Since taking office in September, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has said he wants a more equal relationship with Washington. The tough talk wasn't a bluff. Hatoyama immediately called for a reexamination of the bilateral security alliance under which the U.S. stations troops in Japan. He pushed for a renegotiation of the countries' security agreement, put plans to move a U.S. military airfield by 2014 on hold, and said he would review U.S. plans to reorganize its 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan. But on Nov. 13, after spending nearly an hour and a half in "densely packed" discussions with President Barack Obama at the Prime Minister's residence in Tokyo, the Japanese leader seemed a lot less combative. Hatoyama thanked Obama for stopping over in Japan before heading to an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Singapore, and China and Korea. He stressed that Tokyo considers Washington its closest ally. He even pointed out that the two leaders had become so friendly that they were on a first-name basis. As for talking as equals, Hatoyama didn't even get to raise the issue. "Even before I could say it, President Obama said that U.S.-Japan relations should be on an equal footing," he said as Obama stood by his side during a news conference televised live by public broadcaster NHK. Many of the details that emerged from the evening summit stressed collaboration. Hatoyama said the two countries agreed to work toward nuclear nonproliferation globally and would combat climate change by lowering their greenhouse gas emissions 80% from current levels by 2050. $5 billion in aid to afghanistanIn a joint statement, Tokyo and Washington said they would work closely on solutions to energy issues, from green technologies such as smart electric grids, carbon capture, and storage technologies to nuclear energy. The Japanese leader stood by his earlier pledge to end Japan's military mission in the Indian Ocean, where naval ships provide refueling and other rear guard support for U.S. forces. But he announced $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan over five years to help rebuild schools and create job-training programs for former insurgents. Both sides took pains to play down the rift that had emerged over the bilateral security alliance ahead of Obama's trip. Hatoyama and Obama said they view the 50th anniversary of their security treaty in 2010 as a chance to update their alliance and agreed to review it over the next year. Hatoyama said he wanted to "create a new U.S.-Japan alliance that is constructive and future-oriented." Obama, who delayed his visit after the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, said he and Hatoyama had talked about plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa to a new site farther north. But there was no pressure for the two sides to announce a resolution after U.S. and Japanese officials agreed earlier this week to let a high-level working group continue negotiations. "We hope to complete this work expeditiously," Obama said, without offering a timeline. "Our goal remains the same—and that's to provide for the defense of Japan with minimal intrusion on the lives of the people who share the space." The base relocation is a sensitive topic for residents of the southern Okinawa prefecture, where the bulk of U.S. troops are stationed. Before Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan rose to power, he had pledged to find a way to move some of the troops to a different prefecture or country. On Nov. 8 more than 20,000 Okinawans gathered in Naha to protest the construction of the new U.S. base in Henoko. Two days later, Okinawan officials visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to deliver a list of demands from the protesters. changing balance of power in asiaThere was little talk of Hatoyama's idea for an East Asian Community. Not long after rising to power, Hatoyama proposed that Japan, China, and Korea form a pan-Asia alliance whose members would also include India, Australia, New Zealand, and ASEAN countries. It was to be modeled on the European Union. Tokyo was hoping to shore up its influence in the region. So far, Tokyo, Bejing, and Seoul have agreed only to begin exploring a three-country Free Trade Agreement in the first half of 2010 and to aim for an investment pact sometime next year. Japan's strategy reflects the changing balance of power in Asia. In recent years, Tokyo has cast a wary eye on Beijing's rising economic and military ambitions. Analysts say Japan is eager to keep China close as it gains economic and political clout. Tokyo wants to avoid being left behind in a global market dominated by China and the U.S. "There's a consensus among Japanese policymakers that Japan can't only rely on its relations with the U.S. because Washington's global influence has diminished," says Masaru Kaneko, an economics professor at Tokyo's Keio University. As early as next year, China is expected to overtake Japan as the world's second-largest economy. While Tokyo and Beijing are rivals, they also rely on each other for trade. China is now Japan's biggest trading partner, outstripping even the U.S. Without China, Japan's economy would have been in far worse shape in the wake of the global financial meltdown. Many of the goods Japan ships to China are used to make TVs, shoes, cameras, and electronic parts, which are then sold to the U.S. The same goes for Asia, which accounts for 49% of Japan's exports and 40% of imports, according to Finance Ministry trade statistics. Meanwhile, Japan's trade with the U.S. continues to shrink. But Japan's influence in Asia isn't entirely built on commerce. The security alliance with the U.S. has played a sizable role. Over the past several decades, having U.S. bases in Japan has helped to assuage worries in the region about a resurgence of Japanese militarism. That allowed Tokyo to focus on trade with its neighbors. Tokyo also has won over its neighbors by helping the region's poorest countries. "Japan can't just choose China over the U.S.," says Koji Murata, a professor of international politics at Doshisha University in Kyoto. "It has to stay on good terms with the U.S. If it doesn't, Japan could eventually weaken its own position in Asia."
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