Monday, June 7, 2010



Mr.Naoto Kan, who takes over as the Prime Minister of Japan on June 8,2010, is an unknown quantity in international relations. As the Finance Minister in the outgoing Cabinet of Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, his time was largely taken up by Japan’s economic problems arising from its massive public debt, sluggish growth and an aging population. Economic problems will continue to take up a lot of his time as the Prime Minister too.

2. In a written statement issued on June 4, he described economic recovery and growth as the biggest challenges that he would face as the Prime Minister. Japan is the slowest growing economy in Asia, and is expected to be overtaken by China later this year. Industrial production and exports are picking up, but this has not had any impact on the unemployment situation and deflation. He said in his statement: “I will tackle and pull Japan out of deflation through comprehensive measures from the Government and the Bank of Japan." He promised fiscal reforms and spoke of possible tax hikes to facilitate a strong social security system for the old people.

3. His remarks on foreign policy as the Finance Minister and now as the Prime Minister-designate have been sparse. It is, however, already evident that like Mr.Hatoyama, he attaches importance to the “Get Closer To Asia” policy. But he will not allow this to weaken Japan’s relations with the US, which he regards as vital. Closer and stronger relations with the rest of Asia, yes, but not at the expense of the existing close and strong relations with the US. The maintenance of close relations with the US have become even more important in view of the increasingly erratic behaviour of North Korea, China’s reluctance to hold North Korea accountable for the March incident in which it allegedly torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel killing many South Korean sailors and the increasingly assertive actions of the Chinese Navy in the South and East China Sea. Japan is not in a position to deal with an assertive China alone without the solidarity of the US.

4. Some significant pre-swearing-in remarks of his on foreign policy give an indication of his mind:

* “With the U.S.-Japan alliance the cornerstone of our diplomacy, we must also work for the prosperity of the Asian region."
* He would honor an agreement to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps. Futenma Air Base on Okinawa, and work to rebuild trust between the two allies.
* He would place equal emphasis on improving ties with China.
* “Japan is situated at a very advantageous geopolitical position. Asia is currently the most rapidly and widely developing area in the world and its scale (of development) is the most outstanding in history. Japan is located at the corner of such an area. It is true that the situation on development in Japan and in Asia is different, but Japan is still in a position to be able to strike a win-win relationship with such developing powers such as China, India and Vietnam.”

5.With five Prime Ministers in four years, who hardly had any time to work out and implement a national strategy on any issue----whether relating to the economy, national and regional security or foreign policy--- Japan has been drifting from scandal to scandal and crisis to crisis. Mr.Kan’s predecessors as the Prime Minister were hardly able to settle down and find their feet on the ground before they were forced to quit by unfavourable public opinion or inner party pressure or both.

6. Mr. Hatoyama came to office as the Prime Minister eight months ago with three major promises.He failed to implement two of them and the time and energy spent by him in unsuccessfully trying to implement the first two did not give him much time to attend to the third. The two promises which he failed to implement related to the shifting of the US base from Okinawa to which the Barack Obama Administration was strongly opposed and to set up a national strategy bureau to promote habits of long-term strategic thinking. His preoccupation with these two issues and with the usual scandals regarding unaccounted political funding hardly gave him time to give shape to a new foreign policy, which he had promised with a greater focus on Asia than had been the case under his predecessors.

7.Unlike his predecessors, Mr.Kan was not born into an elite political family. He is not from a political dynasty. He said of himself after it became clear that he was likely to be the party’s choice to succeed Mr.Hatoyama: "I grew up in a typical Japanese salaryman's family.I've had no special connections. If I can take on a major role starting from such an ordinary background, that would be a very positive thing for Japanese politics."

8. Comments of others on Mr.Kan:

* "He's less dreamy than Hatoyama. He's a common man just like us”---- Mr.Koichi Nakano, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
* “Kan is more proactive about fiscal discipline and about raising the consumption tax than any other Cabinet Minister" ---- Mr.Hirokata Kusaba, a senior economist at the Mizuho Research Institute.
* “ Kan himself has been cautious of being branded a fiscal hawk. He also has a talent for nuanced remarks that can be interpreted in many ways, and may shift away from his stress on fiscal austerity if needed to win votes in the upper house poll”---- From a Reuters dispatch.
* “ He is everything Yukio Hatoyama was not — decisive, outspoken and a populist with common roots. He has a record of acting on the basis of his beliefs and not backing down. Those are good signs for a Prime Minister, and I think those are qualities that Hatoyama did not have”---- Mr. Tobias Harris, a political analyst who once worked as an aide to a Democratic Party lawmaker in Japan.

9.Mr.Kan, who is 63 years old, is the son of a businessman from Yamaguchi in Southern Japan. He has never been a a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that had ruled Japan for more than five decades before it was replaced by the Democratic Party last year. He co-founded the Democratic Party along with Mr.Hatoyama in 1996. Before 1996, he belonged to a small opposition party. In September 1997, he was elected as the party President and contined in that post till September 1999. From September 2000 to September 2002, he served as the Secretary-General of the Party. In December 2002, he was elected again as the party President and continued in that post till May 2004. He was named the Deputy Prime Minister in September 2009 in the Hatoyama Cabinet and was appointed as the Finance Minister in January 2010.

10. India views Japan as an important strategic partner. The two countries would benefit from close consultations on China. How to befriend China while at the same time being beware of it? That is a question of common interest to both. At the same time, the utility of this partnership to India will not reach its full potential so long as Japan continues to be in its present state of drift with successive Japanese Prime Ministers being unable to work out and sustain a long-term strategy. ( 8-6-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat,. Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )




A major worry for the international community has been the danger of Al Qaeda using a chemical weapon to indulge in an act of mass casualty terrorism. Studies have been made of the possible scenarios and how to prevent and counter them. Dealing with a chemical disaster---- deliberately caused by terrorists or other criminal elements or due to the criminal negligence of those producing and storing them for industrial and other purposes---- is now an important component of any national disaster management plan.

2. In India too, we have a high-powered national disaster management authority and one understands it has prepared different contingency plans to deal with different types of disasters----a chemical disaster being one of them. One would have thought that a detailed case study of the disaster in Bhopal in 1984 due to the leakage of chemical gases from a plant of the Union Carbide would have been the starting point of any such contingency planning.

3. Do you know what would happen if Al Qaeda manages to get hold of a deadly chemical weapon and uses it to kill people in their hundreds and thousands? People would start dying without knowing what is happening to them. Security and other bureaucrats involved in disaster management would take some time to understand why people are dying and set in motion the drill to deal with situation.

4. Al Qaeda is not going to announce beforehand that it would be using a chemical weapon. It will use it and let the world realise that it has used it from the initially unexplained deaths.

5. That is what happened in Bhopal in 1984. People in their hundreds working in the factory, moving around in the town and living in their homes started falling dead without anyone understanding why they are dying. It took sometime for the authorities to realize that the deaths were due to the leakage of gas from the factory and its spread across the town. They did not know what kind of a gas was it and how to protect people from its effect.

6.No proper study had been made beforehand of the dangers of a leak---- due to negligence or deliberately-caused. There had been no contingency planning to deal with the resulting situation.

7. It goes to the credit of the authorities of Madhya Pradesh and the Government of India and of Rajiv Gandhi, who had just then taken over as the Prime Minister, that without any previous experience of dealing with that kind of situation, they rose to the occasion and did whatever they could to save lives at tremendous risk to themselves. Despite their praise-worthy efforts, over 3500 people died---- as many as during the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US.

8. In many seminars that I have attended since 9/11 on the dangers of an act of mass casualty terrorism using a chemical weapon, there were references to the Bhopal disaster as a forewarning of what could happen if the terrorists manage to get hold of a deadly chemical weapon and use it. Many of those who made the reference, at the same time, expressed their surprise and disappointment over the fact that the Indian authorities had not documented the details of what happened in Bhopal in 1984, how the situation was dealt with by the authorities, what kind of difficulties they faced and how they got over them.

9. In fact, according to them, no proper case study of the Bhopal gas disaster has been made to draw lessons for future contingency planning to deal with similar disasters. If this is true, this does not speak well of us and underlines once again our casual attitude in such matters.

10.Before the officials of Bhopal who dealt with the disaster pass away, their account of the disaster should be documented and a thorough case study done.

11. It goes to the credit of Rajiv Gandhi that he realized the importance of contingency planning to deal with similar disasters in future and set up a special cell in the Ministry of Home Affairs for this purpose. This cell allegedly stopped functioning after he left office as the PM in 1989. Contingency planning for disaster management started receiving the attention it deserved only after 9/11.( 7-6-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and also Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )