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Japan ready to withdraw support for Afghanistan war

Posted by smeddum on September 17, 2009

Japan ready to withdraw support for Afghanistan war

Richard Lloyd Parry in Tokyo

From Times Online
September 16, 2009
Yukio Hatoyama’s choice of Defence Minister suggests that he will keep an election pledge to withdraw from the Afghanistan campaign
Japan’s new Defence Minister is a strong opponent of the country’s military support for the US, making it more likely than ever that the Government of Yukio Hatoyama will withdraw its naval ships from the war in Afghanistan early next year.

Mr Hatoyama was formally elected Prime Minister by the Diet, days after his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won a crushing election victory on a platform of bureaucratic reform, welfare spending and a less deferential relationship with the United States.

The appointment as Defence Minister of 71-year old Toshimi Kitazawa suggests that he will follow through in his election promise to withdraw from the Nato-led Afghanistan campaign.

Japan’s Maritime Defence Forces deployed a supply ship and a destroyer to provide fuel and water to US and British naval vessels in the Indian Ocean. Compared to other international contributions, it is small, but for Japan, which has taken part in only a handful of overseas military operations since World War II, it is an important and controversial commitment.
When the former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent Japanese soldiers to Iraq in 2004, the country’s biggest and most risky post-war deployment, Mr Kitazawa staunchly opposed the plan. It seems increasingly likely that the ships will be called home when the current terms of their deployment expires in February.

It is all the more probable with the inclusion in the new cabinet of Mizuho Fukushima, leader of Mr Hatoyama’s coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Formerly called the Japan Socialist Party, the LDP is committed to upholding Japan’s “peace” constitution, with its explicit ban on the use of force in resolving international disputes.

With 308 DPJ members in the 480 seat Diet, plus 19 more votes from the SDP and the smaller People’s New Party, Mr Hatoyama was easily elected Prime Minister, bringing to an end 54 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.

“At the very moment I was chosen as Prime Minister, I was moved, and trembled in the knowledge and responsibility that the history of Japan is about to change,” he said. “We may have failures, but please be generous. This is a close encounter of the third kind, and I am leaping into a world I have never experienced before.”

The other senior members of the new government had been predicted, after several days of leaks to the Japanese media. Mr Hatoyama’s Foreign Minister will be Katsuya Okada, a 56-year old former bureaucrat with a reputation for earnest sobriety who studied at Harvard. His Finance Minister, Hirohisa Fujii, 77, is one of the handful of members of the party to have had experience as a minister, in the LDP’s only other period out of power in 1993-94.

One of the key positions goes to 62-year old Naoto Kan who, as minister of newly formed National Strategic Bureau, is responsible for breaking the power of Japan’s mighty bureaucracy and putting policy making responsibility back in the hands of the cabinet. As Health Minister in an LDP-led coalition in 1996 he won nationwide popularity by accepting government responsibility for a scandal involving tainted blood products which infected thousands of haemophiliacs with HIV.

The most controversial appointment is that of Shizuka Kamei, the head of the People’s New Party, who will be Minister for Financial Services and Postal Affairs. Mr Kamei is a former member of the LDP who resigned because of vehement opposition to the party’s plans to privatise the office.

Mr Hatoyama will depart almost immediately for the United States where he will attend the UN General Assembly in New York and a Group of Twenty economic summit in Pittsburgh. He will also hold summit meetings with leaders such as Barack Obama and Hu Jintao of China. In his first speech as Prime Minister, Mr Hatoyama played down suggestions that he would adopt a cool attitude to the US.

“The key is to build up relationship of trust, to talk each other without reserve,” he said. “In the past, sometimes Japan took passive attitude towards the US, but I’d like to build up the relationship where Japan can talk honestly and from an active position.”

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