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The deadlock over the results of the U.S. presidential election is likely to undermine the administration that will be inaugurated next January. It remains to be seen if the United States, the world’s only superpower, will continue to lead world affairs in the 21st century as it did in the last one.

Political confusion also reigns in Japan, where Koichi Kato, former secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has launched an open revolt against unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and demanded his resignation. Public-approval ratings for the Mori Cabinet have plunged to abysmally low levels following a series of gaffes by the prime minister.

Power struggles in the LDP are escalating as the opposition forces gear up to introduce a no-confidence motion against the Mori Cabinet in the Diet. It is unclear if the turbulence will lead to drastic political realignment, but one thing is certain: Political uncertainties are likely to continue until the Upper House election scheduled for next summer.

I am concerned that the U.S. confusion over the presidential election and Japan’s political uncertainties could impede a stable Japan-U.S. alliance in the new century.

The U.S. congressional elections have cut the Republicans’ majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Legislative battles between the two parties are likely to intensify over controversial legislation. Confusion over the vote tally in the presidential election has sparked court battles, causing increasing partisanship.

According to a recent CNN-Time opinion poll, 55 percent of Americans surveyed said the deadlock over the presidential election was a “serious problem,” while 15 percent said it was a “crisis.” The political rift caused by the forces of George W. Bush and Al Gore is likely to cause serious damage to the U.S. political system.

Most experts agree that whoever wins the U.S. presidency, there will be no major change in U.S. policy toward Japan. This year, Japan-U.S. relations have experienced few problems, thanks in part to the U.S. economic boom, in contrast to the strained relations of the mid-1990s, which stemmed from economic friction.

According to an opinion poll of U.S. intellectuals released by the Japanese Foreign Ministry in June, 81 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. and Japan enjoyed good relations, up from 36 percent in 1994. The survey also showed that 72 percent of the respondents believed that the most important Asian partner for the U.S. was Japan, while 20 percent thought it was China. The figures are hardly surprising, since Japan and the U.S. depend on each other for trade.

A U.S. administration, however, does not always base foreign policy on public opinion. A case in point was President Bill Clinton’s decision to bypass Japan on his way to and from China in 1998. By appearing to give priority to China over Japan, Clinton threw cold water on Japan-U.S. relations.

Takakazu Kuriyama, former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., predicts that a Bush administration, if it takes power, could apply pressure on Japan to do more to help the U.S. regarding security. Under a Bush administration, Korean Peninsula and China issues are likely to require more policy coordination between the two countries.

The Clinton administration is pushing rapprochement with North Korea following Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s recent visit to Pyongyang, but many Republicans are reportedly critical of those moves.

While Washington and Pyongyang are moving fast to improve bilateral relations, Tokyo-Pyongyang talks on diplomatic normalization have hit a snag over a dispute regarding 10 Japanese allegedly abducted by North Korea. If a Bush administration takes power, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea will need to readjust the existing system by which they coordinate policies toward North Korea.

Kuriyama also believes that U.S.-China relations would face more difficulties under a Bush administration than was the case under the Clinton administration. This is because the U.S. national missile defense plan, which Bush supports, would directly affect China, which has a relatively small arsenal of strategic nuclear missiles. China also strongly opposes the theater missile defense plan, on which the U.S. and Japan are conducting joint research.

A bipartisan group in the U.S. made recommendations regarding policies toward Japan in a report published last month. The group urged Japan to lift its constitutional restraints on the right to participate in collective defense efforts, which it said limited bilateral defense cooperation. By changing the Constitution’s official interpretation, which prevents Japan from exercising this right, the group said the country should make more contributions to security and become a more equal ally of the U.S.

The recommendations are likely to have a major influence on the policies of a new U.S. administration. A U.S. congressional report released in May also said U.S. officials “favor a more flexible interpretation” of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 that would permit the Self-Defense Forces to support U.S. forces directly in regional conflict contingencies.

Meanwhile, Yukio Hatoyama, chief of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, recently proposed that the Constitution be revised to state that Japan has the right to participate in collective defense, so that Japan will make more contributions to international security. Hatoyama’s proposal stirred protests in his own party, especially from members who had belonged to the defunct Japan Socialist Party.

The LDP and its two partners in the ruling coalition have yet to agree on the right of collective defense. Japanese lawmakers should promote active debate on this issue and on constitutional amendments as well; otherwise, U.S. frustration with Japan could increase and erode the bilateral alliance.

Whoever is elected president in the U.S., Washington is likely to continue demanding that Japan push structural reforms, market opening and deregulation.

Japan, a dominant presence in the Asia-Pacific region, is of strategic importance to the U.S. Kuriyama says that Japan should regain economic strength early and that toward that end, Washington believes political leadership is essential.

Power struggles in the LDP have caused political chaos in Japan, weakening the political power base that is needed to strengthen Japan-U.S. relations.

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