Poll finds trans-Pacific gap on role Japan should play in region

Bloomberg, Kyodo

An expanded military role for Japan is a more popular idea among U.S. citizens than Japanese themselves, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

About 47 percent of U.S. respondents said Japan should play a more active military role in regional affairs, compared with 23 percent of Japanese.

The survey was released hours before a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani in Tokyo on Wednesday, at which they discussed developing Japan’s role in the alliance.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought to bolster Japan’s security posture and strengthen military ties with the U.S. amid the Senkaku Islands dispute with an increasingly assertive China.

Japan and the U.S. are scheduled to complete new bilateral defense guidelines in the coming weeks, and Abe will later this month become the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of Congress.

The poll found that 75 percent of Japanese and 68 percent of Americans trust each other.

But while only 30 percent of U.S. respondents and 7 percent of Japanese said they trust China, more in the U.S. said they value economic ties with China than said they value U.S. economic ties with Japan.

About 43 percent of the U.S. respondents said economic relations with China are more important than economic relations with Japan, with the figure rising to 61 percent among those aged 18 to 29.

While the survey showed broad trust between the U.S. and Japan, it found differences between the two populations on their World War II history as the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat approaches.

About 56 percent of U.S. respondents said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 were justified, while nearly 80 percent of Japanese said they were not.

But the poll found differing views among generations in the U.S., with 70 percent of the respondents aged 65 or older saying the atomic bombings were justifiable, compared with 47 percent among those aged between 18 and 29.

“Adversaries in World War II, fierce economic competitors in the 1980s and early 1990s, Americans and Japanese nonetheless share a deep mutual respect,” the center said.

The center said it polled 1,000 people aged 18 or older in each country by telephone from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15.

On Japan’s actions during the war, Americans who think Japan has apologized “sufficiently” accounted for 37 percent, outnumbering those who believe its apologies are insufficient, at 29 percent. Meanwhile, 24 percent of the Americans said no apology was necessary.

Among Japanese, 48 percent regarded the apologies by their country as enough, while 28 percent said their country has not apologized sufficiently. Fifteen percent of Japanese saw no need for an apology.

The poll suggests many Americans are well aware of the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programs but have less knowledge about political disputes involving Japan, China and South Korea.

The issue of North Korea’s nuclear programs was known by 81 percent of Americans, while 60 percent knew about territorial disputes between China and neighboring countries against 39 percent who were unaware of the disputes, the poll found.

Meanwhile 57 percent of Americans said they did not know about Japan-South Korea friction over the “comfort women” issue, while 41 percent said they were aware of the tension.