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Monday, August 02, 2004

Japantoday > commentary What would a Kerry win mean for Japan?

By Yoichi Kosukegawa
Will Japan-U.S. relations change if Sen John Kerry becomes the next U.S. president?
Kerry, a four-time Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has strongly criticized Republican President George W Bush's foreign policy, in particular his policy on Iraq.
Kerry has said the United States has lost many of its traditional allies as Bush launched the war in Iraq without seeking full international support. Kerry's promise to rebuild foreign alliances is one of the centerpieces of his policy.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is one of few world leaders who have thrown their full support behind Bush's policy on Iraq.
Koizumi dispatched Japan's Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq and pledged a large amount of financial assistance to the country. Bush has also invited Koizumi to his Texas ranch as a symbol of their close personal relationship.
The 2004 Democratic Party platform, adopted during the party's just-ended national convention, indicated that the basics of Japan-U.S. relations will continue to be about the same under a Kerry administration.
"We must maintain relations with Japan and find new ways to cooperate further," said the platform, which will serve as a policy blueprint for Kerry in the Nov 2 presidential election. But the details of his policy toward Japan remain unknown.
Yuki Tatsumi, a research fellow for the East Asia Program at the Henry L Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, dismisses concerns that Japan may get the cold shoulder from a Kerry administration as a result of the close Koizumi-Bush relations.
"We have to remember that the current relationship between Mr Koizumi and President Bush is very unusual in the history of U.S.-Japan relations because the heart of their relationship is the personal chemistry between them," she said.
"If Mr Kerry identifies Mr Koizumi too much with President Bush's policies, it may affect their personal chemistry. However, Mr Kerry understands that U.S. alliance with Japan is crucial for its security strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, including the ongoing tension with North Korea," Tatsumi said.
"Even if the personal chemistry does not exist between Mr Kerry and Mr Koizumi, it is unlikely that Mr Kerry will let it affect the U.S.-Japan relationship," she said.
Edward Lincoln, a senior fellow for Asia and Economic Studies at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said he is worried about the behavior of the Japanese government.
If Japanese officials are "kind of cool and stiff" in initial meetings with Kerry administration officials, that could get their personal relationship "off on the wrong foot," said Lincoln, who served as special economic adviser to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Walter Mondale under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.
"It's important that if Kerry wins the election, fairly quickly after that, Japanese officials and Prime Minister Koizumi reach out, make contacts, initiate some discussions and establish relationships, because there is no need for stiffness and unease at the beginning," he said.
Citing close bilateral cooperation on a range of issues, including Iraq's reconstruction, the North Korean nuclear standoff and missile defense, a senior Bush administration official said, "We have the best alliance with Japan that we ever had."
Lincoln, however, said that the current Japan-U.S. relations are "pretty strange and rather artificial."
"The Bush administration foreign policy is almost dominated by the war on terror and the war against Iraq. Prime Minister Koizumi chose to support President Bush on those policies," he said.
"As a result, the Bush administration has been very thankful for that support and has deliberately suppressed public discussions of a number of other issues of bilateral relationship that might involve differences between the two governments," Lincoln said.
The Bush administration has been taking a basically low-profile approach toward economic and trade issues with Japan in public.
"There's no reason for Kerry to do that since they opposed President Bush's policies toward Iraq," Lincoln said. "Therefore, they have no particular needs to go to such an extreme in their dealings with the Japanese government. So at the margin, we would probably see more open discussions of issues that involve differences between the U.S. and Japanese governments."
For example, the 2004 Democratic Party platform called for using all the tools to "break down barriers in key export markets, like the Japanese auto market."
But Lincoln said the Japan-U.S. relations will not return to the era of harsh trade frictions in the 1990s under the Clinton administration. Unlike the situation in 1993 when Clinton came into office, opening up the Japanese market is not a major issue in the current election campaign, he said.
As another area of concerns for Japan, Tatsumi said there could be communications problems between the two countries at middle- to upper middle-management levels of officials who handle day-to-day bilateral affairs.
"The current administration is by far the most Japan-friendly U.S. administration in the post-World War II era," Tatsumi said. "This administration is very unique because at least on the security issue front, we see a number of political appointees that are sincerely and deeply interested in Japan and future of U.S.-Japan alliance."
"It is very difficult for me to envision the senior director for Asia at the National Security Council that champions Japan in a Kerry administration, like Michael Green currently does," she said. (Kyodo News)
August 2, 2004

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