Seiken Kotai – Kono Kuni o Kaeru [政権交代―この国を変える] (Change of Political Power – To Change This Country)

By Katsuya Okada

JBR Seiken Kotai Kono Kuni o Kaeru

Kodansha, June, 2008, 253 pages, 1500 yen

Review by Fumiko Halloran

Katsuya Okada  is Japan’s new no-nonsense Foreign Minister in the first DPJ Cabinet, a onetime head of the party and the man Prime Minister Hatoyama narrowly beat to become party leader. This book was published in 2008 but still has material that can be legitimately examined to see where DPJ is heading in governing. Readers might be disappointed if they are looking for his thinking on Japan’s foreign policy; his book is devoted to the domestic political situation.

A semi-autographical book, Okada narrates his political career steeped in pushing for political reform including changes in the electoral district system while he was a member of the ruling LDP. As a thirty three year old former MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry, currently Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry) official and a new member of the House of Representatives in 1990, Okada was disappointed by the way the LDP conducted politics, by factional fights, by close relations with interest groups and the corruption that rose from it; by sluggish efforts to change the status quo; and by lukewarm policy debates.

Riding on a wave of reform, Okada quit the LDP in 1993 and joined the Shinshin-to (New Progressive Party) that, with other opposition parties, succeeded in toppling the LDP briefly. The coalition government of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa collapsed in less than one year, however, and the LDP returned to power. Okada asserts that a new DPJ prime minister and his cabinet should take away power from the bureaucrats in policy making, including the control of personnel appointments and budget proposals. Priorities should focus on social welfare including retirement pensions, local autonomy, and reform of the financial structure and reducing the national deficit.

Although foreign policy is not discussed in this book, Okada has had considerable overseas experience. When he was a MITI official, he and his wife spent a year in 1985 at Harvard University, where he was a guest scholar at the Center for International Affairs (Kokusai Mondai Kenkyusho). He describes with nostalgia their life in an apartment on the bank of the Charles River. Every weekend they had a party to which they invited Americans and foreign students from Malaysia, the Philippines, Korea, China, Nepal, Venezuela, Mali, and other countries. He says he learned about the cultural diversity of the world community and the importance of freedom, in addition to being proud of his own country. Observing American politicians, particularly President Reagan, at the time of national crises, Okada realized what politicians could do for their country and began to contemplate political career for himself. During the last few years, he travelled overseas extensively, meeting with political leaders in many nations.

His first press conference as foreign minister took place on 17th September 2009; the transcript is posted on the Foreign Ministry’s homepage and is likely to be archived for long term reference. Okada covered a range of issues, including investigating secret agreements between the U.S. and Japanese governments on the movement of American nuclear weapons into or through Japan; he ordered the Foreign Ministry to come up with a report by November. He commented on North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, saying that without further information, sanctions would continue, and indicated the Maritime Defence Forces refuelling operation in Indian Ocean in support of international operations in Afghanistan would not be extended but Japan would consider other forms of assistance.

Public opinion polls show that more than 70% of the citizens approved of the new cabinet in its early days. Whether the DPJ can resolve economic troubles, help the elderly and families with children, narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots, establish stable relations with the United States and Asian neighbours, and play an effective role in international community will be closely watched both by the Japanese themselves and people overseas.

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