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Opinion: Victory for Obama, by way of Pyongyang

But for Japan, which reneged on its promise to strike the Futenma base, its a humiliating retreat.

An anti-base activist holds up a placard reading "No Need the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma" before Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's arrival outside the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab at the tiny hamlet of Henoko in Nago on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, May 4, 2010. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

NEW YORK — One of the many theories about North Korea which appears to float on thin air goes something like this: China, the one country with real leverage over crazy Kim and his gulag, loves the status quo.

Like that guy in your neighborhood who walks around with a pit bull straining against its leash, the Chinese parade their influence on the Pygmy of Pyongyang, as if to remind the neighborhood that without the strong hand of Beijing, Kim Jong-il’s steroid-fed army of Stalinist zealots would run amok all over East Asia.

If that is, in fact, how China views Kim, then Beijing has grossly miscalculated. In March, the leash broke and a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. This latest bit of brazen recklessness — nuclear tests, missile launches, etc. — apparently caught the attention of the Japanese military’s senior commanders.

On Monday, citing the region’s “security situation," Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced that he was not going to kick the U.S. Marines out of their bases in Okinawa, after all. It turns out that American jarheads come in handy when facing a Chinese naval build up, a nuclear-armed nutcase next door and a domestic economy about as likely to return to double digit growth as the Baltimore Orioles are to win the American League East.

Read more on whether Hatoyama just committed the equivalent of political suicide. And, watch below an On Location video about rising anger in Okinawa:

Hatoyama, of course, had made a great show during last year’s election campaign of promising to fulfill Okinawans’ desire to be rid of the huge Futenma air base in their midst. But the rhetoric extended far beyond a single base, as Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) questioned the bedrock of U.S. strategy in the region, the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

At the same time, Hatoyama proposed that an East Asian security group — including China and other regional powers — might be preferable to the status quo maintained by the huge U.S. naval presence in place since World War II. Most notably, this naval presence takes the form of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, whose home part at Yokosuka, is on the Japanese mainland.