NEW YORK – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may be hoping U.S. President George W. Bush will be re-elected, given their close personal relationship and his staunch support for the president’s policy on Iraq.
Bush also appears to be giving special treatment to Koizumi. In his campaign speeches, Bush has repeatedly cited his friendship with Koizumi as an example for the importance of establishing a democratic Iraq.
Even if Bush is re-elected, however, challenges will remain for Japan-U.S. ties.
It was “amazing” that the leaders of the United States and Japan, which fought each other in World War II, were “sitting around a table talking about peace,” Bush said of his dinner with Koizumi in Tokyo last October.
“Some day an American president is going to be talking to an elected official from Iraq, talking about how to keep the peace,” he said.
James Przystup, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University in Washington, said he welcomes developments in Japan-U.S. relations since Bush took office in January 2001.
Przystup said many of the recommendations included in his institution’s 2000 report on a better Japan-U.S. partnership have been accomplished. “I think this is really a tremendous success story for the Bush administration and the Koizumi government.”
The report, compiled by a bipartisan study group that included Richard Armitage and Michael Green, called for expanding Japan-U.S. cooperation in security and other areas. Bilateral relations moved in that direction particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Japan has been engaged in refueling operations in the Arabian Sea to support U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan and has dispatched Ground Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq on a reconstruction and humanitarian aid mission.
Under the Bush administration, Armitage became deputy secretary of state and Green became senior director for Asia at the White House’s National Security Council.
Hiromi Murakami, a lecturer in Japan studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said that from a Japanese perspective, the recent developments in bilateral relations may lead to “serious problems” in Japan.
“Japan was proactively involved in supporting U.S. policy toward Iraq, which was a reasonable solution for Japan in the short term, but lacked in-depth discussion at home, which is not a good domestic solution in the long term,” she said.
A Republican Party platform adopted during the just-ended national convention confirmed that Bush will continue to place Japan at the center of his Asian policy if he is elected in November for a second four-year term.
“Japan is a key partner of the United States and the U.S.- Japan alliance is an important foundation of peace, stability, security and prosperity in Asia,” the platform says. “America supports an economically vibrant and open Japan that serves as an engine of expanding prosperity and trade in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Still, a Bush re-election would not guarantee smooth sailing for bilateral relations.
In Japan, there has been criticism about Koizumi’s full support for Bush’s Iraq policy and arguments that Japan should place the United Nations at the center of its security policy.
“Major challenges will be to certainly sustain the forward movement that we have now in this relationship,” Przystup said.
He also said the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan will have “some domestic implications” in Japan. Depending on realignment plans, affected communities are expected to strongly oppose them.
Murakami meanwhile said Japan’s “leverage” against the United States may weaken under another Bush administration.
By supporting Bush’s Iraq policy while many European allies of the United States opposed it, Japan was able to push ahead with efforts to resolve the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea, Murakami said. Otherwise, the United States may have asked Japan to deal with the abduction issue only after resolving Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats, she said.
“When Europe was divided and went against the United States, Japan was relatively well-positioned among other countries,” Murakami said. “However, as soon as the United States realizes the importance of European cooperation and tries to reconcile with Europe, that would reduce Japan’s relative leverage.”
If Bush is re-elected and the two countries try to deepen security ties further, the issue of collective defense may also surface.
The 2000 report, known as the Armitage report, said Japan’s prohibition against collective defense is a “constraint” on allied cooperation and lifting it would allow for closer and more efficient security cooperation.
Armitage recently reiterated this view, while Secretary of State Colin Powell said Japan has to examine Article 9 of the Constitution if it wants to become a permanent U.N. Security Council member.
The Japanese government interprets the Constitution as both granting the country, under international law, the right to collective defense — even coming to the military aid of allies under attack — but also forbidding the exercise of that right.
“I think the expectation is that Japan will assume a larger role in support of international stability and security,” Przystup said. But “whatever our expectations are, whatever our hopes are, the reality is something that has to be decided by the Japanese public.” He added that exerting pressure on Japan on this issue would be “counterproductive.”
Murakami said the U.S. will probably not want Japan to assume a greater military role.
“The Japanese role in Iraq is very symbolic, and the United States is not asking Japan for any military operations,” Murakami said. “It seems rather that the Japanese side is enthusiastic (about) playing a greater military role.
“Japan is already making substantial contributions to postconflict support, which the United States is not really good at,” she said. “In order to contribute to international peace, Japan can differentiate its role from others.”