U.S. Poised for Change as Tokyo Leadership Shifts





WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials, increasingly frustrated in recent years with what they saw as the paralyzed leadership of Japan's ruling party, are looking to the new regime to bring more-effective handling of shared goals.

The Democratic Party of Japan, victorious in Sunday's election, has vowed greater independence from Washington as a centerpiece of its foreign policy. But people involved in relations between the two countries play down the notion of a serious break, noting that cooperation has been tepid from the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party on a range of overlapping interests, from promoting global free trade to containing North Korea's nuclear program...

... The Obama administration is "confident that the strong U.S.-Japan alliance and the close partnership between our two countries will continue to flourish" despite the change in government, the White House said in a statement...

... In a widely cited essay published shortly before the election, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama wrote that Japan should "shake off U.S.-style globalization." He said "the Japan-U.S. relationship is an important pillar of our diplomacy" -- not the primary pillar -- and suggested closer ties with Asia.

An LDP loss -- and American acceptance of the party's fall -- is an important symbolic turning point in ties between the two countries. The U.S. played a major role in the creation of the LDP in 1955. It was the height of the Cold War, when Washington actively meddled in the domestic politics of countries around the world, seeking to prop up -- and sometimes create -- ruling parties that would join the global alliance against the Soviet Union.

With Washington's active encouragement, the LDP was created as the merger of two conservative parties -- one led by Mr. Hatoyama's grandfather -- to keep Japan's Socialist Party out of power. For nearly 40 years, Japanese politics revolved around the two parties, though for much of that time the Socialists never had a credible chance of taking power.

While the LDP was long a symbol of Japan's close ties with the U.S., the party also came to represent growing tensions between the two countries, as the U.S. demanded Tokyo do more to open Japanese markets to foreign goods and services, and shoulder more responsibility for U.S.-led global priorities, such as the 1991 Gulf War.

Americans complained that the LDP viewed the trans-Pacific alliance too passively, accepting the protection of the U.S. security umbrella without doing enough in return.

The end of the Cold War led to a reordering of Japan's domestic politics in the early 1990s, when the LDP briefly lost power. It took more than a decade for a credible opposition party, in the form of the DPJ, to emerge.

U.S. officials note that many DPJ leaders -- including Mr. Hatoyama -- began their political careers with the LDP before defecting to create a new party, suggesting that the new government isn't likely to make any sharp break with the past.

"They're looking for more respect, a higher profile, and more inclusion in international affairs," said Mr. Manzullo. "That's fine. But there's a very strong relationship between Japan and the U.S., and I don't think they want to see that jeopardized."


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