China's recent aggressive behavior over disputed islands spurred
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan to turn his back on earlier efforts
to rebalance ties with China and the United States.
Shaken by China's ferocious behavior during a recent territorial
dispute over a string of uninhabited islets, Japan has abandoned its
earlier plans to make ties with Beijing a key pillar of a bold new
Instead, Tokyo is falling back for support on its traditional
ally the United States, and seeking succor from other Asian nations
who share fresh Japanese doubts about the regional implications of
The novel goal that former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama
trumpeted as he led the Democratic Party of Japan to its first
electoral victory just 15 months ago - recalibrating Japan's
relationships with Washington and Beijing - is already a fading
"Re-balancing is not on anyone's agenda now," says one government
official who asked not to be identified. "It's been tried and it
failed. The crisis over the Senkaku islands [known to Chinese as the
Diaoyu] has beefed up Japan's relations with America again."
Since Mr. Hatoyama's resignation last June, his successor Naoto
Kan "has canceled everything that Hatoyama did" to modify Japan's
two most important foreign relationships, says Masaru Kohno,
professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.
Reconsidering relations with China
Yet in the back of Japanese policymakers' minds lurks the
suspicion that they will have to find a way, one day, of improving
relations with their biggest trade partner. "Tense relations between
Japan and China have negative consequences for the whole of East
Asia," says one Foreign Ministry official. "And we cannot just move
out of the region."
A lot of Japanese citizens don't find their region very
comfortable, however. In a poll published last week by the daily
Yomiuri newspaper, 87 percent of respondents said they did not trust
China, and almost as many saw Beijing as posing the same military
threat as North Korea.
"Japan and China will start talking to each other again at some
point," as they have after previous diplomatic spats, predicts
Professor Kohno. "But what is different about this crisis is that it
has led people to think that maybe we have to reconsider relations
with China, even if it means sacrificing trade.
"A significant number of Japanese are willing to sacrifice some
economic well-being for the sake of a more principled position with
regard to China," Kohno adds. "Anti-Chinese feeling is growing more
entrenched among Japan's political class and ordinary people. …