The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year did more than destroy the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in northeastern Japan. The March natural disaster significantly impacted the life of one man in particular: Naoto Kan, former prime minister of Japan.
Due to the lack of leadership and initiative taken by the Japanese government in dealing with the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and radiation leaks, the Japanese public became increasingly disgruntled and distrustful of the Kan administration. Public approval ratings began to plummet, ultimately leading to Kan’s resignation, announced last Friday. Kan was only in power for a little more than a year.
The following Monday, August 29, Yoshihiko Noda, a relatively low-profile politician, was elected to pick up the pieces that Kan left behind. As the sixth prime minister in five years, Noda will certainly have his work cut out for him. After years of economic stagnation and a revolving door of leadership, the new prime minister will have to prove to the world that Japan is politically stable and a reliable global actor.
With Japan’s reputation for electing “popular” politicians rather than people who can truly lead, Noda—a former political unknown—may be just what Japan needs.
Kumi Yokoe, senior visiting fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s new Japan Fellows Program, explains in her weekly Japanese-language newsletter (request the newsletter here) that there are three major issues Noda will need to focus on if he wants to be a successful prime minister.
1) First, the elimination of public distrust toward the Japanese government. Transparency is the key to success.
After the March 11 earthquake/tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear accident in northeast Japan, the Japanese government has kept as much information as they can from the public and the international eye in order to avoid criticism. Ironically, the more people began to investigate how the government was handling the disaster, the more unstable the political situation became.
2) Second, it is imperative that Japan improve its fiscal situation.
The IMF has projected that by the end of this year, Japan’s debt to GDP ratio will be over 200%. Japan is truly on the road toward default. As the world’s 3rd largest economy, the international market will definitely be affected if Japan defaults on its debt. The incoming Prime Minister needs to carefully evaluate how much money the government really has in its wallet, and make an informed decision on how it can effectively move toward balancing its budget.
3) Third, as the new leader of Japan, Noda needs to actively engage in dialogue with U.S. policymakers, communicate the importance of the Guam Agreement to Congress, and move forward with building the Futenma Replacement Facility.
According to Heritage’s Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia:
Japan has told America to be patient in solving the Futenma problem for the past 15 years, but there’s been no progress. Given the extremely constrained U.S. federal budget and need for massive budget cuts, Congress will be searching for opportunities to slash the budget. If there is no progress in actually building the Futenma Replacement Facility, Congress is more likely to cut Guam construction funding.
Klingner further reiterated this point in a recent WebMemo focusing on the current political situation in Japan.
The U.S.–Japan security treaty is the key to stability and peace in the Asia Pacific. It falls on Prime Minister Noda’s shoulders to learn from his successors’ mistakes and improve relations between the two countries.