U.S. relations seem steady, but Japan will have to live up to commitments

Relations between Japan and the United States are likely to stay calm under their respective new administrations, but the future in both security and economic matters depends largely on whether Japan effectively fulfills its commitments, including those to deregulation and various agreements reached during the past few years.Economic relations were tense during the first term of President Bill Clinton. He emphasized resolving contentious trade issues, while security relations were strained because of the rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in Okinawa Prefecture in September 1995.Japan and the U.S. collided over economic issues, including automobile and auto parts trade, semiconductor trade and the implementation of an insurance agreement, but most of the contentious issues have been resolved. They agreed on a framework for reducing the burden on the Okinawan people, who host a majority of the U.S. military bases in Japan. They also made a commitment to strengthen security cooperation in a joint declaration made in April by Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.Analysts say that under Clinton’s second term, U.S. policy toward Japan and other Asian countries remains a question mark because members of his new security and foreign policy team are said to have no experience in this part of the world. Kazuya Sakamoto, an associate professor at Osaka University, said no major changes will be seen in bilateral relations under the new Clinton administration as long as Tokyo implements plans it has agreed to with Washington. “The U.S. government will be closely watching whether Japan will implement free trade in the economic sector and whether it will promote cooperation in the security field,” Sakamoto said.While saying security relations are solid and on the right path, former U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale, who left his post in mid-December, said in a farewell news conference that future U.S. foreign policy will be mapped out based on past achievements.