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Japan Has a New Prime Minister

2:31 PM, Jun 4, 2010 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Naoto Kan was elected by the Japanese Diet today following the resignation of outgoing prime minister Yukio Hatoyama on June 2. Kan is a member of Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan, which last August wrested control of the government from the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party. ABC News has the story about the new prime minister's plan to maintain his country's deal with the United States regarding an American military base in Japan:

Kan reportedly plans to uphold an agreement about the relocation of a U.S. air base on the island of Okinawa, a controversial issue that led to his predecessor's resignation.

The agreement is largely in accord with what was agreed to with the U.S. government in 2006 and to what President Obama backed in November during his stop in Tokyo.

The plan includes closing Futenma air base on Okinawa, opening a replacement facility in a less developed area of Okinawa, and moving 8,000 U.S. Marines off the island to Guam.

Kan will be Japan's fifth prime minister since 2006. The Economist this week notes that Japan's current economic problems and Hatoyama's "dithering" on the U.S. base may have threatened stability in the region:

With the largest amount of debt relative to the size of its economy among the rich countries, and a stubborn deflation problem to boot, Japan has an economic time-bomb ticking beneath it. It may be able to service its debt comfortably for the time being, but the euro zone serves as a reminder that Japan needs strong leadership to stop the bomb from exploding.

What’s more, stability around South and East Asia depends to a large extent on Japan’s 50-year-old security alliance with America, which acts as a counterbalance against Chinese military expansion. The nine-month stand-off between Japan and America over a marine base in Okinawa, a fight which Mr Hatoyama picked himself and has now done for him, is a glaring example of how poor leadership can muddy the waters.

MarketWatch, meanwhile, is calling Kan a "fiscal conservative" and reports that "Japanese equities and currencies markets barely twitched" at the news of his election.

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