Japan will continue to be a friend of the United States, but incoming President Barack Obama may try to approach China more to solve international issues because Beijing can more quickly effect policy, according to a noted American expert on Japan and China.

“It’ll be easier to get the Chinese government to make an agreement, because when they make it, they can enforce it much more quickly,” said Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II professor of social sciences, emeritus, at Harvard University.

“So on international issues, even though Japan is our ally and our friend, for a lot of problems we’ll be talking more to China because they can solve issues more and they are now beginning to play a big role,” Vogel said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

Even though Obama faces daunting challenges, ranging from the economic crisis to Middle East peace negotiations to North Korea’s nuclear threat, the incoming administration is signaling it is ready to be cooperative with the rest of the world, Vogel said.

“Obama is an unusually good choice for trying to bring back a good will that has been lost during the (George W.) Bush administration. During the Bush era, there were some people in America who were quite proud and arrogant, who didn’t realize the world has changed,” said the author of the renowned book “Japan as Number One,” which was published in 1979.

“There are so many diplomats in Washington who felt we should be more cooperative with other countries. Now they will have more chances to express a cooperative attitude.”

As for Asia policy, Obama has surrounded himself with experts, including Jeffrey Bader, who worked at the State Department and National Security Council and headed the Asia team during Obama’s campaign, Vogel said.

Obama also tapped several Japan experts as advisers during the election campaign, including Gerald Curtis, a professor at Columbia University, Kurt Campbell, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific, and Rust Deming, former deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Tokyo and former ambassador to Tunisia. Because Deming’s father served in Okinawa and he spent his childhood in Japan, he speaks Japanese well, Vogel added.

“There are a lot of good people Obama can use. So much talent wants to work for him that he will have good choices,” he said.

But while the United States may look to be more cooperative with the rest of the world, Vogel said it will demand reciprocal cooperation at the same time.

“So if other nations do not cooperate in trying to deal with big refugee problems, in trying to resolve (the) North Korea (nuclear threat) and in trying to resolve the Middle East issues, there will be a lot of frustration in the United States about the failures of other nations to do their share.”

For example, more than 10 years have passed since an agreement to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa was reached, but the move is nowhere near happening. On North Korea, Japan’s tough stance and strict focus on the abductee problem is a stark difference with the other nations in the six-party denuclearization talks.

“If Japan only stresses the abductee issue and does not show signs publicly of cooperating, then there will be increasing frustration,” Vogel said.

He also touched on Japan’s internal political malaise.

Obama may have a hard time trying to form a close personal relationship with Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose stint may be fleeting amid the rotating door of Tokyo’s recent leadership, Vogel said.

Bush was fortunate to be able to form a relationship with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, because he held office for several years, he said.

“But now Aso is already almost a lame duck. So will Obama spend so much time to form a relationship with Aso? Of course he will form some relationship, but given all the other pressing issues, he may decide to wait for the (next) election, see who emerges as the new leader and try to work with that leader,” Vogel 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.