The Real Yukio Hatoyama

By Yokota, Takashi | Newsweek International, September 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Real Yukio Hatoyama


Yokota, Takashi, Newsweek International


Byline: Takashi Yokota

Japan's new prime minister could be Asia's first 'third way' leader.

For the first time since he became Japan's prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama will address the international community this week, with an ambitious statement at the United Nations in which he is expected to promise that Japan will take the lead in the effort to build a world free of nuclear weapons. But in many ways, Hatoyama's speech will be far more than that: it will represent the formal introduction of a man whose lofty, sometimes esoteric rhetoric has given him an early reputation as something of a mystery man.

Yet Hatoyama should be almost instantly recognizable as the latest of many leaders who are seeking to define a new place for nations caught between the rise of China and the ebb of America, between the prosperity of free-market capitalism and the comforts of the welfare state. In some ways, Hatoyama is quite possibly Asia's first "Third Way" leader, a man in the mold of a Bill Clinton or Tony Blair--a flexible visionary produced by a crisis of the old order. On the economic front, he aims to temper the recent eruptions of capitalism's animal spirits without destroying them. His calls to curb the "excesses" of U.S.-led global markets have been read as signs of anti-Americanism in Japan. But his comments are no less pointed or impassioned than the critiques of America's role as the incubator of the great credit crisis emanating from its other staunch allies, including Germany, France, and Britain, as well as from China. His call to restore morals and moderation to the market by tending to issues like the environment, education, social welfare, health care, and income inequality would ring familiar in London, Berlin, or Beijing. His solutions to Japan's economic stagnation are decidedly centrist: he wants to direct government money away from bureaucrats and special interests and toward households. He hopes to narrow the income divide and spur domestic demand by funneling money away from wasteful spending projects and toward programs like expanding child subsidies and eliminating highway tolls. And he plans to pursue free-trade agreements with the U.S. and other Asian nations, as he promised to during the campaign.

On foreign affairs, Hatoyama has also staked out a middle ground, with a policy that acknowledges that there are other bigger players in the region. He sees that his own nation, as an Asian capitalist democracy, can serve as a bridge between China and the U.S. With regard to China, Hatoyama has said the two countries should forge a "constructive partnership" that would cooperate on "common agendas" like the environment and promoting regional security. And he says he wants to pursue a "more equal" relationship with Washington. That means doing away with programs that his party criticizes as evidence of Tokyo's subservience to -Washington--by pulling out Japanese ships that refuel U.S. warships in the Indian Ocean, for instance, and reducing the footprint of American troops in Okinawa. But it also means advocating for a strong America and the continuation of American influence in the world--while increasing Japan's own role in maintaining international security. Hatoyama's party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is reportedly considering plans to dispatch government and private-sector relief personnel to Afghanistan, something in line with a suggestion made by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke in Tokyo earlier this year.

Underlying all these plans is Hatoyama's much-misconstrued concept of "fraternal love," known as yuai in Japanese. The idea is rooted in the ideals of compassion and balance, but it has been extremely difficult for Hatoyama to explain or for the public--even in his home country--to understand. He preaches, for instance, that "if there is excess of freedom, equality is lost. If there is excess of equality, freedom is lost." That philosophy translates into a desire to find the middle ground between free-market capitalism and egalitarianism, but that message gets easily lost in the koanlike rhetoric.

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