Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Balancing Asia with an old friend
There was no U.S. representative at a recent summit of Asian leaders but, one official told me, Washington still played a leading role behind the scenes at the meetings held in the Thai seaside town of Hua Hin.
A top Japanese government official told us as we flew south with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Thailand that his boss would tell Asian counterparts that the U.S. “involvement” would be important when he pushes for his idea of an East Asian Community.
When we arrived in Hua Hin, Hatoyama did just that. He pitched his idea of forming an East Asian Community when he met with his Asian counterparts, but in almost every meeting, he started out by explaining the U.S.-Japan alliance was at the centre of Tokyo’s diplomacy.
That was in contrast to his comments at an earlier meeting in Beijing with counterparts from China and South Korea, when Hatoyama said Japan has been somewhat too dependent on the United States and wanted to focus more on Asia.
His new approach was seen as an attempt to ease growing worries about friction over a long-planned rejig of U.S. bases in Japan, the first big test of ties between Washington and Japan’s month-old government.
Hatoyama denied any direct link to the touchy topic of where to base U.S. troops in Japan, but he acknowledged that he was sending a message that both the United States and Asia were important to Japan and that he was trying not to be one-sided.
Japan’s cautious and ambivalent approach to the U.S. involvement in an Asian bloc has frustrated some others.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd floated a second model for a pan-Asian economic bloc, challenging Japan’s idea by making U.S. membership a key component of his plan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada has previously said the United States would not be a member, but he has recently toned down his comments. Hatoyama has not said in public which countries should be included, instead saying there is no need to decide this now.
So what’s going to be? Should Asia’s regional grouping include the United States or seek a course more independent of Washington?
Photo credit: REUTERS/Erik de Castro