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Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

Real 'fraternity' with U.S.


Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama's article on the "Banner of Fraternity" — particularly the part that deals with globalization, Americanism and Japan's relations with her Asian neighbors — has drawn many comments both in Japan and the United States.

Most of them expressed concern about the ambiguity of his tilt toward a "more independent stance" and his emphasis on "closer relations with Asian countries." Some appear to be annoyed with his criticism of the excess of market principles and globalization.

Indeed, the article, at least in the abridged English version — which omits the major part of the reference to the "spirit of fraternity" — seems to be dotted with expressions that may cause some concern in American minds. However, the reactions by some American commentators, as well as by some Japanese so-called diplomatic experts, seem a little exaggerated in their tone of dismay and warnings about this article.

It may therefore be useful for us, from the standpoint of future Japan-U.S. relations, to analyze the background of these warnings. In other words, if one analyzes the reasons and circumstances that lie behind the recent ripples over the article, one could draw several lessons that both Japanese and Americans have to keep in mind in dealing with bilateral relations.

The important point that we have to reflect upon is the rapidity and intensity of the formation of an "alliance" between some American "experts" on Japan and Japanese intellectuals who have been close to the conservative camp in Japan. They tend to echo each other whenever the Japanese side tries to "review" some aspects of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The concerns or criticisms voiced by American "experts" have frequently been quoted by Japanese security or diplomatic "experts" as signs, or potential signs of strain, in Japan-U.S. relations. Then voices begin to be heard in Japan that there is a danger or risk of deterioration in relations with the U.S. These voices apparently take it for granted that any bad impact upon Japan-U.S relations should be avoided at all cost and that the upholding of good Japan-U.S. relations is, in itself, the most important priority in the diplomacy of Japan toward the U.S.

In the eyes of some Japanese "experts," keeping up good relations with the U.S. is essential for maintaining the credibility of the alliance. However sound and reasonable it may appear at first sight, this approach confuses the question of credibility — based on the balance of interests — with the absence of criticism of the balance of the alliance. Convergence of strategic interests is more important than friendly sentiment.

Moreover, if the U.S. administration refuses to review what the Japanese conservative government agreed with the Bush administration on the grounds that a state-to-state agreement should not be altered as the result of a change in administration, it will be legitimate for Japan and Europe to demand that volte-faces of the U.S. administration with regard to the Iraq war or nuclear or environmental issues are not acceptable if they run counter to past international understandings with the Americans.

In any event, the argument that calm, good relations with the U.S. are the top priority for Japan is wrong. A truly good relationship is one in which both sides frankly discuss the merits and demerits of any part of their relations. Attempts to discourage Japanese comments that taste bitter to Americans do not, in the long run, serve to promote good relations between Japan and the U.S.

At present, there is a political danger that some conservative elements in Japan and their American counterparts are trying to form an invisible alliance to weaken the diplomatic credibility of new Japanese political forces by shouting that such and such comments or moves will have a bad impact on friendly relations with the U.S. Sensible people on both sides of the Pacific should defy such cries and emancipate Japan-U.S. relations from the hands of "good-relations-first advocates."

At the same time, the new administration in Japan should understand a sentimental rebellion against "Americanism" does not serve any purpose and that Japan's relations with the U.S. should be fundamentally based on Japan's strategic considerations, taking into account the rise of China, the long-term role of American forces in Asia, and the possible roles that Japan could play between the two large "military" powers in Asia. Japan's "fraternity" with the U.S. should go far beyond "friendship."

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of The Japan Foundation.


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