In a new effort to intervene in any attempts to remove North Korea from the United States’ state sponsors of terrorism list, a Diet panel adopted a multipartisan resolution earlier this week urging its biggest ally to avoid such a move.

The latest chapter in the increasingly anxious relationship between Japan and the U.S. comes after a poll by the Cabinet Office last week showed that 20 percent of Japanese no longer think relations between the two are good, up 12 percent from a similar poll taken in October 2006.

Tensions between the two allies were evident during Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s tepid visit to Washington last month. North Korea and the abductions issue dominated discussions between Fukuda and President George W. Bush, as did the failure of Fukuda’s ruling coalition to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Indian Ocean refueling mission, which was supporting antiterror operations in and around Afghanistan.

But there were additional reasons to expect a stiff meeting between the two leaders on Nov. 16.

“To be honest, we are entering a period of some drift . . . in the relationship, and I think it reflects the political reality in both capitals,” said Michael Green, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, during a recent symposium.

Green, former senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, cited the challenges Fukuda faces with his Liberal Democratic Party’s devastating loss in the July House of Councilors elections. Green noted that Bush is experiencing similar difficulties dealing with an opposition Congress as he approaches the thick of the “lame duck” period in his presidency.

“These domestic political difficulties inevitably are going to make it difficult to maintain the kind of momentum and focus and strategic directions of the alliance,” Green said.

During Fukuda’s visit, there was no grand dinner and no side trip — to Camp David or elsewhere. Fukuda had a simple lunch date and made a brief public statement but did not interact with the press or reveal what transpired in his talks with Bush — arrangements that were attributed to both sides.

The White House wrote off the decision not to take questions from the press after the summit as a scheduling issue, and East Asia Research Fellow Yuki Tatsumi of the Stimson Center said the scaled-down affair likely stemmed from the fact that this was Fukuda’s first visit as prime minister.

“The Japanese side made it very clear that this was going to be a very low-key visit . . . to basically meet and greet, and then go through the issues,” Tatsumi said. “But they’re not necessarily looking for resolution for any of them.”

Bush first met Fukuda when the latter was chief Cabinet secretary for multiple administrations, but there was still uncertainty surrounding their first meeting as counterparts.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow in Asian studies with the Heritage Foundation, said there might be several ways to explain the succinct meeting. One reason could be that the Bush-Fukuda relationship is still in the “initial dating stage,” he said.

“It may just have been they wanted to emphasize the positive aspects of the meeting, to be more successful in spinning the message that the two allies remain shoulder-to-shoulder on all issues,” Klingner said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.