Stronger alliance is on the way

by Hisahiko Okazaki

The relationship of trust between Japan and the United States is in its worst state ever. After U.S. President Barack Obama refused to see Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Copenhagen and listen to his excuse over his mishandling of bilateral ties, the latter talked with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and claimed to have obtained her understanding. But Ms. Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. only to tell him that she had not indicated her approval.

The “Nixon shock” comes to mind when one looks for a past example of a lack of mutual understanding to such a degree. At a summit meeting in 1969, President Richard Nixon promised to return Okinawa to Japan while Prime Minister Eisaku Sato pledged to voluntarily regulate textile exports to the U.S. Yet the Japanese government simply continued inconclusive negotiations.

In 1971, when the U.S.-China rapprochement bypassed Japan and the convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold abruptly ended, informed U.S. sources said this double shock was meant to penalize Japan for its breach of trust over the textile exports issue.

The dollar’s departure from the gold standard came as a serious blow, bringing about the most serious economic recession in Japan in the postwar period. The U.S.’ rapprochement with China also inflicted irreparable damage to Japan-U.S. policy coordination regarding China, preventing the two countries from sharing common China policy, a situation that has continued to this day. Leftists and Sinophiles have never failed to say “Americans betrayed us first.”

With the current level of lack of communication between Japan and the U.S., two issues — China and economic policy — worry me most, just as in the time of the “Nixon shock.” In addition, we now have the issue of relocation of U.S. military bases.

The dollar and the dollar-pegged Chinese yuan are capable of causing a sharp appreciation of the yen — though such a scenario is unthinkable at the moment — and dealing a serious blow to the Japanese economy. Or the U.S. might participate in an Asian forum in which Japan is not represented.

The issue of U.S. military bases is even more serious. In Japan, even after the end of the Cold War, there remain leftist forces trying to weaken the Japan-U.S. alliance. They don’t care if military solidarity between Japan and the U.S. is undermined. They will press for a further weakening of the alliance in the name of “reducing the burden” on Japan. This could result in irreparable damage to the security alliance.

If the Hatoyama administration fulfills its international commitments, this can be prevented.

What I would like to ask for now, however, is patience on the part of the U.S. For one thing, even if the Futenma relocation issue is not resolved, the status quo will continue, meaning the U.S. has nothing to lose. On the other hand, the rise of China will pose the most serious challenge to the security of East Asia and the world. Under such circumstances, whatever countermeasures are taken — soft or hard — the Japan-U.S. alliance is too valuable an asset to lose.

Although the process of improvement has been excruciatingly slow, the Japan-U.S. alliance is now approaching its ideal shape. The relationship of trust between the armed forces and government offices of the two countries has never been better.

A solution to the issue of the right to collective self-defense and other issues will be in sight once a conservative administration comes to power. It should be noted that even Hatoyama once stated that the exercise of the right to collective self-defense is not a constitutional issue but a matter for the government to decide.

The U.S. was patient with South Korea during the five years of Roh Moo Hyun administration. (South Koreans may not like the comparison, for while the Hatoyama Cabinet terminated refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, South Korea under Roh sent troops to Afghanistan). The realists in the South, who were ostracized at the time, are now back in power, giving their support to the U.S.-South Korea alliance.sk

The relationship of trust between Japan and the U.S. will eventually be restored and the time will come when the alliance relationship will be strengthened. Until then I do hope the U.S. side will be patient.

Hisahiko Okazaki is a former ambassador to Thailand. The article is based on a Japanese article by the same author that appeared in the Jan. 8 Seiron column of Sankei Shimbun.