Seiji Maehara, Japanese Foreign Minister resigns; for 250k Yen or Kuril Islands?

By De Wang (

On March 6, 2011, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara resigned officially due to accepting donation from a Korean national. Most countries have laws banning officials from accepting foreign donations directly or indirectly. Obama was forced to return some donations in 2008 for this same reason. Maehara’s receiving of 250k Yen is paltry though, and I don’t think that is the true reason for his resignation.

It is generally known that Maehara is a Washington hawk. He takes a much more confrontational approach towards China, Russia, and North Korea. It is likely the mishandling of the Kuril Island dispute with Russia that is causing his resignation.

Russia Today reports:

Fred Weir from the Christian Science Monitor reminds that the basic issue was settled back in 1956:
“There was a deal struck – which was never followed through on – under which the two most southern islands would be given back to Japan. The Soviet Union agreed to that. And, as far as I understand, that deal is still on the table.”
“So I guess that if the Japanese were to take a different approach, rather than this fairly militant, angry approach that we are hearing, that deal certainly could be negotiated,” he added.

The emphasis above is mine. Recall that Japan had joint military exercises with the U.S. east of the Korean Peninsula in recent past – no doubt close to the Kuril Islands.

Russian President Medvedev personally visited one of the disputed islands himself last year promising to expand investments there and ordered deployment of weapons. The above report went on to say:

According to Natalia Starpan from the Moscow University of International Relations, Russia’s firm stance on the Kuril Islands reflects a major change in the country’s stance towards its eastern territories.

“In 2012, the APEC summit will be held in Vladivostok, and the Far East is therefore no longer regarded as the Russian ‘back door’,” she said. “It is becoming the ‘front porch’ and a front porch should be clean and tidy, and it is absolutely including the Kuril Islands, and that is what Russia is currently doing by visiting the territories and investing money there.”

Unlike the LDP, the DPJ party is much more conciliatory towards East Asia, as witnessed by the former Prime Minister Hatoyama. Hatoyama favored regional integration. While Maehara was Washington’s darling, he had to be a hawk within his DPJ party too.

Russia’s planned development and deployment of weapons is a departure from Russia’s long-held stance over the disputed areas. I suspect Japanese politicians view this change in Russian stance as a miserable failure on Maehara’s diplomacy.

As this Japan Times article, “Washington will miss Maehara,” suggests, the U.S.-Japan relationship is in a bit of disarray. The current Prime Minster Kan is pressured to resign as well. The Hatoyama brand of leaders could re-emerge in Japan. The question is how long the U.S. can keep a lid on them.

One thing for sure, like other frequent high profile leadership resignations in Japan’s recent years, Seiji Maehara’s resignation is another sign for what a pressure cooker Japan is today.

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