Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, confronted with a barrage of domestic issues, originally did not plan to visit the US this year. But he changed his mind after Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s repeated admonishments, claiming that he would definitely visit the US this spring. Maehara himself could not wait but started his fourth visit to the US on January 7.
Maehara met with a grand high reception in the US. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, nine US Congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden all welcomed him. The Japanese media saw this as a sign that the US is backing Maehara to be the next Japanese PM.
Maehara returned the favor, describing the Japan-US alliance is the most important public asset in the Asia-Pacific region and its importance as “a matter of life and death.”
Described as “a realist diplomat,” Maehara expressed his pro-US stand, ending the “Japan-US-China equilateral triangle” diplomatic policy pursued by politicians such as former PMs Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama.
Many signs have demonstrated that Japan has already entered the “Maehara era.” And the short-lived “friendship diplomacy” will be completely replaced by the pro-US and conservative route.
Given history involved, we can say that the “pro-US conservative” diplomacy is the only mainstream in Japanese society. Before the World War II, Japan pursued the course of Emperor-worshipping conservatism, which now occasionally appears in the propaganda of some extreme right-wing groups.
Yoshio Kodama, a gangster and political operative, and Ogata Taketora, the chief editor of the famous Asahi Shimbun newspaper, laid the foundations of the “pro-US conservative” position after the war.
In the 1990s, the “conservative hawk” faction led by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi gradually became more prominent. The biggest reason for the forming of the “pro-US conservative” route was the irresistible and huge economic and military strength of the US.
At present, the pro-US conservative school is the major force in political circle, financial circle, the media industry and the universities. Most politicians in the LDP belong to this school of thought.
It’s worth noting that the pro-US conservative school has been increasingly active in backing various movements in recent years, such as the Japan Patriotic Party, the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the Textbook Improvement Association and Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.
Among pro-US conservatives, Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe have advocated that Japan might possess its own nuclear weapons in the future. Extreme conservatives like Takeo Hiranuma and Kiuchi Minoru, who criticize the occupation policy of the US in Japan in the late 1940s and argue for the abolition of the post-war system, are essentially anti-American nationalist commentators. However, under the constraints of the Japanese Constitution, they have taken the “pro-US” stance.
In Japan, the Japanese left-wing calls the pro-US conservatives “puchi (dog) conservatives” or “pro-US puchi.”
The term “puchi conservative” in Japanese originates from cartoons by Yoshinori Kobayashi, who created a dog with a human face who obeys his master unconditionally, satirizing pro-US conservatives.
The equivalent term in the West would be “Bush’s poodle,” used to ridicule some European leaders who cooperated with the US-led invasion of Iraq.
But the left-wing is a distinct minority, and the mainstream of Japanese society, despite dissenters such as these, remains committed to the pro-US conservative position.
The dominance of this faction in academia, finance, and politics means, sadly, that the brief days of a more balanced foreign policy are over for the foreseeable future.
By Cai Chengping: The author is director of the Tokyo-based Asia-Pacific Political and Economic Research Center. firstname.lastname@example.org