Yesterday it was China, and today the Prime Minister is in Japan. Trade will be the main item on the agenda in his meetings with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but security will also be discussed. All of which leads us to an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian .

“After 60 years largely spent keeping its head down, Japan appears destined to supplant Australia as Washington’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region and become a pillar of America’s 21st-century security architecture,” the paper reported here . But is it true?

The Guardian is a left-leaning British newspaper. “According to Kazuya Sakamoto of Osaka University, Japan and Britain are central to a far-reaching, post-9/11 US review of its overseas force deployments,” the paper claims. “‘The basic idea is that the US will gradually withdraw from the Eurasian landmass while assigning the two island nations at the east and west of Eurasia, Japan and Britain, even greater importance as strategic bases to ensure stability in Europe and Asia,’ Professor Sakamoto writes in the current issue of Japan Echo magazine,” says The Guardian .

At the same time, however, the article begins with a reference to the anti-Japanese riots over new school textbooks that yet again whitewash Japan’s behaviour in the thirties and during World War II. Riots in China do not occur – or at least recur– without official sanction. Koreans must have been watching these closely – along with other Asian nations occupied by Japan.

Japan is a natural staging post for American forces in Asia, but what role can its own forces play? John Howard must surely get to wear his deputy sheriff’s badge for a while longer yet.