Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, however, has backed away from any notion of forcing the US to abandon bases on Okinawa despite the opposition of Okinawan residents and promises made by his Democratic Party of Japan before it came to power in August 2009. The current plan calls for the US to move a Marine air station out of a populated area to a more remote part of Okinawa while other elements transfer to Guam.
Mr. Kan took over leadership of his party – and the government – last June after his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, had to resign after moderating his view on the bases. Since then he has appeared increasingly receptive to the presence of US forces in view of what’s seen as the hardening of positions of North Korea as well as China, the North’s only ally and main source of food, fuel, and other vital supplies.
At the same time, Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who as a young student was jailed briefly for leading anti-Japan demonstrations, has encouraged close cooperation with Japan in the form of occasional military exercises, most recently off the South Korean port of Pusan.
“People in Korea feel the need to increase cooperation,” says Mingi Hyun, research fellow at the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy, though “there’s popular sentiment against it.”