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Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005

Japan boosts U.S. ties at own risk

Other nations wary of enhanced bilateral security relations, roles


Staff writer

The United States has been Japan's most important ally since World War II and the U.S. nuclear umbrella of the Cold War came to define their security alliance.

Japan's role in the alliance has grown in prominence since the 1990s, both in terms of politics and security, especially after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took office in April 2001.

Leaders of both nations now view the alliance in a more global context, and Koizumi and President George W. Bush are expected to reaffirm the strengthening of these ties during their summit Wednesday in Kyoto.

The strengthened security alliance has caught the attention of other parts of the world, including China, the Middle East and Europe, which are closely following developments.

The Japan-U.S. security alliance has always been a dilemma for China, which is increasingly flexing its military and economic might, according to Zhu Jianrong, a professor of international politics at Toyogakuen University.

"China has been deeply concerned that the U.S. is trying to use Japan or Taiwan to prevent it from gaining power in the region," Zhu said. "But it is also worried that Japan might build up its own defenses" further.

China would not oppose the Japan-U.S. alliance if it functions purely on a bilateral basis and does not meddle with Taiwan Strait tensions, he said.

Chinese leaders have made it clear Japan and the U.S. should not intervene in Taiwan, and lashed out at Tokyo and Washington after their foreign affairs and defense chiefs issued a joint security statement in February saying they will "encourage peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait."

Zhu said China regarded the reference as a message that Japan and the U.S. will jointly intervene in Taiwan's security under the context of their bilateral alliance.

His views are shared by Yan Sheng He, Tokyo bureau chief of China's Guang Ming Daily, who said Beijing is wary of recent talks on the U.S. military realignment in Japan that are aimed in part at reinforcing the bilateral alliance.

"China feels pressure," Yan said. "The deterrence would be upgraded rather than maintained."

An interim report released last month indicates the U.S. plans to upgrade its army headquarters in Camp Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Japan will base the Ground Self-Defense Force rapid-response team at Zama to enhance joint command capabilities.

Yan said that although Japan and the U.S. share interests, there are some areas of disagreement.

"By allying with the U.S., Japan aims to become one of the leaders in the international community, not only in the economic field but also in the realms of politics and military," he said.

Washington, however, hopes to contain both China and Japan, he said.

Both Japanese and U.S. officials meanwhile boast that a strengthened Koizumi-Bush rapport has reinforced bilateral relations.

The strong ties have contributed to a stable and prosperous global economy -- a trend welcomed by European nations, said Mechthild Schrooten, an associate professor at Hitotsubashi University.

Schrooten noted that U.S. pressure has also helped boost Japan's reform drive in recent years, including a banking sector revamp and a push for smaller government.

Some European nations, particularly Germany, are wary of the relationship, however, saying Koizumi is siding with a dangerous leader who is making the world an insecure place.

"If Koizumi binds himself too much to this kind of leadership, which he actually does, it would ripple throughout the world," said a correspondent for a German TV station in Tokyo who asked not to be named.

Germany and France opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq in 2003, leading to a diplomatic row between them and the U.S.

Negative sentiment toward Koizumi in Germany increased after he expressed strong support for Bush in the war, the correspondent said.

Tokyo joined Washington's "coalition of the willing" and sent 600 GSDF troops to the southern Iraq city of Samawah last year.

Khaldon Azhari, Tokyo bureau chief for Jordan-based Petra News Agency, said the dispatch did not hurt Middle Eastern governments' friendly sentiments toward Japan.

"They feel what Japan is doing in Iraq is basically for domestic reasons because Japan wants to get out of the cocoon of (its pacifist) Constitution," he said. "Others thought that Japan had no power but to say 'yes' to America."

But despite Japan's efforts to underscore that its troops are on a humanitarian mission, it is clear the Air Self-Defense Force is taking part in U.S. military operations by transporting ammunition and soldiers, Azhari pointed out.

The biggest question now is will Japan continue to assist the U.S. if Washington opts to attack other nations in the region, including Syria? Or will Japan differ with U.S. Middle East policy?

It is Azhari's guess that Japan would stay on board.

"If Japan goes along again with an American war to destroy another nation, the Arab people will feel that Japan is no longer a neutral country," he said, warning that they will consider Japan an integral part of the American war machine.



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