The US warned on Tuesday that its security relationship with Japan could be disrupted by the government’s crushing defeat in upper house elections.
US officials in Tokyo are seeking an urgent meeting with Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the triumphant Democratic Party of Japan, to urge him not to block the extension of emergency anti-terrorist legislation.
The DPJ, which won a landslide victory in upper house elections on Sunday, is threatening to veto legislation allowing Japanese ships to fuel US and other allied vessels in the Indian Ocean – an operation the US believes to be crucial to its ability to patrol Middle East seaways.
“It would be unfortunate if [the election result] spilled over into issues that hopefully Japan looks on in a non-partisan way,” said Thomas Schieffer, the US ambassador to Tokyo.
Mr Schieffer said he hoped to persuade Mr Ozawa that blocking the extension of the emergency measure on terrorism, which runs out in November, would not be in Japan’s interests.
“Japan is a responsible member of the international community and I would really hate for Japan to decide that the issue was not important any more or that they didn’t want to contribute.”
The DPJ has threatened to give Shinzo Abe, the Liberal Democratic party prime minister, a rough parliamentary ride in an attempt to force a general election. The LDP is divided on foreign policy, with some of its senior officials keen to adopt a more assertive foreign policy, while others are more wary of meddling with Japan’s pacifist constitution. Some were against Japan’s decision to send a reconstruction mission to Iraq.
Mr Schieffer said he had never met Mr Ozawa, an indication of how thin relations are between Washington and a party that has never seriously vied for power before. The ambassador said he thought the importance of the alliance went far deeper than individual relationships, but he conceded that the defeat of the LDP had changed the situation.
“We try to carry on as normal as we possibly can,” he said. “The dynamic has changed. There is no question about that. The LDP no longer controls the upper house. That is a historic change. So I don’t think any of us know exactly how that will work out.”
A hung Japanese parliament could affect US-Japan relations in other ways, analysts said.
It might make Tokyo less able, for example, to persuade the US Congress to lift a ban on selling advanced F-22 fighters to Japan. The US has upset some Japanese defence officials by refusing to sell the aircraft, because of fears of upsetting China and concern for Japan’s lax handling of classified information.
Mr Schieffer said: “Obviously you can’t sell the F-22 today because Congress says you can’t. But that doesn’t mean there might not be some time in the future that that might not be contemplated.”