Foreign Minister Okada meets Secretary of State Clinton in Hawaii

Bloomberg reported the other day that Mrs. Clinton sat down for serious talks with Katsuya Okada about Futenma and probably some of the other pressing matters in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Notice how the tone is slightly changing. After months of what amounted to not-so-veiled insults, the new Japanese government is beginning to acknowledge that American defense does play a vital role in the Asian-Pacific region.

Here are some salient quotes from the news report itself:

Japan’s top diplomatic priority is strengthening an alliance with a U.S. administration that is engaged in Asia and can help counter China’s military buildup, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said in an interview.

Praise for President Obama and his express outreach to allies in the Asian community:

Okada praised President Barack Obama for his commitment to Asia . . .

“We highly appreciate how the Obama administration positioned the U.S. as an Asia-Pacific nation and has more engagement and interest in this region,” Okada said yesterday in his office in Tokyo. “The situation is quite different from the Bush administration era. It’s very important that the U.S. sustains that interest.” [Emphasis added.]

Recent increased Chinese military spending –

“is something we’re very concerned about,” Okada said. “We need to see that such an increase in spending won’t lead to a regional arms race.”

The article talks a bit about how China successfully tested an anti-ballistic system a few days after the U.S. sealed a deal to sell missiles to Taiwan. To me, these are the kind of things that get people’s attention. “Defense” nowadays is very much about satellite cameras watching each other, and other kinds of “soft” but unobscured messages that each side telegraphs to the other. Taiwan wants to maintain its independence and so makes it clear. China has its interests, and makes them clear this way. You know, you have to respect China.

About Futenma, the article says America “has come to understand the reality” behind the situation. I guess this is a way of saying that the DPJ is in a bind because it made commitments in Okinawa that it never checked with Uncle Sammy about. Japan, the country, made commitments to America before that,

Like I’ve been blogging about this, upholding these commitments deserved a better response than “now be reasonable Sammy!”, especially when it’s us putting our skin in the game because of bad blood the earlier Japanese caused with their distant cousins in China. And that we really are the disadvantaged party in any negotiation because we can’t just up and leave Japan or the region.

So the news was reassuring that the Japanese foreign minister said any suggestion that Japan would be choosing between China and the U.S. was “meaningless”, and that Japan would be looking to keep a close relationship with Washington, while still working for good relations with Beijing:

“This is not an issue of choosing one or the other,” Okada said. “For Japan, the U.S. is important and China is important. But the U.S. and Japan are allies, and China has a different political system.”

This is the kind of real talk that you can build on. It’s a lot clearer, cleaner and more the reality of Asia-Pacific relations than the various spun fantasies that have been coming out of both LDP (Tamogami, who I’ll have more to say about later) and the newly empowered DPJ.