In a move that is certain to revive criticism that Japan is shunning its global responsibilities, efforts to allow Japan's first regular dispatch of troops abroad since World War II collapsed Tuesday as the Parliament ended its current session.
The government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party abandoned efforts to win final passage of a bill this year that would have permitted the Cabinet to regularly dispatch Japanese troops abroad to participate in emergency relief missions and U.N. noncombat peacekeeping operations.
Passage of the measure seemed assured last week after the lower house of Parliament approved the bill. But inter-party squabbling torpedoed the measure in the upper house, where the Liberal Democrats do not hold a majority. There was no formal vote taken, but the measure was scuttled by the leadership.
The bill will be carried over to the next session of Parliament in January. Yet, despite its symbolism as an international promise, many analysts predicted that passage would be difficult because of lawmakers' expected preoccupation with the national budget and elections in July.
In the United States, the bill's failure is likely to exacerbate criticism that Japan is unwilling to put more than money on the line for the sake of global peace and security. Although it contributed $11 billion to the U.S.-led forces in the Gulf War and gave $2 billion more in economic aid to U.S. allies in the region, Japan sent no personnel to the Middle East until after the fighting stopped.
But the defeat of the troop deployment measure seemed sure to relieve South Korea, China, Singapore and other Asian countries. Invaded or colonized by Japan, those countries had hotly opposed the bill as a step toward resurrection of Japan as a military aggressor.
Several analysts blamed the bill's failure on Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, saying it underscored his tenuous hold on power, his weakness in managing parliamentary factions and his own ambivalence toward the peacekeeping bill.
"The cause of failure was the Miyazawa Cabinet's extremely poor handling of (Parliament) and because he himself never really supported the proposal," said Fukashi Horiye, law faculty dean at Keio University. Horiye added that Miyazawa's conduct is in keeping with the views of former Prime Ministers Shigeru Yoshida and Hayato Ikeda, who believed that national expenditures should be funneled into promoting economic growth rather than military force.
Kenji Kitahara, political editor of the Yomiuri Shimbun, predicted that confusion over the bill will produce a "complicated, volatile" political climate before President Bush's scheduled Jan. 7 visit to Japan.
The Liberal Democrats had tried to win approval to extend Parliament's extraordinary session by 17 days, enough to debate the 1991 supplementary budget and enact the peacekeeping bill. But faced with opposition, the ruling party compromised on a 11-day extension, which will allow time only for the budget deliberations.
The bill's demise comes four days after Parliament similarly failed to resolve inter-party differences and approve what would have been Japan's first formal apology for World War II.
Both the apology and peacekeeping issues underscore "the weakness of divided politics in Japan," said Ikuo Kabashima, a political science professor at the University of Tsukuba.
He and others said Miyazawa badly overestimated support for the peacekeeping bill among opposition parties. In particular, support of the Komei (Clean Government) Party was essential for passage in the upper house. But after the Komei Party helped muscle the bill through the lower house last week, its leaders were heavily criticized by rank-and-file members, making them reluctant to push the bill forward.
Some analysts also suggested that Miyazawa's refusal to summon his secretary to testify before Parliament on the Recruit Co. influence-peddling scandal may have hardened opposition attitudes, spilling over to the peacekeeping debate. In an effort to clear the air with the new prime minister, lawmakers have reopened public scrutiny of the scandal with hearings this week.
Foreign Ministry officials expressed disappointment at the bill's demise and little hope that it will win passage next year. Although the government may dispatch civilians as political observers to global hot spots and take other limited measures without the legislation, its hands will remain tied in any operations requiring military expertise. In particular, officials had hoped to use any new authority in assisting in Cambodia.
The bill would have "symbolized the political determination on the part of the Japanese people and government to get into the field of international cooperation in a tangible fashion," said one official.
But Kabashima of Tsukuba said a significant number of Japanese still do not support the dispatch of troops overseas. According to his own check of public opinion, 42% of those surveyed supported the bill and 24% opposed it. Women were less likely to support the bill than men, he said.
"That 24% is a very large figure and shows that the public is still very divided," he said. "It may be that the LDP will wait until next year and hope for a gradual shift of public opinion."