Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Hardball with Japan

Credit Barack Obama with one successful play of international hardball, the resignation of  Japanese PM Hatoyama. It would be interesting to know where the screws were applied to Mr. Hatoyama to get him to agree to keep the base on Okinawa, but they must have been sufficiently painful for him acquiesce  to the political suicide the agreement entailed. I wonder if Obama would have caved again if Hatoyama had had the stomach for a standoff. My guess, as you might have guessed, is that Obama would have folded like a pack of cards if Japan had any leverage in the upcoming midterms. But it probably didn't, especially with the Toyota millstone around its neck. (How much the Toyota episode was driven by international politics is anyone's guess.)

Whether this form of hardball will be enough to subdue the Japanese electorate, and bring the LDP back to power remains to be seen, but the combination with S. Korea's new assertiveness might signify a major shift in US strategy to keep China surrounded and in line.

Peter Lee, a.k.a. China Hand, has an article at the Asia Times, along with a post at China Matters, that explores the new power groupings that might be emerging after the sinking of the S. Korean ship.

One of his more provocative ideas from his post:
So I look at President Lee's moves on the Cheonan in the context of a reunification endgame that might begin sooner rather than later.

I speculate that South Korea would want to put North Korea into some kind of political receivership under UN auspices as a prelude to complete integration into the current ROK political structure

This would fit with President Lee's desire to place North Korea--and not just its nuclear and proliferation-related activities--on the Security Council agenda.
So it appears that the US, while getting tough with Japan, is allowing S. Korea to call the shots, both with the North and China. This is going to lead to addition instability, one way or another, and more danger for our already overwhelmed diplomacy and military.


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