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October 5, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright October 5, 2009 Elizabeth M. Lynch. Used by permission.


The United States was not the only country that voted for change this past year. On August 30, 2009, after fifty-four years of essentially one-party rule, the Japanese people voted overwhelmingly to usher in a completely new government and a new way of thinking. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which ruled Japan since 1955, was completely rejected. Obtaining only 119 out of 480 seats of the House of Representatives (the lower Diet), the LDP took a second seat to the younger and fresher Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DPJ won 308 seats in the House, ensuring that their leader, Yukio Hatoyama, would become Prime Minister.

The DPJ’s victory guarantees that much change will come to Japan. Already in the first few weeks of Prime Minister Hatoyama’s tenure, he has called for the complete transformation of the traditional government-bureaucracy relationship, the need to rework Japan’s economic recovery plan, and has called for a review of U.S. troops in stationed in Japan.

But little has been made of the impact of Japan’s new government on its relation with its large and imposing neighbor to the west: China. Will the Hatoyama government seek to work with China or further alienate China by continuing to glorify Japan’s World War II past? Is Japan’s goal to look inward to Asia at the expense of its relationship with the U.S.? To answer these questions, I spoke withGerald Curtis, a Columbia University political science professor and expert on Japanese politics, government and society. In analyzing the future of Japanese-Chinese relations, Professor Curtis left me with another word that has been used frequently in recent elections: hope.