Hatoyama should be proud of speaking out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 12:00am

It was just this side of comical. The leader of Japan's new ruling party barely finishes acknowledging his Democratic Party of Japan's huge win when a public-relations disaster strikes. The result: an ignominious international climbdown.

What happened was not an ideal opening act for the next prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama. Before the election, a Japanese magazine published an essay by him, which thoughtfully challenged some of the operational tenets of the 'American Century' (the previous one).

It decried the cold inhuman edges of globalisation, raised (as have some in the Chinese elite and other global voices) doubts about the future global centrality of the US dollar, called for a greater sense of shared opportunity among the nations of East Asia (and the world) and wondered how long Uncle Sam could remain the Big Global Bopper.

Had Hatoyama not been who he is, and Nathan Gardels not been who he is (a whip-smart Los Angeles-based public intellectual and media entrepreneur whose Global Viewpoint Network has 35 million readers through many of the world's top newspapers), these not unreasonable thoughts, written in Japanese, would have remained in Japan. Instead, Gardels arranged for an English translation and had his syndicate do its global information-technology distribution thing. Before long, the essay (or excerpts) appeared in important papers around the world.

Well, the shame, the disgrace! A Japanese leader should actually proffer an original thought or two - indeed, ideas that might not automatically reek of US political orthodoxy! Before long, he was more or less bowing and scraping to President Barack Obama and declaiming any intent to question the fundamentals of the US-Japan alliance. 'The Japan-US alliance is the axis of Japan's foreign policies,' he declaimed.

Hatoyama shouldn't have apologised for anything. The fact is that many Americans have similar concerns about the brutality of unregulated globalisation, about gross value systems, and about poor people with no health insurance, housing or prospects.

Hatoyama's essay was hardly revolutionary. It was, in fact, a polite and mild restatement of traditional Japanese values in an age when free-market fundamentalism has been uprooting social economies.

'Globalism,' he wrote, 'has progressed without any regard for non-economic values.'

And it is a plain fact that Japan's current dilemma, Hatoyama wrote, is to be 'caught between the US, which is fighting to retain its position as the world's dominant power, and China, which is seeking ways to become dominant'.

The China question does hover over Japan. How to relate to Beijing without eroding relations with Washington is one of Japan's biggest - and most difficult - challenges.

Hatoyama should be proud of his essay. In fact, it was rather nice to see a Japanese prime minister thinking outside the box for once. We Americans ought to be able to handle critical thought, especially from friends and allies.

Tom Plate is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy