- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2014

Worried that the U.S. is abdicating its global leadership role, nearly two dozen Japanese policymakers have formed a self-described conservative political party focused heavily on pushing their country to confront the rise of China.

Members of Japan’s Party for Future Generations, formed last month after a larger party split into two factions, visited lawmakers in Washington this week. Their message was that they believe the U.S., seemingly preoccupied with the crisis in Ukraine and the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, is not paying enough attention to attempted Chinese power grabs in the Pacific.

“It seems to me China is doing offensive operations around the world in many ways, but at the same time the United States seems it is looking inward. It seems it is giving up the role of policing the world. That is frustrating me,” Takeo Hiranuma, chairman of the Party for Future Generations, told The Washington Times through a translator.

Mr. Hiranuma, a former trade minister who has worked for leaders such as Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, have built the fledgling party on three core tenets.

They want reforms to the Japanese Constitution, including a stronger separation of powers and smaller government through the establishment of a unicameral parliament. The party also seeks the full use of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, which have been shuttered since the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Perhaps more important, the party’s hawkish foreign policy platform calls for more spending on self-defense and the establishment of rules “concerning territorial defense during peacetime.”

Analysts say the party is not powerful enough to drive change, though it could gain clout in coming years.

“Their influence is limited. It’s an opposition party, and a relatively small opposition party. But by splitting, they became more ideologically coherent,” said Steven Vogel, chairman of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mr. Vogel stressed that political fracturing and the formation of small, ideologically driven parties is common in Japanese politics and it’s impossible to know how successful the conservative party will become.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is the nation’s most powerful political force, with the most members in Japan’s upper and lower houses.

The Party for Future Generations is forming while China increasingly exerts its influence in the region.

China and Japan remain embroiled in a bitter dispute over control of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. A poll released Wednesday by the nonprofit group Genron and China’s state-sponsored newspaper China Daily found that 53 percent of Chinese believe their country will go to war with Japan over the islands.

Twenty-nine percent of Japanese agreed, the poll said. Both groups of respondents overwhelmingly cite tensions over the Senkaku Islands as the main reason for the threat of war.

The White House has decried China’s show of force and appealed for peace in the Pacific, but some Japanese policymakers expect more leadership from the U.S.

“We are worried about the United States’ attitude these days. China is slowly expanding and getting its national interests in some areas,” said Daisuke Sakamoto, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives and deputy secretary general of the Party for Future Generations. “We expect U.S. readiness and also willingness to cooperate and deal with China. My concern is that kind of willingness and readiness has decreased or been damaged by the situation in Ukraine and ISIS,” the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State.

The Japanese lawmakers specifically want the administration to declare that the Senkaku Islands belong to Japan.

The Obama administration denies that it is neglecting its Pacific allies.

“Even as we focus on crises and on conflicts that dominate the headlines on a daily basis and demand our leadership, we will never forget the long-term strategic imperatives for American interests,” a State Department representative said. “This is a region that can and should meet challenges with courage and collaboration. We are determined to deliver on the strategic opportunities that we can create together.”

On Capitol Hill, some Republican lawmakers have lauded the formation of the Party for Future Generations and agreed with its core notion that the administration simply hasn’t been tough enough with China.

“There are other political groups popping up offering alternatives in the right direction,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican. “Our administration is not backing up our Western Pacific friends from being bullied by China. I can see why they would be concerned by that.”

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