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Japan liking Americans more as China flexes its muscles

Date Posted: 2011-09-16

Threats to stability in Asia posed by both North Korea and China are making Japanese reassess the importance of having American troops on its soil.

Over the past six years, a new GfK-Associated Press survey shows, Japanese have taken a much more positive view of having an American military presence on its soil than before. Japanese are concerned about China, Russia and North Korea, and some 46% even say they’re opposed to increasing the number of immigrants to the country, even though it would benefit a shrinking labor force.

Even as the American military gets high marks, Japan’s own political parties and leadership are getting low grades from Japanese. Citizens also voiced strong favorable feelings about the emperor. Emperor Akihito, while not even in the political sphere, is revered, with 70% viewing him favorably and 65% saying they think there’s still a need for an Imperial family in the country. While saying that, only 22% of the respondents say the emperor should be given a voice in setting government policies, and less than half oppose any expansion in current imperial powers.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda hasn’t even had a chance to get the seat warm in his new office before having to face warnings from China’s state-run news media about reducing comments about its military buildup being a threat to Japan. Political leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties have been warning of China as a regional security threat over the past year or so, and ties between Japan and China have sunk to new lows in the wake of several incidents involving Chinese fishing and research vessels and the Japanese Coast Guard.

With those concerns in mind, the number of Japanese favoring the continuation of American military bases in the country has risen to 57%, while 34% want them pulled out. A 2005 survey found the country evenly split at 47% on whether to keep U.S. troops and bases, or seek reductions. Even with the concerns about maintaining Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa, or building a replacement airfield in sparsely populated northern Okinawa, Japanese say they want Americans to stay. The Futenma issue was enough to bring down the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in 2010, less than a year after being elected.

Japan’s new Foreign Minister, Koichiro Genba, says “the U.S. military presence has received greater acceptance, apparently because people think this region has grown more unstable than before.” The Japanese Self Defense Forces have also seen a surging vote of confidence, with 74% saying they have confidence in the SDF doing what is right.

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