Obama inspires high hopes

Economic fears tinge optimism of Japanese and foreign residents

by Minoru Matsutani and Eric Johnston

Japanese and foreign residents of Tokyo and Osaka voiced hope Wednesday that new U.S. President Barack Obama will abandon the unilateral approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush, while some Japanese expressed concern that bilateral relations will be overshadowed by economic and military snags.

“I hope Obama will bring peace to the world and respect the authorities of the United Nations,” a Swedish businessman, 41, said in Tokyo, apparently in reference to the Iraqi conflict, which began in 2003 initially without U.N. backing.

Xu Xinrau, 21, a Chinese student at Temple University, Japan Campus in Minato Ward, Tokyo, said she does not want Obama to repeat the mistakes Bush made in Iraq.

Xu, who stayed up till 2:30 a.m. Wednesday to watch Obama’s inaugural speech live on TV, said, “When Bush spoke, it often sounded like he wanted to give the impression that Iraqi people equaled terrorists. His speeches sent the wrong message.”

However, she supports Obama’s plan to send more troops to Afghanistan so the U.S. can “finish what it started.”

A 48-year-old Japanese businessman said he expects Obama to resolve conflicts in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan through negotiations instead of force.

On Japan-U.S. relations, he said he believes Obama will put more emphasis on China in Asia diplomacy and that will pose a challenge to Japanese politicians, adding he is “a bit concerned about what Obama will do regarding North Korea, because he has many other things to worry about.”

Xu meanwhile expressed hope that Obama tries to forge friendly ties with China. “Obama is in many ways different from past U.S. presidents, and he may be easier for Chinese (politicians) to get along with,” she said.

Despite the perceived emphasis on China, U.S. citizens in Japan are hoping that Obama will ensure the two allies maintain friendly relations.

“I am hopeful that he will deliver on his promise to reinforce the positive image of the U.S. around the world. As part of this promise, I hope that the new president will continue to promote favorable relations between the U.S. and Japan and appoint dedicated individuals with significant knowledge of Japan to key governmental positions,” said Matthew Wilson, an American and senior associate dean and general counsel at Temple University, Japan Campus, in Tokyo.

“I believe that (Obama) will look to Japan for support as a valuable partner and ally” as he pursues measures to help the U.S. and other economies resolve their current difficulties and uncertainties, Wilson added.

“Obama’s green ‘New Deal’ will play a large role in dealing with the problem of global warming. We hope the new president will also establish a system of green cooperation with other countries as well,” said Norihiko Saito, director of Kansai Electric Power and head of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives.

Overall, Japanese and foreigners find reason for optimism in Obama.

“I think it’s great that Americans elected an African-American as president, because I had thought that was impossible due to racial prejudice against black people. Americans showed they really can change,” said Yumi Chiboshi, a 21-year-old university student.

But university student Xu was not sure Obama will live up to expectations.

“Obama may be popular just because of the recession,” she said. “What he wants to do may be different from what the U.S. wants, so he may later become like Bush.”