TOKYO - Japan's opposition Democratic Party would speak its mind to close ally the United States if it wins an election next month, but would not seek to negate prior agreements across the board, the party's No.2 executive said.
Opinion polls show the opposition ahead in the run-up to an August 30 election, raising the prospect they will oust Prime Minister Taro Aso's conservative Liberal Democratic Party after more than half a century of almost unbroken rule.
The Democrats' promise to adopt a diplomatic stance less subservient to Washington has sparked concerns about friction in the alliance, under which Japan has followed Washington's lead in return for protection under its nuclear umbrella.
The LDP did not have any clear Japanese foreign policy, Democratic Party Secretary-General Katsuya Okada told Reuters in an interview. Every time the counterpart changed, they just said the same thing, he said.
We have our own way of thinking and of course (policies) must reflect the interests of Japan and the Japanese people, he added. But because U.S.-Japan relations are extremely important for Japan's national interests, we should consider how we can make U.S.-Japan relations, the U.S.-Japan alliance, more fruitful. So our way of thinking is completely different.
Analysts say the Democrats have become more practical as the prospect of taking power grows, but possible flash points remain.
What I have told U.S. officials who have visited Japan ... is that we will not negotiate by putting all the issues on the table at once and saying 'what about it', Okada said.
First, we should create a relationship of trust between the leaders of the two countries, then set bilateral priorities including on global issues such as global warming and poverty, and discuss in what order to try to resolve them.
U.S. FORCES REJIG
Okada said that the Democrats would not seek to go back to square one in talks with Washington about a U.S.-Japan agreement to rejig U.S. military forces in the country. We do not intend to say from the start that everything is a blank sheet, he said.
What is important is to reach a good conclusion.
The 2006 pact, which aims to tighten U.S.-Japan military ties and streamline U.S. forces in Japan, includes a plan to shift 8,000 Marines from Guam from Japan's southern island of Okinawa.
But moving the Marines' Futenma air base from central Okinawa to a coastal area on the island is a key part of the deal.
The Democrats have pledged to review the plan if they take power, but the top U.S. military commander in Japan said last week the program was not a package from which the two sides could pick and choose parts to implement.
Okada said there had been no change to the Democrats' position that Futenma's functions should be moved outside of Okinawa, where many residents already feel they bear an unfair burden for the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
Okada also said the Democrats would not immediately halt a naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan if they took power, but had not decided whether to continue the mission longer term.
Under Ichiro Ozawa, who stepped down as Democratic Party leader in May, the Democrats had delayed legislation enabling the mission, saying it was a breach of Japan's pacifist constitution.
(Additional reporting by Kei Okamura; Editing by Hugh Lawson)