Poll finds more support for U.S. bases
Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011
Japanese have become more welcoming toward the U.S. military presence in the country over the past six years, as neighboring China and North Korea are increasingly perceived as a security threat, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found.
The survey released Monday on the public's views of other countries, security and the Imperial family also showed that while about half of Japanese have a positive view of the U.S. and Germany, they are overwhelmingly negative or neutral toward Asian neighbors China, Russia and North Korea. Opinions toward South Korea, meanwhile, are mixed.
The telephone poll, conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, surveyed 1,000 adults nationwide by calling land lines between July 29 and Aug. 10. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
The findings, as well as results showing Japanese are reluctant to allow more foreign workers into the country, suggest a general wariness toward outsiders. Some 46 percent are opposed to increasing the number of immigrants — more than double those in favor of boosting their numbers — even though doing so would help offset the shrinking labor force as the population ages.
And while they gave elected leaders low marks, most Japanese think highly of Emperor Akihito and the Self-Defense Forces.
Tokyo is cautiously monitoring China's growing military spending and its more assertive stance over disputed islands in the region. Ties between the two countries deteriorated to their worst point in years last autumn, after a Chinese fishing trawler and Japan Coast Guard cutters collided near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.
China's state-run media have already issued warnings to new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda over his past statements suggesting that Beijing's military buildup is a regional security threat.
For protection, Japan relies on the SDF and nearly 50,000 U.S. troops based in the country under a 51-year-old bilateral security pact. That arrangement came under increased scrutiny last year, when then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought — and ultimately failed — to move the controversial Futenma base out of Okinawa Prefecture.
U.S. forces were also actively involved in humanitarian relief efforts following the natural disasters in March.
Amid public alarm about China's assertiveness, support for U.S. military bases in Japan has grown to 57 percent, while 34 percent want them shut down. In a similar poll in 2005, Japanese were evenly divided on the issue, with 47 percent in favor and 47 percent against.
"The U.S. military presence has received a greater acceptance, apparently because people think this region has grown more unstable," Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said in response to the results.
China is viewed as a threat to world peace by nearly three-quarters of the respondents, and about the same number have a negative impression of the country, despite it being Japan's largest trading partner. Unfavorable views of Chinese President Hu Jintao outweigh favorable views by more than 11 to 1, the poll showed.
North Korea, meanwhile, is viewed as a threat by even more Japanese — 80 percent, up from 59 percent in 2005. Pyongyang, which conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, and fired missiles over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean in 1998 and April 2009, is viewed negatively by 94 percent. The North's leader, Kim Jong Il, is disliked by 9 in 10.
Many Japanese are supportive of the SDF, with 74 percent trusting it to do the right thing all or most of the time.
People were mixed over changing the Constitution to allow the SDF to play a greater international role, although more favored than opposed such a change — 38 percent for and 28 percent against. About a third were neutral on the issue.
The Constitution, drawn up by the Allied Occupation after World War II, prohibits the creation and use of a military force in an offensive capacity. But under pressure from the U.S. to play a larger role in regional security, Japan has become more involved in peacekeeping operations overseas.
Most Japanese continue to hold the Emperor, whose role is purely ceremonial, in high esteem: 70 percent view him favorably and 65 percent feel the Imperial family still has an important role in modern society.
Still, just 22 percent would favor giving the Emperor power to set government policy, while 43 percent oppose expanding the Imperial family's power. About a third are neutral.
Some 41 percent of respondents feel positively about U.S. President Barack Obama, compared with 16 percent who view him unfavorably, and 41 percent who are neutral. As a country, the United States is viewed favorably by 49 percent, neutrally by 36 percent and unfavorably by 14 percent.
While South Korean cultural exports such as television dramas and K-pop singers have become increasingly popular in Japan, the country itself isn't viewed as favorably, with 31 percent positive and 27 percent negative.
Russia, meanwhile, is viewed positively by just 11 percent and negatively by 44 percent.
Japan has come under fire internationally over its whale hunts, but the Japanese public narrowly favors whaling for commercial purposes, the survey showed. Fifty-two percent favor continuing the hunts, 35 percent are neutral and 13 percent oppose them. Far more men than women are in favor of the hunts, it also showed.
However, only a minority — 12 percent — are interested in actually eating whale meat.