Distinguished American and Japanese financial, media and foreign policy experts, including former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Jeffrey Garten and former Ambassador to the U.S. Yoshio Okawara, met in Tokyo’s Akasaka district earlier this week for a symposium on bilateral relations, but instead spent much of the time discussing China.

The symposium, titled “The Changing Context of U.S.-Japan Relations,” was held in commemoration of the New York-based Japan Society’s 90th and the Tokyo-based America-Japan Society’s 80th anniversary. However, instead of focusing on U.S-Japanese trade or security agreements, the participants frequently returned to the subject of the growth of China.

“The U.S. now has a preoccupation with China,” Garten said, adding that this was especially true as American foreign policy was being driven more and more by corporate expansion rather than government strategies. John Wadsworth, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and India, Ltd., said, “I see the same kind of excitement and dynamism now in Shanghai and Beijing as I did in the early growth of Silicon Valley.” Wadsworth added that he thought it might be “too late” for Japanese financial institutions and for the Tokyo financial market to become competitive internationally.

Akira Kojima of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper called this phenomenon, “Japan-passing” and “Japan-nothing” as opposed to the so-called Japan-bashing of the 1980s. However, David Sanger, former Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times, said that rather than it being a case of Japan-passing, the current situation was instead due to a large gap in “perception versus reality on the part of both (nations).”

“Both the U.S. and Japan are incapable of viewing the other in a median form. … it is always extremes. First America wildly overestimated Japanese takeover of U.S. companies … and now, with the focus on China, a friend of mine refers to Japan as ‘that island of people growing old fast,'” Sanger said.

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