With Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s first summit with U.S. President George W. Bush to be held Saturday outside Washington D.C., Japan hopes to set in motion full-scale efforts to build fresh ties under the new U.S. administration.
Since Bush’s inauguration in January, the U.S. has underscored its alliance with Japan in its Asian policy, while U.S.-China relations have chilled considerably from those under his predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Despite such hopes, Tokyo-Washington ties over the past several months have not entirely been smooth.
A fatal collision between a U.S. submarine and a Japanese fisheries training ship off Hawaii in February strained bilateral ties. Political uncertainty surrounding the fate of Yoshiro Mori, Koizumi’s predecessor, delayed his U.S. visit to March — by which time he was widely considered a lame-duck leader.
With the launch of the Koizumi Cabinet, support ratings exceeding 80 percent and a pronounced commitment to reform, the time is finally ripe for Japan and the United States to build a new framework for cooperation, Foreign Ministry officials said.
The high expectation on the U.S. side is demonstrated in the setting for the leaders’ talks at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., a senior official said, noting that only British Prime Minister Tony Blair has visited Camp David since Bush’s inauguration.
“The Camp David meeting is a great setting for building strong personal ties between the two leaders, and that’s the major objective of the meeting.”
Atsushi Kusano, a professor of international relations at Keio University, said Koizumi’s primary task is to reaffirm ties with the U.S. and erase any doubt that may still linger in the U.S. about the diplomatic stance of Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka.
“From the economic perspective, the Koizumi Cabinet’s message for reform is very clear, but its diplomatic stance is still vague,” Kusano said.
In fact, Koizumi diplomacy has been marred by signs of internal inconsistency.
Koizumi has indicated that he is ready to consider ways to enable Japan to engage in collective defense with its allies — a major issue of concern for U.S. policymakers. But Tanaka’s reported remarks about her doubts about the U.S. missile defense plan and the Japan-U.S. security alliance have sent a confusing signal to the U.S., Kusano said.
Tanaka’s pro-China stance also seems to differ from Koizumi’s, he added.
Tanaka, who has repeatedly denied making the remarks about the missile defense, managed to visit the U.S. earlier this month and confirmed that the Japan-U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy. She also expressed “understanding” toward the missile defense plan, in line with the government’s official position.
Kusano said Tanaka’s visit, which was considered difficult until the very last minute partly because of her reported remarks, may have been significant for the fact that she went, but she did not completely ease the anxiety felt by U.S. policymakers.
“The United States basically wanted to check what kind of a politician Tanaka is, and their aim is to have substantial talks with Koizumi and assess his foreign policy stance,” Kusano said.
Security, missile defense and Okinawa issues are expected to top the summit agenda.
Koizumi has said in Diet debate that Japan will “carefully study and consider” the U.S. missile defense plan. He is expected to repeat this position during his talks with Bush.
But Satoshi Morimoto, a professor of international relations at Takushoku University, said Koizumi should directly ask Bush about his real intention behind the plan since various factors remain unclear, such as when and what kind of defense shield the U.S. is planning and at what cost.
“Koizumi should ask whether the United States really thinks the plan is technically feasible and how so,” Morimoto said.
On issues related to Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases, Koizumi vowed Saturday in Okinawa to convey the local people’s concerns to Bush, including local municipalities’ demand for a 15-year time limit on the U.S. military’s use of a new airport to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa.
The proposed Nago facility is to take over the helicopter operations now at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in central Okinawa, which the U.S. agreed in a 1996 accord to return to Japan on condition that a replacement airfield is provided in the prefecture.
Tanaka and Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani have urged their U.S. counterparts to consider moving some of the marine training from Okinawa to Guam and other nearby locations. Koizumi is also expected to discuss with Bush ways to reduce the base burden on Okinawa’s residents.
However, Morimoto said it will be difficult to draw much out on the issue as Washington is still working on the quadrennial defense review to be released in September, in which the overall force structure in the Asia-Pacific region will be determined.
On the economic front, Koizumi will brief Bush on his sweeping reform plan mapped out last week, in which he pledged to resolve banks’ bad-loan problems in two to three years while drastically proceeding with structural reforms.
“The U.S. will be paying close attention to how Japan is trying to clean up its bad-loan mess, and whether the reform plan will lead to domestic demand-led growth in Japan,” Morimoto said.
Kusano also said Washington has high hopes for Koizumi’s plan and for Japan to finally carry out reforms on its own, rather than via pressure from the U.S.
In order to step up the economic dialogue, the two leaders are expected to agree on a new framework under which several panels, annual vice ministerial meetings and informal public-private forums are to be established.
The panels of working-level officials are designed to take over trade and deregulation talks held under the Clinton administration, and they will also discuss macroeconomic policy issues, according to Foreign Ministry officials.
“By making a new framework, we want to discuss a range of issues from both sides on a regular basis” one senior Foreign Ministry official said. “Bilateral economic relations will be clearly different from the past, when the U.S. made sector-by-sector market-opening demands, complete with numerical targets.”
Another sensitive issue in the Koizumi-Bush talks will be the future of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting emissions of global warming gases.
European nations are harshly critical of Bush’s decision to pull out of the protocol. They say they will ratify the pact without the participation of the United States, and are urging Japan to follow suit to save the accord.
But Japan insists it will continue efforts to persuade the U.S. to come back to the Kyoto process, and Koizumi is expected to make a last-minute push before an international meeting on climate change is held in Bonn, Germany, in July.
“The Kyoto Protocol would not have much meaning without the participation of the United States, which is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases,” Morimoto said, noting Koizumi should go further and propose an alternative that is acceptable to the U.S.
Morimoto said the Koizumi-Bush talks will also be a stage for the two to discuss how they can demonstrate leadership at the July Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, on such topics as combating AIDS in Africa.
Koizumi will go to London and Paris from Sunday to Wednesday to meet Blair and French President Jacques Chirac and exchange views with them before the G8 summit.
Topics with the European leaders will include the Kyoto Protocol, U.N. reform, the launch of the World Trade Organization’s new round, the AIDS problem and the U.S. missile defense plan.
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