- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

TOKYO | Japan’s parliament named Yukio Hatoyama prime minister Wednesday, as his party took power for the first time ever with promises to revive the slumping economy and make Tokyo a more equal partner in its alliance with the United States.

The Stanford-educated Mr. Hatoyama said he plans to review the American military presence in Japan, where 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed. But he said he will not stress that potentially contentious issue in a first meeting with President Obama that could come later this month.

The outgoing Liberal Democrats, who had ruled the country for most of the postwar era, are staunchly pro-American. Some have worried that the incoming Democratic Party of Japan would make changes to the U.S. relationship, but both Mr. Hatoyama and Washington have been careful to dispel the notion that any big shift is afoot.

While in the opposition, some in the Democratic Party of Japan said they wanted to overhaul the security alliance, and others balked at Tokyo’s share of the cost of moving 8,000 Marines from the southern island of Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam.

The Democrats have also said that by January they plan to end a Japanese mission in the Indian Ocean that refuels American ships supporting troops fighting in Afghanistan.

But Mr. Hatoyama, 62, has been careful to reassure Japanese and Americans alike that the U.S. will remain the “cornerstone” of his government’s foreign policy, though the new leader did say Wednesday he hoped to build a new kind of relationship with Mr. Obama by exchanging ideas “frankly.”

“Japan has been largely passive in our relationship, but I would like to be a more active partner,” Mr. Hatoyama told a news conference after he was elected prime minister, winning 327 of the 480 votes in the more powerful lower house of parliament.

“I am excited by the prospect of changing history,” Mr. Hatoyama said. “The battle starts now.”

U.S. Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said Tuesday that strong military ties would continue with the new government.

“They are a strategic linchpin for us in the Western Pacific, and I’m not concerned about any significant changes,” said Adm. Keating, who was in Washington.

In announcing his Cabinet on Wednesday, Mr. Hatoyama picked two men with no ministerial experience for key jobs in dealing with the U.S. on security matters: Katsuya Okada, a former bureaucrat at the Trade Ministry, will serve as foreign minister, and Toshimi Kitazawa as defense minister.

Signaling the priority he places on the economy, Mr. Hatoyama named veteran politician Hirohisa Fujii finance minister. Mr. Fujii held that job under the brief coalition government in 1993-94, the only time in the past 55 years that the LDP had not ruled.

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