Image by Rich Lees(Contact: [email protected])
The US has often stated that it wants Japan to be a more independent ally, though as is often the case with US policymakers the hope is that independent positions will always just happen to coincide with US interests. When they don’t, you get situations like the current one unfolding over the relocation of a US airbase that is currently located in Okinawa Prefecture.
Recently-elected Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, determined to redefine the Japan-US relationship, is looking to relocate the base outside the prefecture, something his party pledged to work toward during the election campaign. But the US wants Japan to stick to the agreement it reached with the previous administration.
Clearly, as I’ve written before here, new governments have a responsibility to their allies to ensure some kind of consistency, even with internal political change. But they also have a responsibility to the people that elected them, and the US government (with some cheerleading from influential commentators) has been overbearing in its dealings with a Japanese government that is still finding its feet after succeeding a party that was in office virtually uninterrupted for more than five decades.
Hatoyama said yesterday he plans to inform the US about his government’s plan should he meet Barack Obama during the Copenhagen climate summit. In the meantime, Washington should bear in mind that he’s caught between a rock and a hard place and try to work sympathetically with the DPJ or else it risks having a little too much in common with the grating and simplistic thinking behind George W. Bush’s ‘You’re either with us or against us’ leadership style.