When newly resigned Yukio Hatoyama was Japan’s incoming prime minister almost two years ago, he made it clear that his Democratic Party would steer Japan into a new and closer relationship with China than had been to the taste of the traditionally U.S.-leaning Liberal Democrats.
In one sense he was pushing an open door. Relations between the two countries have been on the mend since hitting rock bottom in 2006, at least on the official level. Popular anti-Chinese sentiment is a seam that runs almost as deep in Japan as anti-Japanese sentiment does in China. But Hatoyama and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao saw common cause in closer economic relations between their two countries, a theme again discussed only last month with their South Korean counterpart President Lee Myung-bak at their annual tripartite summit.
Hatoyama’s failure to deliver on an election promise to move the U.S. military base from Okinawa was the immediate cause of his resignation and the recent ratcheting up of tension on the Korean peninsula may have provided a sharp reminder of the value of an American security blanket to Japan, but the shifting economic balance of power in East Asia and growing ties between Japanese companies and China for both production and markets means Hatoyama’s successor is unlikely to reverse the policy of ‘fraternal solidarity’ towards China in any fundamental way.