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Japan Restoration Party: The Policy?

by Sheila A. Smith
September 14, 2012

Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, center, head of the Japan Restoration Party, and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui, left, secretary-general of the party, explain their policies at an open debate with Diet members and other local leaders in Osaka September 9, 2012 (Yoshinori Mizuno/Courtesy to The Asahi Shimbun). Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, center, head of the Japan Restoration Party, and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui, left, secretary-general of the party, explain their policies at an open debate with Diet members and other local leaders in Osaka September 9, 2012 (Yoshinori Mizuno/Courtesy to The Asahi Shimbun).

This week, contests for the head of both the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are underway, with the expectation that Japan will be heading into a full campaign later this fall. The pundits are already predicting that the DPJ will lose seats and the LDP will gain. But neither seems likely to garner a majority in the parliament. Thus, the next coalition government will depend on where and with whom policy cooperation becomes possible.

Yesterday, I introduced the newest player in the mix of Japan’s coalition dynamics, the Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai) led by Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto. Today, I would like to share some initial indicators of Hashimoto’s policy priorities, with the caveat that the Japan Restoration Party has just begun to articulate its national vision for Japan.

During the summer months, Hashimoto jumped feet first into Japan’s most important policy debate, the future of nuclear power. He campaigned for mayor last November on an anti-nuclear platform, and on April 10, he issued eight conditions for the restart of Oi power plant in the Kansai region. The Noda government refused to bargain. A month later he suggested that the plants be only temporarily started, and then when that idea was rejected, Hashimoto changed his position and approved the restart. On June 1, he publicly admitted he had been defeated on the issue. Certainly, this is not an unfamiliar experience for political leaders, nor should it be seen as a capitulation. Rather, it suggests that Hashimoto himself is still finding his place in the broader debate over Japan’s policy choices.

The Japan Restoration Party has yet to announce a party platform, but on August 31, the Osaka Restoration Party issued what is likely to be the national party’s manifesto. Eight policy proposals form the basis of what Hashimoto describes as the “great reset” needed to renew Japan. Although too numerous to go into in great detail here, the goals are as follows:

  • Rebuild Japan’s structure of government for decisive and responsible governance
  • Fiscal, administrative, and political reform to make government “slim and flexible”
  • Reform Japan’s bureaucracy to produce policy expertise that can work across government and private sectors
  • Reinvigorate Japan’s educational system to make it world class
  • Build a sustainable social welfare system that more effectively assists those who need it
  • Craft an economic and employment policy, including tax reform, that instills hope for the future
  • Diplomacy and defense: robust preparation for protecting Japan’s sovereignty, peace, and national interest
  • Revise the constitution and fundamentally redesign the government so that Japan can make decisions

Each of these categories lays out the principles that Hashimoto’s party espouses, followed by concrete policies it would pursue. As a campaign document, of course, the devil remains in the details. For the most part, his policies are aimed at structural and process-level changes in the Japanese government. This is the focus of his “reset”—but he also suggests some important substantive rethinking. Hashimoto comes down firmly in favor of allowing the market to determine social outcomes, and for smaller government. The aspiration is for changing the way Japan does business at home—and abroad.

Hashimoto’s foreign policy proposals deserve attention. The Japan Restoration Party supports many of Japan’s traditional foreign policy principles: supporting global peace and prosperity, defending Japan’s sovereignty and territory, cooperating with others—especially with the United States—who value freedom and democracy, and ensuring access through international cooperation to the natural resources that Japan depends on for its livelihood. Again, specific policies seem quite within the mainstream of Japan’s foreign policy debate. Hashimoto’s party would emphasize participation in peacekeeping operations, continue to build a broad and inclusive global economic network, cooperate closely with other U.S. allies (South Korea and Australia), and commit to an active program of overseas development assistance. He wants a National Security Council in the Cabinet, and greater investment in the study of international relations and global societies.

Two initiatives caught my eye, however. The first was the top priority on Hashimoto’s list, and that was creating a roadmap to reduce the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa that would involve all of Japan. Implicit here is the redistribution of U.S. military bases across the country, which addresses the longstanding view in Okinawa that it shares a disproportionate share of the bases. The second was greater regulation of foreign residents in Japan with a view to national security interests; more specifically, the manifesto mentions regulating the purchase of land by foreigners.

Finally, the Japan Restoration Party would like to reform Japan’s constitution, including Article 96 which defines the terms for revision. The Japan Restoration Party would like to make it easier to revise, lowering the threshold of the parliamentary approach from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority of one-half. Most of the other revisions have to do with the party’s government restructuring initiatives, such as allowing the direct election of the prime minister and other reforms of the legislature and local government. On the much more politically contested issue of Article 9, Japan’s “no war” clause, Hashimoto’s party would like to hold a referendum to determine whether the time has come for Japan to reconsider its military self-restraint.

Beyond this new party platform, Hashimoto has made a number of statements that, while not quite adding up to a strategic vision, suggest where he wants to head on some of Japan’s current foreign policy choices. Hashimoto favors Japan’s inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but one of his new party members, Yorihisa Matsuno, who left the DPJ to join him, is an outspoken TPP critic. Thus, it is likely that this is not an issue where the party will be fully unified.

Hashimoto has been fairly judicious on the subject of Japan’s current tensions over territorial disputes. He responded to media questions by arguing that it was “natural to defend territory (but) on territorial issues, diplomacy and security, I don’t think it’s the role of politicians to clamor loudly.” Yet he has come down on the side of the conservative narrative on the issue of forced prostitution during WWII, telling reporters that he would like South Koreans to provide evidence that the Japanese military took women away by force.

In today’s era of coalition governance in Japan, the Japan Restoration Party does not need a decisive win in Japan’s next election. Hashimoto’s party simply needs enough seats to make the DPJ and LDP sit up and pay attention. There is plenty of evidence that both of Japan’s larger parties are doing just that. On Wednesday, at a debate for party president of the DPJ, the four contenders including the current prime minister were asked if they would commit to working with Hashimoto’s new party in the future. Similarly, LDP candidates for party president yesterday all suggested the possibility of cooperating on specific issues where their interests converged.

Already the new Japan Restoration Party is being wooed—and feared—as Tokyo gets closer and closer to a Lower House election.

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