At their June 29 White House summit, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush issued a joint statement titled “The Japan-U.S. Alliance of the New Century,” declaring that the partnership “stands as one of the most accomplished bilateral relationships in history.”

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Koizumi dramatically changed Japan’s security policy, supporting the Bush administration’s war on terror and its campaign to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He thereby won the president’s trust.

Koizumi also promoted Japan-U.S. cooperation on missile defense and pushed through the Diet a legislative package for dealing with military contingencies.

In May, Japan and the U.S. strengthened their security alliance by agreeing to a plan to realign U.S. forces stationed in Japan and the Self-Defense Forces, after confirming their common strategic objectives.

Stronger Japan-U.S. security relations reflect the “good chemistry” that Koizumi and Bush have enjoyed. At a news conference at the end of the summit, Bush called Koizumi “my friend” and thanked him for “your friendship, your alliance and your leadership.” No other U.S. president has extended such good will to a Japanese prime minister.

Due to the personal friendship between the two leaders, Japan and the U.S. settled a bilateral dispute over U.S. beef exports that could have caused a flareup in trade friction ahead of the U.S. midterm election. In this regard, Koizumi’s diplomacy toward the U.S. has succeeded.

According to the Japan-U.S. joint statement, the bilateral alliance is “based on universal values and common interests.” Among the universal values cited were freedom, human rights, democracy and rule of the law. The common interests embraced victory in the war on terror, regional stability and prosperity, promotion of the market-economy system and energy security.

The document also confirmed the two nations’ determination to cooperate not only in boosting security but also in tackling global challenges, such as the proliferation of nuclear arms, natural disasters, new strains of bird flu and climate change. At issue is whether Japan and the U.S. will be able to push genuine cooperation on these challenges.

The statement also said “Asia’s historic transformation is under way, creating a region that increasingly embraces the universal values.”

In my view, this assessment is overoptimistic, since Asia is characterized by political, cultural, religious and ethnic diversities and includes Kim Jong-Il’s Stalinist North Korea, the Communist dictatorship in China as well as Islamist societies in Southeast Asia. Asia is too diverse to sum up in one passage.

Furthermore, Japanese and U.S. interests do not always coincide in Asia or in the Middle East, whose strategic importance is growing. For example, Iran’s uranium enrichment is an extremely sensitive issue that could become a thorn in the side of Japan-U.S. relations. Japan depends on Iran for 14 percent of its crude-oil imports and has a stake in the development of a major oil field in the country.

So Japan walks a tightrope between Iran and the U.S., which has ratcheted up the pressure on Tehran to stop its nuclear activities. Japan must develop diplomatic strategies that will contribute both to nuclear nonproliferation and to its own security in energy supplies.

For Japan, the biggest challenge is how to improve relations with China and South Korea. By making repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Koizumi effectively gave the two countries a “diplomatic card” to play over wartime history. Although one of the requirements for a national leader is to stick to his or her political principles, Koizumi has refused to heed good advice, both international and domestic. He has caused international friction and impeded flexible diplomacy.

Some U.S. pundits have expressed serious concern over the strained Japan-China relations, which they say could affect U.S. diplomacy. The incoming administration — after Koizumi steps down as prime minister in September at the end of his tenure as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — will be forced to deal with problems over Japan-U.S. relations left by Koizumi.

In March, the Bush administration signed an agreement to provide civilian nuclear-energy technologies and fuel to India, which has acquired nuclear capabilities outside the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India’s bombs sparked nuclear-arms development in neighboring Pakistan.

Under the agreement, India will divide its nuclear facilities by civilian and military use, and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its civilian-use facilities.

The NPT allows signatories to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes in exchange for waiving their rights to possess nuclear weapons. The U.S.-India agreement represents a double standard for the Bush administration.

Japan has actively contributed to nuclear nonproliferation by serving as a point of contact for the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, a nuclear-related export control regime. It should not support a U.S. policy that could ruin the NPT system.

In addition, the U.S. has failed to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming even though it emits a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. The Japan-U.S. joint statement is vague on these issues.

A report issued by the U.S. Congressional Research Service on Japan-U.S. relations warns, “In the future, it is likely that a more assertive Japan will be more willing to question U.S. policies on a wide range of strategic issues where U.S. and Japanese interests do not coincide.”

The major challenge for Koizumi’s successor will be to improve the management of the bilateral alliance by coordinating differences with the U.S. on issues where the two countries’ interests conflict.

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