Japan's response to North Korea takes on a sharper edge
Prime Minister Naoto Kan is finding his nation dependent on the US in responding to North Korea, even as public opposition to the US base on Okinawa remains high.
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While there was no doubt that Sunday’s election for the governor of Okinawa, which hosts about half the 50,000 American troops in Japan, would end in victory for a candidate opposed to the relocation of a US marine base on the island, that the vote coincided with the assault on Yeonpyeong was a double blow for Kan.Skip to next paragraph
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His Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ] swept into office just over a year ago promising to shift Japan’s foreign policy focus away from the US toward Asia, but a recent row with China over the Senkaku islands and a fresh crisis on the Korean peninsula have quickly blurred the party’s vision.
Kan, says Tobias Harris, author of the blog Observing Japan, can only follow Washington’s lead on North Korea – meaning that it, too, will remain ineffectual while President Obama considers his failed attempts to pressure the regime to change.
“If the US is virtually powerless – and it is – then Japan is actually powerless,” says Harris. “Dependent on the deterrent and retaliatory power of the United States, and having little economic leverage over North Korea, the Japanese government has little choice but to indicate that it stands united with other regional powers.”
Okinawa and China are key
“North Korea has been committing periodic provocations for basically the entire period that the US and Japan have been negotiating the future of the US presence in Okinawa,” says Harris. “Whether it will make the Kan government more willing to force a solution on the Okinawan people … well, I doubt it.”
Japan’s eyes, like those of the rest of the region, are on China.
But frustration that North Korea’s main benefactor is unable, or unwilling, to rein in its ally is rising in Japan, its exasperation evident in an editorial from the Asahi Shimbun, a respected Japanese daily: “Pyongyang, in short, is doing whatever it pleases, and this is just not acceptable. China, on which North Korea relies for its economic and energy needs, bears a heavy responsibility. As the presiding nation of the six-party talks, China should do whatever it can to bring North Korea back to the right path, not just keep protecting it.”