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China welcomes new Japan Prime Minister with belligerence

August 31, 2011

Yoshihiko Noda was elected president of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), thus becoming the third DPJ leader to become Japan’s Prime Minister since taking power in 2009.  While the DPJ came to power questioning the long time alliance with the United States and seeking to warm relations with China, both of those positions have subsequently softened and both previous DPJ PMs moved closer to the US.  Read this excellent summary of recent Japanese politics and foreign policies from this month’s Foreign Affairs for background.

Noda seems to be the most pro-American of the three DPJ leaders.  Although reconstruction from the Great Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, as well as dealing with the crippled Fukushima reactors, will dominated Noda’s agenda, he will not be able to long escape attending to Japan’s role in the growing competition between China and Japan for Asia/Pacific hegemony.  China is already beginning to apply pressure.  As Elizabeth Economy at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia Unbound blog writes:

While Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chinese Foreign Ministry have offered up short congratulatory statements to the new prime minister, most Chinese commentary has ranged from bleak to belligerent. Chinese analysts point out that the prime minister has not renounced his comments to the effect that Class-A Japanese wartime leaders should no longer be considered criminals nor has he committed not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. He also has made reference to China’s rising nationalism and naval activities as posing a risk to regional stability. To top it all off, the new prime minister has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan defense alliance.

Economy also notes several “suggestions” that the Chinese have for Prime Minister Noda that read like a list of demands from a master to a vassal.   Japan is an indispensible linchpin of the US alliance system.  EGP hopes that the US offers Noda a genuine attitude of partnership to counterpoint China’s immediate attitude of high handedness.

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