Japan's attempt to rely less on U.S. chills bilateral ties
« on: 2009-11-10 09:17:00 »
Interesting story not getting much air time on this side of the world. That China is smirking at the tension is telling to me.
Source: The Mainichui Daily News
Date: November 10, 2009
The ongoing discord between Japan and the United States over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma has demonstrated that the bilateral alliance has come to a turning point.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, left, talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in their first summit meeting in New York on Sept. 23. (Mainichi)
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)-led administration's attempt to rely less on the United States has chilled bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's remarks in his talks with Chinese and South Korean leaders in Beijing in mid-October that "Japan has tended to rely excessively on the United States. We'll work out policies that attach more importance to Asia" have angered the United States.
In a meeting with Senior Vice Foreign Minister Koichi Takemasa two days later, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell criticized Hatoyama for making the remarks without consulting Washington and asked Takemasa about what the prime minister precisely meant.
Hatoyama's remarks, which pleased Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, have raised concern within the U.S. administration that Tokyo is distancing itself from Washington.
The first summit between Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York on Sept. 23 was aimed at demonstrating their efforts to nurture mutual trust rather than negotiate outstanding bilateral issues.
However, Japan-U.S. relations have been strained since then. A senior Foreign Ministry official says bilateral ties have entered a "period of winter-like hardship" while a high-ranking official at the Defense Ministry warns they have worsened to an "alarming level."
The discord is attributable partly to Japan's decision to withdraw Maritime Self-Defense Force troops from missions in the Indian Ocean to refuel foreign vessels engaged in the war against terror and Hatoyama's proposal for the formation of an East Asian Community.
However, the main cause of the discord is the Hatoyama administration's indecisiveness over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture.
The Cabinet is divided over the relocation. The prime minister is seeking to postpone a final decision until after the Nago mayoral election in January, in consideration of the DPJ's election campaign pledge to relocate it out of the prefecture, as the city was designated by the previous government as the site for the relocation.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has called for the integration of Futenma base with U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has urged that the base be relocated to an offshore area of Camp Schwab in Nago within this year in line with the bilateral agreement.
Aides to Hatoyama said the prime minister should make a final decision without narrowing differences within the Cabinet.
"We should leave it until the prime minister makes a final decision. If Japan obeys what the United States says whenever bilateral relations are strained, we can't end our reliance on the United States," one of them said.
Some government officials are even attempting to take advantage of the conflict within the administration to demonstrate the DPJ's efforts to transform the bureaucrat-dominated government into one led by politicians.
The government is also trying to use the Futenma relocation issue as a litmus test for whether it can end its reliance on the United States and achieve an equal partnership between the two countries.
Campbell, who initially chose to take a wait-and-see attitude toward the Hatoyama administration, is now under fire from within the Obama administration for making an error in his initial response to Japan's new administration.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who visited Japan on Oct. 20 and 21, strongly pressured Tokyo to go ahead with the agreed-upon plan to relocate Futenma base in Ginowan to Nago.
However, it only stirred opposition in Japan. "He acted as if he were the commander of occupation forces. He tightened the screw too much, causing it to break," said one Japan-U.S. diplomatic source.
In the upcoming summit in Tokyo, Hatoyama and Obama intend to reconfirm that they will strengthen the bilateral alliance without having in-depth discussions on the Futenma issue. However, it reflects their sense of crisis.
Bruce Klingner, a senior researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation, predicts that Japan-U.S. relations will remain chilled after the two countries settle their dispute over the Futenma relocation. Klingner, a former Central Intelligence Agency official, also pointed out that current bilateral ties are similar to U.S.-South Korean ties under the administration of President Roh Moo-hyun, who was supported by anti-U.S. forces. (By Takashi Sudo and Yu Takayama, Political News Department)
(This is the first part of a three-part series on the Japan-U.S.alliance)