2. Japan: Rapid succession of prime ministers
Japanese leaders have had difficulty making inroads in improving ties with China partly due to the rapid succession of prime ministers in the past two decades (with the exception of Junichiro Koizumi), with seven prime ministers from 2006-2013.198 Koizumi presided over a period that witnessed a deep freeze of po-litical exchanges with China (2001-2006), due to his several visits to the Yasuku-ni Shrine. The short reign of each prime miYasuku-nister after him made it challenging to forge stable personal ties and trust with Chinese counterparts. When the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was defeated by the DPJ in August 2009, Japan also lost many vital party-to-party ties and other political connections built up during nearly 40 years of unbroken LDP rule.199 A Chinese scholar explained that because Chinese officials were “practical”, they were unwilling to waste too much time on “lame-duck or retired” foreign counterparts.200
The dramatic change in direction of the DPJ’s foreign policy affected China-Japan relations. When Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa took power in August 2009, they unveiled a vision for creating an
“equal alliance” with the U.S. and a more “autonomous foreign policy” that
empha-193 “习近平考察广州战区谈 ’强国梦’ ‘强军梦’”, 新华社 [“Xi Jinping visited Guangzhou military region, spoke of ‘strong nation dream’ and ‘strong military dream’”，Xinhua News Agency], 13 December 2012.
194 “刘源指中日为面子闹僵 应让老百姓知道战争残酷”, 大公网[“Liu Yuan said China-Japan stale-mate was due to face, the people should know the cruelty of war”, Takungpao.com], 11 March 2013.
195 Crisis Group interview, Beijing, March 2013.
196 Crisis Group interview, Beijing, March 2013.
197 See Section VI.D “Maritime Agencies in Ascendance”.
198 Japan has had seventeen prime ministers since 1989.
199 Crisis Group interview, Tokyo, October 2012.
200 Crisis Group interview, Beijing, November 2012.
sised improving relations with Asia, especially China.201 Hatoyama, while meeting with President Hu Jintao at the UN in September 2009, declared a wish to turn the East China Sea into a “sea of fraternity instead of a sea of disputes”.202 The new ruling party promised to establish party-to-party ties with China, and Ozawa led a delegation of 600 to Beijing in December 2009.203 Ultimately, Hatoyama’s campaign promise to relocate the Futenma U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Okinawa proved untenable. His desire for a more even relationship with both the U.S. and China strained ties with the former, whose security alliance with Japan is traditionally seen as a main tenant of regional security.
China did not take advantage of this period in which Japan reached out its hand.
It reportedly began drilling in the Chunxiao oil field in January 2010.204 Hatoyama and Ozawa were forced to resign in June 2010 due to the failure to relocate the Futenma base and financial scandals.205 Foreign policy reverted to a more pro-U.S.
stance after Naoto Kan became prime minister, bringing pro-U.S. DPJ member Seiji Maehara into the foreign policy decision-making circle.206 Some Chinese analysts interpreted the change as confirmation that the Japanese government was beholden to the U.S. and suggested that this made it difficult for Chinese leaders to trust their Japanese counterparts.207
The DPJ also started its tenure by curbing the influence of the bureaucracy and transferring power into the hands of politicians, to deliver on its campaign promise to correct political inertia.208 Some Japanese analysts said the reform went too far in sidelining experienced bureaucrats.209 This was compounded by the tumult around the Japanese leadership at the time of the September 2010 incident, which included a change of foreign minister.210
201 “The Democratic Party of Japan’s Platform for Government: Putting People’s Lives First”,
2009, p. 26. See also Tetsuo Kotani, “Turbulent Changes: The Democratic Party Government and Japan’s Foreign Policy”, Russia in Global Affairs, vol. 8, no. 4 (December 2010); and Daniel Sneider, “The New Asianism: Japanese Foreign Policy under the Democratic Party of Japan”, Asia Policy, no. 12 (July 2011).
202 “China’s Hu, Japan’s Hatoyama agree to extend thaw in relations”, Bloomberg, 22 September
203 Hu Jintao also took individual photos with nearly every DPJ lawmaker on the trip. “Ozawa-led
group welcomed in China/Hu, DPJ officials look”, The Yomiuri Shimbun, 12 December 2009.
204 “Japan threatens action on China gas project-media”, Reuters, 17 January 2010.
205 “Hatoyama resigns and takes Ozawa with him”, The Asahi Shimbun, 3 June 2010.
206 “Kan appoints Seiji Maehara as Japan foreign minister in cabinet reshuffle”, Bloomberg, 17
207 Crisis Group interviews, Beijing, August, September 2012.
208 “The Democratic Party of Japan’s Platform for Government”, op. cit., p. 2. See also Eric
Heg-inbotham, Ely Ratner and Richard J. Samuels, “Tokyo’s Transformation: How Japan is Changing – and What it Means for the United States”, Foreign Affairs (September-October 2011), pp. 138-148.
