To envision how Katsuya Okada will approach his new job as foreign minister, one need look no further than his grilling of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during budget deliberations at the Diet on June 2, 2005.Okada plans to form stronger ties with Asia while maintaining its relationship with the US:
For the duration of the standoff, Okada, who was then president of the Democratic Party of Japan, put Koizumi through the ringer for visiting contentious Yasukuni Shrine.
"I have serious concern that this issue will influence ties between Japan and China, and if ties between Japan and China are ruined, it could affect the rest of Asia," Okada told Koizumi.
Touching on the enshrinement of 14 Class-A war criminals at the Shinto shrine, Okada attacked the prime minister's pilgrimage as damaging Japan's shot at becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and sabotaging its attempts to collaborate with its neighbors in resolving tensions with North Korea.
In his 2008 book "Seiken Koutai" (roughly translated as "Change of Regime"), Okada wrote that picking up the pieces from Koizumi's diplomatic maneuvers will be one of the first tasks the DPJ administration will address.
"The DPJ will likely take a different approach than the Liberal Democratic Party on its relations with Asia, and Okada is one figure who is well aware that Tokyo's ties with its neighbors are damaged," said Aiko Utsumi, a visiting professor at Waseda University in Tokyo.I see this as a good sign. What Japan needs to do is show China that there is no Japanese aggression for it to fear, but at the same time I hope cooperation with South Korea can be strengthened so that both countries' relationship with the US can be part of a trilateral arrangement. As I've said many times, South Korea and Japan would both be better off if they see each other as allies than antagonists. And that's a two-way street.
The expert on Japan's postwar ties with Asia said the launch of the DPJ administration is a chance for Tokyo to break with the bureaucrat-oriented diplomacy that prevailed under the LDP.
"I hope Okada has the potential to lead and correct what has been done incorrectly, to resolve any antagonism with South Korea or China," Utsumi added.