Cunningly, United States allowed Japan to get on with its own domestic, political and economic missions. It allowed the Japanese elites to maintain an economic system that's radically opposite to America's view of the world economic order. As long as Japan kept its foreign policy under United States' thumb, the latter was willing to overlook a few nuisances.
Japan those become almost invisible to the world on the diplomatic stage. It's political relations with rest of Asia are under-developed. It lacks multilateral associations such as EU, NATO, NAFTA, ASEAN that other regions enjoy.
A few of its unique characteristics are worth a mention to readers. For one, Japan was never colonized. Two, it remains a "one-country" language. Three, Japanese religion was never exported as Christianity and Islam were. It has far fewer Western education outlets than even China or South Korea. Foreign enterprises have restricted presence. There is very little Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country.
The US predominance in Japan's affairs was sharply brought to focus in 2010. This was the year when US nudged an "unfavourable" Japanese government out of the office. This was the cabinet of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had come to power a year before in September 2009. Till then, Japan had been a "one-party democracy" of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power for 50 years.
The DPJ had a strong reformist agenda. It wanted a control over a rampant bureaucracy that encouraged a pivot towards US. Importantly, it wanted a new China policy. There were massive "people to people" contacts planned; prime minister Yukio Hatoyama wanted to join ASEAN+3 community, consisting of Korea, China and Japan.
This got Washington furious. It refused at least three requests the Japanese prime minister made of meeting the new president Barack Obama. The new man in White House shunned Japanese head in international gatherings. The Japanese press, which followed the American editors blindly, began screaming that prime minister Hatoyama was damaging US-Japan ties. Media and bureaucracy succeeded in their vicious campaign and Hatoyama to step down. What clinched the matter was the false impression given to Hatoyama that US would reconsider having a new marine base in Okinawa.
Hatoyama's successor Kan Naota was wiser by the event. He distanced himself from the foreign-policy reformists' agenda. His successor Yoshihiko Noda called for an unnecessary elections which brought the LDP back to power.
So where a friendly relations with China had begun to bloom, suddenly it was now put in reverse gears. Shintaro Ishihara, towards the end of his 13-year governorship of Tokyo, proposed that the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea be bought over. This was a long disputed territory but largely dormant due to improving Japan-China relations. Now it became a smoking hot issue. Growing relationships took a nosedive. Beijing saw a hand of US behind these machinations.
It's important at this stage to remember the great divide between Japan and China in the 20th century. An imperialistic Japan had seized Manchuria in 1931 and invaded rest of China from 1937.
The present Japense Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a historic step last year by ending a ban that had kept the military from fighting abroad after World War II. It contradicted Article 9 of the country's constitution, which had renounced war forever, and declared that Japan would never maintain land, air and sea forces.
Since he took office in 2012, Abe has hiked up the military budget, visited the notorious Yasukuni shrine, a symbol of Japanese militarism, and denied the role of the Japanese military in forcing hundreds and thousands of women--called "comfort women"--into sexual slavery for its troops.
Abe greatly admires his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi who was Japan's minister of munitions during World War II. Kishi raised Abe in lieu of his real father, sowing in his grandson the seeds of making Japan a military power again.
US, worried at China's rise, was happy to stoke Abe's militaristic disposition. It's pleasing to Washington that Japan still supports the illegal Iraq War or that it awarded Japan's highest medal to then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently.
So now we have a background to US' control of Japan and the latter's historic hostility to China. In the second and concluding part of this article, we would look at why India has hedged its bet with US-Japan lot and put itself on path of military confrontation with China.