The candidate for issue’s “5 Questions with…” is Mary Alice Haddad, assistant professor of government, assistant professor of East Asian studies. She provides some insight into the recent, dramatic change in the Japanese government.
Q: What are your primary areas of study and research?
MAH: My primary area of research has been on civil society and democracy with a focus on Japan. I am beginning a new research project on environmental politics in East Asia. I am particularly interested in the ways that local politics around environmental issues can lead toward greater citizen participation in democratic as well as nondemocratic countries.
Q: How did you become interested in these areas?
MAH: I have been fascinated by the differences in the ways that Japanese and Americans experience democracy in different ways in their local communities and what that means for our broader understandings of democracy and democratic development.
Q: How significant are the recent changes in the Japanese government?
MAH: Extremely significant. Japanese politics has been undergoing profound transformation over the past two decades, and the election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) this past August is the most recent, and perhaps the most significant, of these changes. The election of the Democratic Party of Japan, and more particularly the relegation of the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party to opposition status, promises to shake up long-standing political patterns in that country. However, it is a bit too early to tell how profound the change in government will be.
Q: What will be some of most noticeable difference these changes will create with Japanese and U.S. relations?
MAH: In practical, policy terms, I doubt there will be much change. The US-Japan alliance is one of the oldest and most important in the world, and there are large incentives on both sides to keep the relationship healthy and strong. That said, I expect that the tone of the relationship will change to one more consistent with an equal partnership. This shift has been a gradual one and long in coming, and I expect that the change in Japan’s ruling party will help solidify the new, more equal, partnership.
Q: How will these changes affect Japan’s relations with other countries of the Pacific Rim and Russia?
MAH: Again, it is not yet clear if there will be a change in the content of policies or just in tone and pattern of engagement. Most diplomacy is not conducted by elected politicians but rather by foreign service personnel and private business, neither of whom were voted out of their positions this past August. The largest change in Japanese foreign policy will probably be greater public recognition of the importance of Sino-Japanese relations. Once again, this has been a gradual shift that has been occurring over several decades, but I expect that with the DPJ in power there will be more public recognition of active diplomatic efforts to improve relations with China.