Respecting one’s dignity while respecting the dignity of others is the central principle behind uniting East Asia, said former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama at a lecture on Thursday, Feb. 8.
Hatoyama served as Japan’s prime minister from September 2009 to June 2010. He was the head of the Democratic Party of Japan, which he led to victory over the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party.
In his talk, Hatoyama discussed his desire for Japan to build an East Asian community similar to the European Union. He hopes to see East Asian countries including Japan, China, South Korea, and North Korea united.
Hatoyama acknowledged arguments against this notion, especially considering the United Kingdom’s recent decision to exit the EU. However, he said that since the implementation of the union, there has been a “stable anti-war consensus,” one that he hopes East Asia can replicate.
Hatoyama also addressed the tensions between North Korea and the United States.
“A peace treaty must be signed,” he said, pointing to escalating sanctions and Kim Jong-un’s refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue.
He expressed concern for a possibility of war between North Korea and the United States, and said that encouraging talks between the two nations is the “proper course of action for any Japanese leader.”
Hatoyama also spoke about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the effect of President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement. While Japan has reached compromise with other countries without the involvement of the United States, some countries, including Canada, are now reluctant to get on board. The TPP without the United States, according to Hatoyama, is “largely an exercise in futility.”
Japan has always, to a certain extent, found itself at the mercy of U.S. interests, Hatoyama said. While structuring foreign policy, Japan “remains sensitive to the United States’s desires.”
According to the former prime minister, this effect is sometimes even seen in internal Japanese policies, such as the privatization of the Japanese postal service.
“It boggles my mind why Japanese politics remain so subservient to what Washington wants,” he said.
He also cited the example of U.S. military bases in Japan. While the Japanese people are grateful for the protection that having U.S. military bases has offered, Hatoyama said it is key to note that one of the military bases’ primary functions is also to serve as means for the United States “to project military force” in East Asia and even the Middle East.
“I am a firm believer in the need for Japan to protect its own security,” he added.
Hatoyama concludes that the current prime minister, Shinzō Abe, seems determined to “unleash a distinctive brand of Japanese nationalism,” which Hatoyama predicted is likely to heighten tensions between nations.
Instead, Hatoyama suggests regionalism, which “stresses the importance of harmony” between neighboring countries and encourages discussions about social, political, and economic themes. He emphasized that this approach would ensure that Japan does not need to increase its military strength.
“For Japan to become a truly sovereign nation, it needs to emerge from its current state of dependence,” he said. “I believe this can be achieved through the power of dialogue, and deeper cooperation with neighboring nations.”
If his idea of an East Asian community can be achieved, Hatoyama said, Japan can “once again be admired and relied upon by people around the world.”
The lecture, titled “Up to the Minute: From The North Korean Nuclear Crisis to Shaping a New Cooperative Future for East Asia,” took place on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 4:30 p.m. in the Arthur Lewis Auditorium in Robertson Hall.