Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has to eat it all up. Eight months after winning the national election, the leader of the country's Democratic Party finds that it is impossible to both please the people and support the country's strategic interests.

His resignation means that he has choked on a rank mixture of geopolitical conservatism and xenophobia.

Keeping the US base on Okinawa was never his intention - at the start. During the campaign, Hatoyama told the Japanese he would stand up to the Americans. For most Japanese, this meant doing something about the military base, which not only annoy local Okinawans but also irritate other Japanese because it underscores the country's dependence. Admitting that you need help is a hard thing to do for a proud people.

Unfortunately, the Japanese do need help. Not only is China expanding its military power in synch with its economic growth, but North Korea remains a real threat. Neither country likes the Japanese much.

The Americans like the Japanese. A bit too much, it turns out. US military personnel are known more for their sexual indiscretions than for the annual o-bon festivals they generously host at their bases. Summer fun is no substitute for safety, especially for a highly conservative and decorous folk like the Japanese.

Hatoyama's premature demise - he resigned the leadership today - in advance of July elections for upper house representatives will please the Liberal Democrats. The LDP had been in power almost uninterruptedly for over 50 years. The resignation will give them hope of regaining government, which would be a bad outcome for Japan. Diversity and change are rare quantities on the archipelago.

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