesis.

By contrast, Dr. Sahashi’s analysis is also to the point regarding the possibility of constructing the East Asian Community:

“East Asia has already many security and economic mechanisms, such as an ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asian Summit, ASEAN+3, and it is not clear how to restructure them. Without any evaluation of ongoing frameworks, such as the G2 and the China-Japan-U.S. trilateral dialogue, Hatoyama’s essay creates room for misunderstandings. Additionally, he fails to discuss how to approach North Korea, a crucially important security concern for Japan and the Japan-U.S. alliance” (Sahashi 2009:3).

Economic and political integration in Asia besides the existing framework will therefore probably take decades at least, however, I believe that it is still notable that a Japanese Prime Minister showed a clear attitude toward multilateral cooperation modelled by the EU, which implies an increased importance to the interaction with the EU in policy-making.

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