Japan's neighbors welcome new leadership

Chinese state media and South Korea’s president expressed hope at closer regional ties under Yukio Hatoyama’s DPJ party, which won elections by a landslide Sunday.

Since the Democratic Party of Japan made history by defeating the long-running Liberal Democratic Party, DPJ leader and Japan’s next prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has been busy talking on the phone – with his Asian neighbors.

To them, that’s a welcome sign from the party that promised to take Japan’s government in new directions, reports China’s state-run Xinhua news agency:

The landslide election win by Japan's opposition Democratic Party over the ruling conservatives raises hopes in Asia that the often tense relationships with Tokyo's leaders will give way to improved regional ties….
[South Korean President Lee Myung-bak] told Hatoyama by telephone that he believed [South Korea] and Japan "can open a new era," while Hatoyama replied the two countries should cooperate "more closely," Lee's office said in a statement…

Many of Japan's problems with its neighbors have been festering since the end of World War II, including fights over compensating war victims, territorial rows and what many see as not showing proper contrition for its aggression in China, Korea and other parts of Asia.

In addition to vowing to move closer to Japan’s neighbors, Hatoyama pledged a somewhat tougher stance with the United States. As Japan’s Mainichi Daily News reports, Japan’s foreign ministry said it would cooperate with the DPJ to investigate “a secret agreement on port calls by U.S. vessels carrying nuclear weapons after it takes over the reins of government, the ministry's top bureaucrat said.”

The DPJ swept to power on a broad platform of change, including an “end [to] bureaucratic rule and two-decade-long economic doldrums … and a promise to shift the government's focus from companies to people,” as The Christian Science Monitor noted.

Yet the party has had to cut back on some promises. Japan Today reports that the DPJ had pledged to modify a 14 trillion yen supplementary budget in an extraordinary parliament session in order to address the global recession. But on Tuesday, it announced it would delay the modification until next year “while suspending the disbursement of the backlogged 3 trillion yen portion of the budget until that time.”

That left one reader to comment: “Hahaha.... only two days after being elected they're already back-peddling.”

As the DPJ government sets off on its historical beginning, an editorial in Japan’s Asahi newspaper has this advice:

The DPJ, which has become a huge voting bloc in the Lower House with a single-minded appeal for a change of government, now faces a tough test of its ability to define its political identity and lay out viable policy visions. The party must try to give the public clearer ideas about its identity in figuring out its relations with its expanded support base and clarifying its principles and positions concerning foreign and security policy issues.
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