Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will be required to fine-tune Japan’s diplomatic strategies to deal with the reshuffle of U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration. There is growing speculation that hardliners will gain more power in the second Bush administration following the departures of Secretary of State Colin Powell, a moderate, and his deputy, Richard Armitage, an expert on Japanese affairs.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Japan under Koizumi’s leadership has consistently followed the United States as a loyal member of the “coalition of the willing” in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The question now is: Should Japan stick to the pro-U.S. diplomatic stance, or try to bring the U.S. back to a framework of international cooperation that includes Europe?

The question is how Japan should promote its national interest. It is up to Koizumi — whom Bush calls “my friend” — to prove his merit as the nation’s leader.

On Bush’s re-election, Koizumi issued a statement expressing hope for a stronger Japan-U.S. alliance “in the global context” and a desire to join Bush in tackling issues that challenge the international community. Foreign Ministry officials pointed out that the reference to “global context” meant enhancing political cooperation, not modifying the interpretation of the bilateral security treaty.

Japan-U.S. cooperation is based on the personal friendship between Koizumi and Bush. They have met 12 times in the past 3 1/2 years. In June 2001, Bush invited Koizumi to the Camp David presidential retreat — highly unusual for a first meeting with a foreign leader.

Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., says Koizumi and Bush enjoy a very good personal relationship based on “good chemistry.” In November, Bush met with Koizumi in Santiago, Chile, on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, praising him as “a man of clear vision and inner strength.”

Thanks to the trust-based relationship between Koizumi and Bush, potential friction over Japan’s refusal to import U.S. beef amid the BSE scare did not become an issue in the U.S. presidential election. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the Japan-U.S. relationship will remain stable during Bush’s second term.

The reorganization of U.S. forces overseas will have a major influence on the Japan-U.S. security policy. During Bush’s second term, Washington could also strengthen its “unilateralist” tendencies — which caused discord with France and Germany over the Iraq war — following the reshuffle of the State Department. In Santiago, Koizumi reiterated the importance of strengthening international cooperation in dealing with major issues such as Iraq’s reconstruction. However, some Japanese government officials fear that changes in Bush’s diplomatic team could nudge Washington further toward unilateralism.

During his second term, Bush is likely to work harder to achieve goals that will leave a legacy in U.S. history. In diplomacy, priority will be given to the war on terrorism and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. U.S.-affairs experts warn that Powell’s departure could affect the balance of power between moderates and hardliners in the U.S. administration.

One of the major international issues facing Washington is nuclear-arms development in Iran, which Bush once termed part of the “axis of evil.”

In November, Iran agreed with Britain, Germany and France to discontinue its uranium-enrichment program. But Bush warned that Iran was “willing to speed up the processing of materials that could lead to a nuclear weapon.” This demonstrates that the U.S. is taking a different stance toward Iran than Europe. Japan, which is pushing oil-development projects with Iran, will also be required to take different strategies toward the country from those of the U.S.

One diplomatic issue that continues to divide Tokyo and Washington is the Kyoto Protocol for preventing global warming. Japan played a major role in getting international acceptance of the protocol, but the Bush administration rejected it. Yanai, the former Japanese ambassador, says U.S. action was “highly regrettable.”

The U.S., in rejecting the protocol, said it would have serious consequences on its economy. The protocol is scheduled to take effect in February, following its ratification by Russia, but the U.S. still adamantly opposes it. The U.S. is the world’s largest emitter of carbon monoxide but refuses to execute its responsibility in reducing global warming; this is a paramount example of unilateralism. As a personal friend of Bush, Koizumi should try to persuade him to return to policies of international cooperation.

One issue that the U.S. is seriously concerned with is the proposed East Asia community. A summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held in late November agreed to hold an East Asian summit involving the 10-member ASEAN plus Japan, China and South Korea next year in Malaysia. A high U.S. official expressed concern that the proposed community could exclude the U.S.

During the 1997 Asian currency crisis, Washington torpedoed the Japanese-proposed Asian Monetary Fund, fearing it could weaken U.S. influence.

Japan must have a firm policy regarding regional integration in Asia. Otherwise, it could be thrown into serious confusion because of wrangling between Washington and Beijing, which has signed a free trade agreement with ASEAN and seeks regional leadership.

Japan will never have global influence unless it implements multifaceted diplomacy based on national interest as well as on its alliance with the U.S.

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.