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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: February 2016

1 - Introduction

Summary

In October 2012, the Japanese media covered a debate within the Japan Restoration Party. In a forum to unveil the new party's policies to voters, party leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto offered his thoughts on the dispute between Japan and South Korea over sovereignty of the islands known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. Acknowledging the impossibility of overturning South Korea's occupation of the islands with force, Hashimoto proposed that Japan change its policy to a more practical one: joint management of the islands with its neighbor (Yomiuri Shimbun 2012). No sooner had he spoken than his words met with a barrage of criticism from fellow party members. Former Liberal Democratic Member of the House of Representatives Kenta Matsunami asked him to “leave decisions about national-level policies like foreign and security policy up to the Diet Members in the party,” which prompted Hashimoto to clarify that he was not suggesting Japan rescind its claims to sovereignty of the islands, only that it work with South Korea to establish rules for the joint utilization of the area and its resources. Another former Liberal Democratic Member of the House of Representatives, Kenzo Yoneda, counseled Hashimoto against further efforts to resolve the dispute, warning that “national security and territorial disputes are the lifeblood of politicians these days” (Sankei Shimbun 2012).

Yoneda's remarks are telling because they overturn a conventional wisdom about Japan, which is that conservative politicians do not pay much attention to national security and are not very interested in making security policy. Scholars of international relations and observers of recent episodes of tension between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea might find this difficult to believe, but for decades, it was true. The conservative politicians who governed Japan as members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) acted as if they were oblivious to the security threats Japan faced and indifferent to the opportunities arising from the extraordinary expansion of Japan's economic power and standing in the world. In 1997, this changed. All of a sudden, these same conservative politicians were rushing to create Diet Member leagues to tackle matters of national security, clamoring to make statements about security issues in newspapers and on television, and devising ways to make them part of their election campaigns.

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