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Japan the new Iran?
Japan is distancing itself from the US and affirming its own foreign policy. Is this the start of a new political order?

As Yukiya Amano, a Japanese, takes over the Director General’s post in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), what should have been actually a booster shot for America’s fight against renegade nuclear loose cannon countries like Iran and North Korea has become more of a hanging question, with policy circles undecided on whether America actually supports Amano or not – in fact, the question is, does America support Japan anymore or not? The immediate provocation goes back to an article published in Washington Post on October 22, 2009, where a US State Department official was quoted radically stating, “The hardest thing right now [for America] is not China, it’s Japan.”

For a country which has been a staunch ally of US for more than a sixty years and for a country which still calls its armed forces as self defence force, thanks to the stigma of the 2nd World War and the restrictions imposed on it by the Security Council, one might ordinarily find it difficult to gauge as to what might have provoked such a change of heart among the US officials. The growing Chinese military and economic prowess and its hush-hush global ambitions are known to many. But is Japan, the country with the second largest economy in the world and one which till now has deliberately never leveraged its economic prowess for military ambitions, about to change?

To understand the changing paradigm of this relationship, one has to take into account the fact that one of the key aspects of the Japan-US relationship was and is the Japan-US Security Treaty. This treaty signed in 1951 and coming into force in 1952, though going through several reforms, continues to be the pillar of bondage between the world’s top two economies. With changing times, the end of Cold War and a phoenix like rise of China, this relationship too was supposed to go for a change for the positive. In Asia, US had always consistently seen Japan as not only a trusted ally but one which would be of great help to contain China both economically and military. The massive US military base in the Southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, being in the proximity of Taiwan and China, essentially works as a safety valve to keep China and others on leash.
It has been like that for long and this base has been playing a crucial role in furthering the American foreign policy in Asia since the Vietnam War. And thus, an otherwise subservient Japan has all along been a major helping hand. Even now, while the American assault in Afghanistan and Iraq has been going on for years, the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force plays a very critical role in refuelling the US warships over the Indian Ocean. In fact, for long, Japan didn’t have a foreign policy truly of its own – the US, since the end of World War II, playing a major role, with critics even blaming the Japanese government for literally outsourcing foreign policy to US. In all, Boston Celtics were #1 in Japan, as was Toyota in the US.

Then what exactly has gone wrong in the American behaviour towards Japan? The answer is, the Japanese behaviour towards America – vindicated, rather flamed further by the current lateral shifts in the Japanese political formations with the meteoric ascent of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama, into the helm of affairs. DPJ gave a body blow to the Liberal Democratic Party which had almost become synonymous with Japanese government in the last half a century. The victory of the DPJ should not be seen as a mere vote against incumbency but more as a sort of referendum against the US dominance in Japan’s foreign policy and military affairs. In fact, there is much pressure on the newly elected Hatoyama government to scrap several deals with US, the foremost among them being the Guam Treaty under which US expects Japan to spend nearly $6 billion for relocation of some of the US bases in Futenma in Okinawa to the American island of Guam. This, in itself, is part of a $26 billion defence package for the base realignment plan which also includes an estimated expenditure by Japan to the tune of $11 billion for the construction of a new US Marines base in Okinawa and an expenditure of $9 billion for the creation of a ballistic missile defence system.

Gavan McCormack writes in DMZ Hawai, “As the Japanese economy reeled under the shock of its greatest crisis in 60 years, these were staggering sums. It was once said, of George W. Bush, that he was inclined to think of Japan as ‘just some ATM machine’ for which a pin number was not needed. Under Obama, too, that relationship seemed not to change.”

By:- Pathikrit Payne

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