Pakistan, a terrifyingly unstable nuclear state, is desparately short of cash. But at a donor's conference in Tokyo yesterday, over $5 bn was pledged to it over the next 2 years - a fifth of that from the Japanese hosts. Japan is facing an abysmal economic outlook, with the EIU predicting a 6.4% decline in real economic output over 2009, and yet when money is needed elsewhere - whether in Pakistan, or to bolster the IMF, or for the reconstruction of Aghanistan - it is often the Liberal Democrat (LDP)-led government in Tokyo that foots a disproportionate share of the world's bills.
But what if the LDP doesn't survive a general election due this year? Having governed for all but a few months over 50 years, polls until recently suggested that the opposition Democrats (DPJ) were set to seize power from the LDP whenever the elections are called. Now the outcome seems much less clear, with the most favoured result a coalition of the two parties. But ever since its creation in 1955, the LDP has towed a staunchly pro-American line, while DPJ pronouncements on foreign policy have been at best mixed, and in November 2007 it used its commanding position in the Japanese Upper House to force the withdrawal of the Japanese navy from the Indian Ocean from where it was helping NATO in Afghanistan. With a questionable European commitment towards security in Central Asia, if the DPJ were to prevail, America could find itself without reliable allies for new initiatives in the region before the year is out - quite a change from Japan's current generosity.