The Japanese and Chinese escalating war of words over the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands are coming at an incredibly delicate time in global politics. Obama’s recent no-show in Asia (thanks to the Tea Party-driven government shutdown) only contributed to the sense of a power vacuum arising from the US’s absence. While the US is an ally of Japan, it has also said it doesn’t take side in the dispute. It’s leverage as a steadying force may be weakened by the perception that, like in the Middle East, the US is pulling back.
We are also in the middle of the ongoing Snowden fallout, in which wearing on long alliances. I suppose it could further make the US’s ability to cobble together a multi-lateral agreement. The past month or two in the White House must feel like a rollercoaster with no handbrake.