Calder to Japan: Hurry up and Wait?

A lesson in ineffective diplomacy

Today’s Wall Street Journal article, “Rise of a New Era in Japan,” carries this most vexing and perplexing quote from well-regarded Asia scholar (and former special adviser to the U.S. Ambassador to Japan) Kent Calder:

It is crucial to wait and see right now. I’d say at least until the upper-house elections [in July], it is not going to be definitely clear how the new political landscape will be configured.

Can you even imagine the reaction someone would have gotten had they suggested that President Obama “wait and see” when he took over the reigns of the U.S. and its collapsing economy at the beginning of this year? “Wait until the mid-terms, Mr. Obama, so you’ll see what the make-up of Congress will be before you propose any new legislation.” Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

Mr. Calder’s advice is wrong here. A “wait and see” attitude on the part of the new DPJ party leadership would certainly be its death knell, almost as soon as its birth announcements were going out. There is no time to wait, no time to waste. Japan has a serious situation, domestically and internationally, and cannot afford the leisure of knowing by observation or consensus that it is on the right course. They must assemble their own best and brightest (some of which perhaps have already gravitated to the DPJ, some not), and forge a course based on belief, principle, reflection, analysis, and determination. None of these concepts are foreign to Japan’s leadership, or to its people.

It seems clear to other analysts that Japan is in fact already on borrowed time. Mr. Minoru Morita, a Japanese political analyst, observes that a good portion of the LDP’s problem – and, considering that the LDP has been in power for 54 years, Japan’s problem as well – has been the party’s insistence on putting party loyalists into important high-level posts rather than leaders with popular support or true leadership qualities.

In other forums Mr. Calder, speaking spefically of the alliance between America and Japan, “must work toward updating its security relationship by implementing transformation proposals, supporting a reciprocal presence of personnel in both countries, and reminding leaders of the importance of quick response to important bilateral issues when they occur” [emphasis mine]. The dichotomy between this sentiment and that quoted in today’s Journal, is difficult to decipher.

Bilateral or unilateral, the problems that Japan is facing, from basic good internal governance to international trade, are of a degree that immediate action is called for. If anything is crucial for Japan’s new leadership today, it’s to get the right people in place, pick the handful of policy shifts that can gain them much-needed trust in the popular mindset, putting them in a better position, with a new broader spectrum of effective business people and government officials now willing to align with the party, to effect real, broad change. By such staged moves, they will set themselves up with the best chance of success.

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