New coalition govt needs realistic security policy
The Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party began talks Wednesday on forming a tripartite coalition government.
However, before forming their coalition, it is vital that they reach a consensus over policy issues, as any outstanding ambiguities will lead to serious problems in the future. All three parties must be prepared to make necessary adjustments to their respective policies.
The DPJ won an unprecedented 308 seats in Sunday's House of Representatives election, though it has less than a single-party majority in the House of Councillors. The DPJ is thus forging a coalition government with the SDP and the PNP in an apparent attempt to ensure policy measures are carried out in a stable manner.
In previous coalition governments, there have been a number of cases in which small parties have stuck steadfastly to their individual policies to stress the significance of their existence within the government. However, this merely caused confusion. The DPJ should learn lessons from such precedents and be wary about making easy concessions.
The SDP is demanding that a ruling coalition organ be established to review bills and other policies before they are approved by the Cabinet. Though this kind of body has existed in the past, it likely would cause problems this time around, as it would contradict the DPJ's policy to make its administration the sole arbiter vis-a-vis policy decisions.
Meanwhile, it is rumored that DPJ Acting President Ichiro Ozawa likely will be given an important post within the DPJ, but not as part of the Cabinet. However, Ozawa has many supporters and wields considerable influence, and if he has a large say in policy decisions, it would lead once again to a dual system of power.
The coalition talks are based on "common policies" for six items--including a freeze on the consumption tax rate--that the three parties agreed upon prior to the lower house election.
However, the real issues to be thrashed out during the talks are foreign and security policies. These topics were not included in the common policies because the parties' respective stances are so different.
For example, the DPJ believes that Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels should continue their refueling mission in the Indian Ocean until January, but the SDP is demanding an immediate pullout.
In addition, the DPJ approves of the MSDF's antipiracy mission in waters off Somalia, while the SDP insists the Japan Coast Guard should be running the operation.
The refueling mission represents Japan's sole contribution of personnel to international efforts against terrorism, and the nation's efforts are highly appreciated by the countries concerned. We believe it is a matter of course that this mission continue, even after January.
Furthermore, it is unrealistic for the JCG to take the place of the MSDF in the antipiracy mission in light of differences in their respective equipment and backup systems.
A more pressing concern is that both the DPJ and the SDP have policies to review the plan to relocate U.S. forces in Japan. According to the plan, the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the shores of Camp Schwab in Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture, would occur five years from now.
If this planned transfer is canceled, 13 years of negotiations between the Japanese and U.S. governments will have been for naught, and the return of the air station site to Japan will be deferred. In addition, a plan to relocate 8,000 marines to Guam--a measure aimed at alleviating burdens on people in the prefecture--would be scrapped.
It is completely understandable that a U.S. State Department spokesman on Monday said Washington will never renegotiate the relocation plan.
In the world of diplomacy, it is not possible under normal circumstances for one nation's desires to be completely realized. Therefore, the DPJ should never compromise its flexibility nor reduce its options in diplomatic affairs by sticking to the various stances it adopted as the opposition when it was criticizing the government.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2009)