Since Mr. Hatoyama’s resignation last June, his successor Naoto Kan “has canceled everything that Hatoyama did” to modify Japan’s two most important foreign relationships, says Masaru Kohno, professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.
Yet in the back of Japanese policymakers’ minds lurks the suspicion that they will have to find a way, one day, of improving relations with their biggest trade partner. “Tense relations between Japan and China have negative consequences for the whole of East Asia,” says one Foreign Ministry official. “And we cannot just move out of the region.”
A lot of Japanese citizens don’t find their region very comfortable, however. In a poll published last week by the daily Yomiuri newspaper, 87 percent of respondents said they did not trust China, and almost as many saw Beijing as posing the same military threat as North Korea.
“Japan and China will start talking to each other again at some point,” as they have after previous diplomatic spats, predicts Professor Kohno. “But what is different about this crisis is that it has led people to think that maybe we have to reconsider relations with China, even if it means sacrificing trade.
“A significant number of Japanese are willing to sacrifice some economic well-being for the sake of a more principled position with regard to China,” Kohno adds. “Anti-Chinese feeling is growing more entrenched among Japan’s political class and ordinary people.”