Japan risks ties if slow to back retaliation by U.S., expert says

by Sayuri Daimon

The United States is expecting Tokyo to cooperate and assist in tackling its current crisis in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and Japan may not be able to maintain its good relations with the U.S. if it fails to act quickly, according to an American specialist on Japan.

Ezra Vogel speaks in Tokyo about the impact of the terrorist attacks in the United States.

“Of course, everybody now feels sympathy. But countries that are very quick and are ready to cooperate with the U.S. against terrorism will be friends, and countries that don’t cooperate or assist won’t have the same relationship with the U.S.,” Ezra Vogel, a research professor at Harvard University, said in Tokyo.

Vogel, who is visiting Japan this week, is also the author of the best-selling book “Japan as Number One: Lessons for America,” which first hit Japanese bookstores in 1979.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Vogel noted that the U.S. is now very united and many Americans are ready to sacrifice themselves to fight terrorism.

“Since the Cold War, we haven’t had a clear enemy. But now we do,” he said, noting that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have the whole country bracing for war.

Speaking about Japan’s response to the tragedy, Vogel, who also served as national intelligence officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council in Washington from 1993 to 1995, praised Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s initial response but voiced disappointment over his recent remarks.

Right after the attacks, Koizumi strongly condemned the terrorists and told President George W. Bush that Japan supported the U.S. position to fight terrorism.

“On the other hand, more recently, he met some press corps and talked about all the difficulties in Japan and the things they are constrained by,” he said.

Vogel also expressed disappointment in the news coverage in Japan, noting that while the European media did not even discuss the nationalities of the people missing in the New York attack, Japan’s coverage was dominated by how many Japanese had died.

How Japan is perceived by the U.S. depends on what Japan does from now on, the longtime Japanologist said.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has reportedly suggested to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai that Tokyo can play a visible role of cooperation by deploying its Self-Defense Forces.

However, Vogel is fully aware of restraints posed by Japan’s Constitution, and said the U.S. does not expect Japan to participate in combat operations. The Constitution does not confer full military status on the SDF, which were created to provide only national defense.

“We haven’t made a precise request . . . but I think there are things that Japan could do to be helpful,” he said. “I do think the lessons from the (1991 Persian) Gulf War are that money isn’t enough.”

As Vogel mentioned, there appears to be a sense of urgency among lawmakers that Japan must avoid being left behind by the international community.

Politicians are now considering legislation that would enable the SDF to provide rear-area logistic and material support to the U.S. military in the event of a retaliatory strike against the perpetrators of the attacks.

“Willingness to send people to risky places will be expected as allies,” Vogel said.

Meanwhile, the professor, who is also an expert on China, said Sino-U.S. relations, which had been worsening over the past several months, are beginning to improve since the attacks in the U.S.

“There is potential of real cooperation with China on this,” he said, adding that China is aware that it could be a potential target of radical Islamic terror. There is already suspicion that small numbers of Uighur Muslim separatists in the western region of Xinjiang have received training or aid from the Taliban.

On the economic front, Vogel said the impact of the terror attacks will be limited.

“I can’t see why it should be such a huge economic situational change in Asia,” he said. “Even the American economy isn’t basically affected. It has done huge damage, but it’s not a major part of the U.S. (gross domestic product).”

However, he expressed concern over Japan’s slow structural reform efforts, saying the country still suffers from a serious problem.

“Koizumi is a very popular prime minister. People respect him for expressing his own opinion and having clear views,” he said. “But time is going fast, and he hasn’t put things into action.”

If Koizumi fails to put reforms in place within the next few months, “the economy could be in real trouble, and I think the world market with international capital will be very tough on Japan,” he said.