209 Crisis Group interviews, Tokyo, October 2012.
210 At the time of that incident, the DPJ had been in power barely a year and Prime Minister Naoto Kan in office for three months. Kan was in the last days of campaigning against a chal-lenger from his own party. He then reshuffled the cabinet, making Seiji Maehara the new for-eign minister on 17 September, just one week after the skipper was arrested. Maehara had been an advocate of non-compromising policies toward China, and according to Japanese scholars, had no interest in moderating Japan’s treatment of the Chinese captain. Two weeks into the cri-sis, Kan travelled to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly. He apparently only left general advice on how to solve the crisis. Crisis Group interviews, Tokyo, October 2012.
“Japanese PM Naoto Kan announces cabinet reshuffle”, BBC, 17 September 2010.
Each DPJ government experienced a sharp decline in popularity. Public support for then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama eroded rapidly after his attempt to realign Japanese foreign policy failed, reaching 17 per cent at the end of May 2010, a near 50-point decline in eight months.211 When Naoto Kan took over in June, support for his cabinet was at 60 per cent.212 His statements supporting an increase in consump-tion tax upset voters, and the DPJ was defeated in the July 2010 upper house elec-tions.213 After the March 2011 Tohoko earthquake and tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis, public support for Kan dropped to 21 per cent.214 The Noda government took over in August. By the time Ishihara announced his island purchase plan, public support for Noda had slumped to around 25 per cent and never recov-ered.215 The unpopularity of the DPJ left a leadership vacuum that was exploited by populist and nationalist politicians.
Disappointment with traditional politics and frustration with the failure to restore Japan to a prosperous path made many long for stronger leadership.216 This envi-ronment gave rise to populist and nationalist politicians who were seen as credible alternatives to ineffectual and ambiguous leaders. These movements have been driv-en, in part, by former Tokyo Governor Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.217 A Japanese analyst wrote that the Japanese wanted to “stop floating like a ghost in the sea of perpetual apologies for the Asia-Pacific War of 70 years ago”.218 Ishihara captured popular opinion after the 2010 boat incident and forced the government’s hand over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island purchase.219
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took power after the LDP’s victory in the De-cember 2012 elections,publicly stated, “there is no room for negotiation”.220 But he
211 A poll released on 31 May 2010 found that only 17 per cent supported the Hatoyama cabinet, compared with 71 per cent in September 2009. “The Asahi Shimbun September 2009 Emergency Public Opinion Poll – The Start of the Hatoyama Cabinet”, The Asahi Shimbun, 16-17 September 2009; “The Asahi Shimbun May 2010 Emergency Public Opinion Poll on Futenma Relocation”, The Asahi Shimbun, 29- 30 May 2010.
212 “The Asahi Shimbun June 2010 Emergency Public Opinion poll on Inauguration of Kan Cabinet”, The Asahi Shimbun, 8-9 June 2010.
213 “Japan’s new prime minster stumbles over consumption tax”, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 July 2010.
214 Telephone poll conducted with 1,999 respondents. “The Asahi Shimbun Regular Public Opinion Poll April 2011”, The Asahi Shimbun, 16-17 April 2011.
215 In a telephone poll conducted in April 2012, 25 per cent of the 1,779 respondents supported the Noda cabinet; one month before the December 2012 elections, the figure was as low as 18 per cent (1,611 respondents). “The Asahi Shimbun Regular Public Opinion Poll”, The Asahi Shimbun, 14-15 April 2012; “The Asahi Shimbun Regular Public Opinion Poll”, The Asahi Shimbun, 10-11 November 2012.
216 Such feelings are especially acute among older generations who had devoted their youth to Japan’s post-Second World War revival, lived through the booming years and are pained by its economic stagnation. Crisis Group interview, Tokyo, October 2012.
217 Ishihara is well known for his nationalist sentiments from his early days as an LDP politician
and after he co-authored the book A Japan That Can Say No (1989), which called for Japan to become more independent, in particular from the U.S.
218 Toshio Nishi, “The New Japanese Nationalism”, Hoover Institution, 19 December 2012. An
opinion poll by Jiji Press conducted in January 2013 found that 56.7 per cent of those surveyed thought Abe should visit the Yasukuni Shrine, up from 43 per cent in 2006. Gareth Evans, “Japan and the politics of guilt”, Project Syndicate, 30 January 2013.
219 According to a Japanese analyst, “rational foreign policy based on national interests” has
become more difficult to pursue. Crisis Group interviews, Tokyo, October 2012.
220 “Abe stresses resolve to defend Senkakus”, Jiji Press, 12 January 2013.
has nevertheless shown a willingness to mend bilateral relations and sent a personal letter to Xi Jinping, delivered by the New Komeito Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi in January 2013. Xi received Yamaguchi and the two spoke of their desire to over-come difficulties.221 Optimism inspired by the meeting, however, quickly dissipated after reports of dangerous military encounters in the East China Sea.222 Added to that, Abe resumed nationalist rhetoric and gestures after he was elected, arousing the suspicion that he wanted to backtrack on Japan’s Second World War apolo-gies.223 These decisions did not help to convince the Chinese public or leadership that Japan was sincere about mending ties.224