HONOLULU (April 26) -- The U.S. Navy's decision on Cmdr. Scott Waddle drew heated criticism from Japan's main opposition party this week, intensifying public scrutiny of the U.S. military at a time of political change in Japan, an East-West Center researcher said.

"This marks the possibility that the Japanese government's handling of the issue will be politicized," said Sheila Smith, a Japan specialist at the East-West Center. "It could be the Democratic Party of Japan trying to mobilize public support for the coming election."

The DPJ released a statement saying the decision to give Waddle administrative punishment instead of making him face a court-martial could arouse intense anger among the Japanese toward the U.S. Navy. The DPJ also suggested that the decision on Waddle, the captain of the submarine that caused the death of nine Japanese, may also undermine the U.S.-Japan military alliance.

Smith said that until the party's statement was released, the two governments had worked closely to manage the incident, allowing families of the victims to lead in the discussions over the Feb. 9 collision between the USS Greeneville and the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru. The Japanese government said it has accepted the decision on Waddle, and the Japanese admiral invited to observe the court of inquiry regarding the collision said he thought administrative punishment was appropriate.

Maverick reformer Junichiro Koizumi was elected new president of the Liberal Democratic Party this week and will become Japan's next prime minister. Public frustration with outgoing Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and calls for his resignation peaked over Mori's initial handling of the submarine collision.

Koizumi will attempt to lead the unpopular LDP to electoral victory in this summer's Upper House election. "With a younger, reform-advocate leadership coming to fore, the DPJ comment could lead to more political debate in Japan over the military alliance" and Waddle, Smith said.

"The underlying question is how the public perceives American actions and whether government-to-government efforts are sufficient to persuade or shape public interpretation of the U.S. action."

Sheila Smith can be reached at 808-944-7427 or 

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