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What Does Japan Want from America?

OSAKA – Three months after the Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide general-election victory, the new administration’s foreign and security policy appears to be increasingly at odds with that of the United States. Indeed, there is growing concern on both sides of the Pacific that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama intends to turn away from the declining US hegemon and reach out to a rising China. Indeed, Hatoyama has announced his rudimentary vision of building an East Asian community that excludes the US.

Hatoyama has hastily attempted to fulfill the DPJ’s party manifesto and his own public pledges. This includes terminating replenishment support for the US-led interdiction operation in the Indian Ocean, reducing host-nation support to US forces based in Japan, and revising the bilateral status-of-force agreement.

Moreover, Hatoyama is set to expose a secret Cold War nuclear agreement that opened Japanese ports to US naval vessels carrying nuclear weapons, in contravention of Japan’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles, which have guided official policy since the late 1960’s. Last but not least, Hatoyama is postponing implementation of a bilateral agreement with the US to relocate a Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa, from Futenma to Henoko, thereby causing confusion for America’s plan to relocate part of its forces on Okinawa to Guam.

The significance of these moves has, however, been poorly understood. Hatoyama’s assertiveness vis-à-vis the US is in accord with Japan’s position as the world’s largest creditor with the least damaged banking sector. But a decisive foreign-policy shift has not occurred – nor will one occur in the near future.