The Bush administration attaches special importance to U.S. allies in its foreign policy. In a news conference held Dec. 16, immediately after he won the presidency, George W. Bush said his administration will work with its allies in Europe and the Far East.

Colin Powell, introduced as Bush’s nominee for secretary of state, expressed gratitude to the allies for their cooperation in the past 50 years. Powell also said Washington will seek to make those alliances “the center of our foreign-policy activity.” In congressional testimony Jan. 17, Powell praised NATO’s roles in global security and emphasized strong relationships with U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region, especially Japan. “Weaken those relationships, and we weaken ourselves,” he said.

In his inaugural address Jan. 20, Bush said the United States seeks to shape a balance of power that favors freedom. “We will defend our allies and our interests,” he said. Bush is committed to strengthening ties with U.S. allies in his foreign policy, as he pledged during his presidential campaign.

During the campaign, Republicans criticized President Bill Clinton for allegedly neglecting Japan and South Korea. In making an eight-day visit to China in June 1998, Clinton failed to stop over in Tokyo and Seoul, although he relaxed in Hawaii on his way back to Washington.

It has never been disclosed why Clinton decided to bypass Japan or South Korea. There is speculation, however, that Clinton made the decision under Chinese pressure. Clinton was originally scheduled to go to China in late November 1998, but asked to advance the visit for domestic reasons. This appears to explain Clinton’s inability to resist Chinese pressure.

Under this circumstance, it is likely that Clinton faced Chinese pressure on various other issues, above all on the occasion of his unusual remarks concerning the “three no’s” on Taiwan.

One historian says his research shows that no U.S. president who traveled to Moscow in the past 50 years failed to visit London, Bonn and other Western capitals. If Clinton’s alleged neglect of U.S. allies in the Far East resulted from Chinese pressure, he deserves criticism.

The Bush administration’s foreign policy stressing the importance of U.S. allies is highly welcome to Japan, which has expressed concern over “Japan passing” and Washington’s overtures to Beijing over the head of Tokyo. The question for Japan is how to respond to U.S. expectations.

Japan has a reputation for disappointing its allies. In the past 50 years, there have been countless cases in which the Japanese government has disappointed friends of Japan in America hoping to shape global strategies with Japan as a real partner.

Japanese should not take for granted that all Republican-administration officials favor U.S. allies and are friendly to Japan.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan were once praised for creating the “hidden success story” of Japan-U.S. relations. Americans who fought the Soviet Union in the Cold War years are aware of Japan’s strategic importance, its great economic power and its potential military strength. They also realize that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces constitute a dependable military partner for the U.S. Many former Republican administration officials have returned to serve in the new administration, and it is natural that these officials place a high value on relations with Japan and other allies.

Not all Republicans have the same idea, however. The administrations of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford often viewed Japan as an economic “enfant terrible” and paid little regard to its military potential. But they regarded China as an interesting country of great and varied potential.

Strangely, Donald Rumsfeld, in a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination as defense secretary, said nothing about a U.S. policy of placing value in its allies. One probable reason is that he spoke on limited military issues. However, alliances form an essential part of military strategies, and his failure to comment on them might reflect generational differences among officials. This could mean that if Japan were to disappoint holdovers from the Reagan and senior Bush administrations, U.S. policy could revert to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s style of diplomacy.

What should Japan do to avoid betraying U.S. expectations?

A report issued last October by a group under Richard Armitage, adviser to President Bush and a former assistant secretary of defense, said the revised Japan-U.S. guidelines for defense cooperation, the basis for joint defense planning, should be regarded as “the floor — not the ceiling” for an expanded Japanese role in the alliance.

I agree with this view. The Japan-U.S. alliance, unlike other alliances, is legally incomplete. Without constant efforts to improve the alliance, Japan-U.S. relations of trust could easily fall apart.

All officials who formulated the defense guidelines agree that they will remain the upper limit of cooperation as long as Japan maintains a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense.

To strengthen the Japan-U.S. security system, restrictions on exercising the right must be relaxed. We must face this reality, which is likely to surface repeatedly as an issue in coming years.

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