Japan-U.S. relations now seem to be at a major turning point. This is not because we are entering a new millennium, but rather because various conditions that brought about past turning points in the history of bilateral relations now seem to be maturing and ripening once again.

It is interesting to note that the development of history seems to contain in itself possibilities for changes far more drastic and bolder than our common sense can foresee.

And the history of Japan-U.S. relations may be one of the best example of such possibilities. Nobody imagined that the two countries, which had had no contact at all until Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s arrival at Uraga with his Black Ships in 1853, would have developed their exchanges and conflicts of such a scale in so many diversified ways in the years that followed. And Japan-U.S. relations will continue to develop and change. We should not underestimate such possibilities.

I would like to look at our two countries’ relations so far by dividing them into the following six periods:

1. The period of initial friendly relationship (1853-1905) 2. The period of confrontation and conflict (1905-1941) 3. The war period (1941-1945) 4. The occupation period (1945-1951) 5. The period of alliance during the Cold War (1951-1996) 6. The post-Cold War alliance period (1996-now)

It must be pointed out that the 147-year relationship between our two countries, generally speaking, has been one of friendly relations, despite those 40 years of conflict and war in the second and third periods.

It must also be pointed out, however, that the periods during which Japan enjoyed friendly relations with the United States overlap those during which our relations were not those of equal players or partners, and that our bilateral relations developed into unfortunate conflicts as Japan grew closer to the U.S. in power.

The future Japan-U.S. relationship must be one of two equal partners bound by deep mutual trust. In this respect, the thrust of the proposals in the timely report announced recently by a bipartisan study group in the United States, including Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, “The United States and Japan: Advancing Toward a Mature Partnership,” shares much of my position.

Our two countries’ relations during the first period, even if friendly, were not those of equals, as evidenced by the unequal terms of the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Amity and Commerce, also known as Treaty of Shimoda, signed five years after Perry’s arrival. The relationship was one of a strong power and a weak nation, an advanced country and an underdeveloped country.

The second period, which began with Japan’s victory in its war with Russia in 1905, saw Japan and the U.S. increase their confrontation over Japan’s expansion into Manchuria and U.S. handling of Japanese immigrants, as Japan’s strength grew closer to that of America and relations became more those of equals. Only two years after the Russo-Japanese war, the U.S. adopted the “Orange Plan” and Japan “the Empire Defense Policy,” both of which regarded the other as a potential enemy.

The unavoidable result of this confrontation was the Japanese-U.S. war.

The fourth period, in turn, brought about a honeymoon in relations between the two countries, made possible in the context of their positions as victor and loser, master and servant.

The fifth period saw evolving relationship between a Japan that, in the worldwide environment of the Cold War, had achieved its independence, and a United States that had assumed the role of leader of the Free World fighting against communism.

During this period, the U.S. requested that Japan gradually increase its defense capability, and Japan, citing its constitutional constraints, placed rebuilding the country’s economy ahead of boosting its defenses — a relationship in which the two countries were not truly equals although relations were friendly.

The structure of the relationship during this period shifted first in 1965, when Japan recorded its first ever surplus in trade with the U.S., and then in 1987, when Japan’s per capita GNP surpassed that of the U.S. Bilateral trade friction subsequently intensified and developed into a “thorn in the throat,” transforming the nature of bilateral relations.

When the East-West Cold War came to an end and the Soviet Union, the common enemy of the U.S. and Japan, disappeared, the raison d’etre of the Japanese-U.S. security alliance came to be questioned. The two governments were moved to issue a joint declaration in April 1996 on their bilateral security arrangement, declaring that “maintaining the U.S. military presence is essential to maintaining peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”

With this statement, the Japanese-U.S. alliance now has been redefined from an alliance aimed at a specific security threat, in the form of “the Soviet threat,” to an alliance focused on contributing to a more general value of “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.” At this point, bilateral relations entered the sixth period — the post-Cold War alliance.

The Japanese-U.S. relationship is now changing in character in two significant ways for the first time in its history, creating a challenge for both nations.

The first is that the two countries are seeking to maintain friendly relations and develop them even further as equals. The second is that bilateral relations are not only aimed at pursuing Japan’s or America’s interests, but also at playing the role of “public goods” in the Asia-Pacific region to serve the interests of other countries as well.

The report on the Japanese-U.S. partnership by Armitage, Nye and others points out that “major war in Europe is inconceivable for at least a generation” but that in Asia there are many destabilizing factors in such areas as the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. “Japan’s alliance with the United States has served as the foundation for regional order,” it says, adding that “a reliable and self-confident Japan is essential to a thriving bilateral partnership,” thus calling for building “matured Japan-U.S. relations.”

Looking back at the history of our bilateral relations, we realize that whenever there was a drastic change in the relationship, there was, first, always a change in the two countries’ balance of power, and, second, a change in the external environment surrounding the two countries.

The two countries’ strength and power have now become basically equal, and the external environment surrounding Japan and the U.S. is undergoing major changes, as seen in the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the rise of China.

At the turn of the century, Japan should now not only reconfirm the importance of the Japanese-U.S. security alliance, but also because of that, Japan should exercise its initiative in managing this alliance as an equal player with the U.S.

To do so, Japan should not try simply to benefit from the alliance but must discharge, on its own will, its duty, responsibility and contribution under this bilateral alliance with the United States.

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