What the U.S. presidential hopefuls see when they look East


OSAKA — The Iowa caucus kicks off Thursday in what is expected to be a hard-fought battle for the U.S. presidency. The November election itself will end the era of George W. Bush and offer the victor a chance to reshape America’s role internationally.

In Japan, the foreign policies of each major candidate are being closely scrutinized, as the media and political pundits debate which would be a good president for Japan-U.S. relations, and which would be less than good, if not downright bad.

Among conservative and even many politically moderate Japanese, there is a belief that bilateral ties are less contentious when Republicans are presidents, as they tend to downplay trade rows in favor of stronger security relations. That many Republicans also see China as more of a rival than a partner is a view many of these same Japanese share.

Democratic presidents tend to create media speculation that the U.S. will emphasize relations with China at the expense of Japan, and that trade disputes are likely to become more politicized.

On the other hand, many Japanese of all political stripes see a Democratic president as being more likely than a Republican to embrace multilateral bodies in which Japan plays a vital role, while Japanese business and political leaders particularly eager to expand ties with China often view a Democratic president as more likely to share their goal.

Major public statements by candidates in both parties on their foreign policy plans have mainly focused on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dealing with Iran and North Korea, and bringing peace to the Middle East.

Over the past months, Foreign Affairs magazine, the bible of America’s foreign policy establishment, has published essays by several major candidates on their broad foreign policy views, while their campaigns have released lists of their foreign policy advisers, informal and formal.

Here are the major candidates (in alphabetical order), at the moment at least, their Asia advisers and their statements on America’s relations with Japan and East Asia.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat): Clinton’s foreign policy advisers include former Ambassadors to Japan Thomas Foley and Walter Mondale, and Stuart Eizenstat, chief U.S. negotiator at the 1997 conference in Kyoto that created the Kyoto Protocol on the environment. But Clinton dismayed some in Japan when she wrote in the November/December 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs that U.S. ties with China would be “the most important bilateral relationship in the world this century.”

While acknowledging that the U.S. and China don’t see eye to eye on issues ranging from labor practices to Tibet, she praised China’s support in reaching an agreement with North Korea to disable its nuclear facilities. She wants to expand that cooperation to build a Northeast Asia security regime, and advocates direct contact with North Korea by U.S. leaders. Clinton is also calling for a joint U.S.-Japan-China program to develop new clean energy sources.

Sen. John Edwards (Democrat): Edwards has no high-profile advisers on Japan. Laying out his foreign policy views in the September/October 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs, he called for the U.S. to integrate emerging powers like China and India into organizations like the Group of Eight while maintaining strong partnerships with allies like Japan.

Edwards sees China as a growing economic competitor, and says the U.S.-China relationship is delicate but economically important because China invests heavily in U.S. Treasury bonds. Getting China to commit to rules governing the conduct of nations will be a top U.S. foreign policy goal, he says. On North Korea, Edwards supports direct bilateral talks with Pyongyang.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (Republican): The most prominent Asian policy expert advising Giuliani is Stephen Yates, former deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yates, who has a master’s degree in Chinese studies, is fluent in Mandarin and considered very friendly toward Taiwan. He is senior Asia adviser and president of the consultancy DC Asia Advisory.

Giuliani, writing in the September/October 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs, praised the Bush administration’s policies toward Japan, saying the alliance was strengthened considerably and is a rock of stability in the region. He called South Korea a key to security in East Asia but noted that U.S. relations with China will remain complex for the foreseeable future and said the U.S. needs to push China harder on democracy, civil liberties and economic issues, even as he added that the U.S. must continue to rely on China to pressure Pyongyang on its nuclear program.

Sen. John McCain (Republican): It would be no surprise if McCain is the favorite of Japanese policymakers, pundits and media who supported the direction of bilateral relations under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. McCain’s foreign policy advisers include former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, seen by many as Japan’s most powerful friend in Washington and still regularly interviewed on Japan-U.S. relations by the Japanese media. Also among McCain’s brain trust is Michael Green, a former Asia adviser to Bush who is highly proficient in Japanese and now the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Armitage coauthored a report in February (in which Green served as a participant) that laid out a blueprint for the U.S.-Japan alliance through 2020 based on increased military cooperation. The report encouraged Japan to become more proactive, especially in dispatching the Self-Defense Forces overseas.

Not surprisingly, then, McCain, writing in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, had much to say about Japan-U.S. relations. “I welcome Japan’s international leadership and emergence as a global power, encourage its admirable ‘values-based diplomacy’ and support its bid for a permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council,” McCain wrote.

McCain took a hard line toward North Korea, saying it was “unclear today whether North Korea was committed to verifiable denuclearization.” On China, he said dealing with that country will be the “central challenge for the next American president.”

While McCain said America and China were not “destined to be adversaries,” he added that “until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.”

Sen. Barack Obama (Democrat): Obama’s most prominent adviser on Japan is Matthew Goodman, former director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Fluent in Japanese and an expert in Asian economic and financial issues, Goodman once worked as a financial journalist in Tokyo before moving into politics. Obama also has Jeffrey Bader, a China expert who served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council.

Writing in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama said he would push for creation of a new security framework in East Asia that goes beyond current “bilateral agreements, occasional summits and ad hoc arrangements such as the six-party talks on North Korea.” He has indicated to U.S. media that he favors bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.

“We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries of East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and confront transnational threats from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia,” Obama said. As to China, “we will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others,” he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (Republican): Romney has no high-profile Japan experts advising his campaign.

Virtually all of his July/August 2007 Foreign Affairs article focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, with no mention of Japan, only one sentence about China and a passing reference to North Korean human rights abuses.