U.S.-China ties won’t mar Japan bond: Schieffer

by Reiji Yoshida

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer tried Wednesday to soothe rising Japanese concern about relations with Washington by repeating that Japanese interests will not be sacrificed for the sake of China.

“Many Japanese seem to fear the U.S. might trade our old friendship with Japan for a new friendship with China. That is not going to happen,” Schieffer told a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“If . . . Japan lost faith in America, or came to the conclusion Japanese interests would be sacrificed by us for the benefits of China, then I think Asia would immediately become more dangerous for Japan and for America.”

“We understand that. And we would do everything we can to avoid it.”

Since China has emerged as an economic powerhouse, many Japanese critics fear the U.S. may make Beijing its diplomatic priority in Asia.

This fear has been fueled by a recently published foreign policy essay written by Sen. Hillary Clinton, one of the Democratic Party’s top prospective candidates for the 2008 presidential election. The essay discusses little about the U.S. relationship with Japan but emphasizes the strategic importance of China.

Asked to comment on Clinton’s posture, Schieffer said the importance of the bilateral relationship is independent of the policies of individuals or parties.

“I don’t think there is a Republican or Democratic policy on Japan,” said Schieffer, who won political office in Texas as a Democrat.

The U.S. needs to keep engaging Asia and the first thing it needs to do to accomplish that is “to reassure the U.S.-Japan alliance is strong,” the ambassador said.

At the same time, however, Schieffer suggested that Japan should continue its logistic support for the maritime interdiction operation in the Indian Ocean.