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Bureaucratic revolving door undermines foreign policy

Bureaucratic revolving door undermines foreign policy

Seiji Maehara

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara stepped down Sunday in the midst of a political funds scandal. Maehara received a 250,000-yen ($3000) donation from a South Korean woman whom he had known since childhood. The woman said she was unaware that the donation was illegal, and Maehara claimed to have been unaware of receiving the donation. Japan’s Political Funds Control Law bans contributions from foreigners to politicians. This is to avoid the perception that foreign powers are influencing domestic policy. Maehara stepped down in response to calls for resignation from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (which is neither liberal nor democratic). The LDP has also called for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down with his entire cabinet and dissolve the House of Representatives for an election amidst the scandal.

Kan appointed Takeaki Matsumoto as Maehara’s successor yesterday. Matsumoto is the fourth foreign minister in as many years. Kan is the fourth prime minister in three years.

The Japanese public seems to take the rapid succession of leaders for granted. A couple months after I moved to Japan two and a half years ago, the prime minister changed almost overnight from Yasuo Fukuda to Taro Aso. While I found this surprising, I was even more surprised by the fact that I didn’t overhear anyone talking about it, or that no one seemed surprised by it. The people feel like they  have so little sway over their government that they simply shrug their shoulders over a power change at the top.

This revolving door of top leaders has strained Japan’s foreign relations, particularly Russo-Japanese relations, which are at a recent low following a visit last year from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the Kuril Islands, which are claimed by Japan, but administered by Russia. Despite Maehara having said that Russia is illegally occupying Japan’s Northern Territories, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had a good impression of Maehara when they met in Moscow Feb. 11. But apparently Russia is growing increasingly weary of negotiating with Japan’s rapid succession of leaders.

While Maehara resigned as a result of an illegal action, I primarily blame the problem of Japan’s high turnover of ministers on the opposition LDP. Since Yukio Hatoyama became the first prime minister from the Democratic Party of Japan in September 2009 following a general election, the LDP has done nothing but call for the resignation of DPJ leaders, despite both parties having similar political platforms (Hatoyama’s father was one of the founding members of the LDP). After news broke that Hatoyama had misreported around $4 million in donations from his mother, sessions at the Diet resembled childish shouting matches, with LDP lawmakers heckling Hatoyama and calling for his resignation. Hatoyama resigned in June 2010, citing his inability to keep a campaign promise to close an American military base in Okinawa.

LDP politicians should recognize that their self-serving obstruction tactics are harming Japan’s image internationally and adversely affecting Japan’s foreign relations.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]