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Friday, Nov. 13, 2009

Base issue is only a sideshow: U.S. expert

Staff writer

The recent tensions between Japan and the United States over the Okinawa base relocation issue are "overblown," and Tokyo and Washington should be focusing on the bigger picture of the future of bilateral relations, a leading U.S. foreign policy expert told a recent symposium.

News photo
Holding forth: Princeton University professor John Ikenberry speaks during a symposium Nov. 6 at Keidanren Kaikan in Tokyo as his fellow panelists Yoshihide Soeya (left) and Sun Xuefeng look on. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Tokyo and Washington — both under new administrations launched this year — are still "in the process of adjusting to new personalities with new agendas," said John Ikenberry, a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

He expressed hope that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and President Barack Obama will use their Friday summit in Tokyo to "offer a joint vision of greater international cooperation on global issues."

Ikenberry, who was a member of Obama's advisory group during the 2008 election campaign, was speaking at the symposium, titled "Exploring Japan-U.S.-China relationship in a new era," organized Nov. 6 by Keizai Koho Center. Also taking part were Sun Xuefeng, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Keio University professor Yoshihide Soeya.

Obama's visit comes on the heels of recent tensions between the two governments over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan, with senior U.S. officials urging Tokyo to stick to the 2006 bilateral accord that the two-month-old Hatoyama administration is trying to rethink.

But the Futenma issue — a centerpiece of the planned reorganization of the U.S. military in Japan — should not overshadow the need for the two countries to think about the future of the alliance itself as well as their cooperation on global issues such as climate change and energy, Ikenberry said.

He said it still holds true that the U.S.-Japan relationship is Washington's most important in the world, even as the rise of China tends to grab the U.S. foreign policy attention in this region.

"If the U.S.-Japan relationship is right and if the two countries are working shoulder to shoulder, then the issues of how do we accommodate a rising China, how do we rebuild an open world economy, how do we deal with the major challenges of the 21st century . . . will be easier to manage," he said.

Ikenberry said the dynamic between the U.S. and China will be "a very complex relationship full of possibilities and conflict."

But the global financial crisis last year also exposed the rising economic interdependence between the two countries that make it impossible for them to engage in a 21st-century Cold War, he said.

"One of the consequences of the financial crisis, which will be unfolding over many decades, is the recognition in both China and the U.S. and around the world that the two countries cannot be in a Cold War . . . that we're too tightly connected," he noted.

Many experts believe the circumstances of the current relationship — China holding U.S. debt and supporting its import-oriented economy while maintaining rapid growth based on exports to the U.S. — is not sustainable, he said.

"But what won't change will be the deep connections economically, and this is both going to complicate the relationship but is also going to create a more mixed agenda that will provide incentives for stabilizing and managing the relationship," Ikenberry said.

He stressed that the U.S., China and Japan are "on the same side" on most of the major global challenges today — the environment, pandemics, terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation and energy security.

Both the U.S. and China share the challenges of energy dependence and threats from climate change, and they may in fact compete with each other on these areas, Ikenberry said.

But enhanced cooperation looms, and the U.S.-China economic and security dialogue in Washington in July "framed an agenda of greater cooperation on energy and the environment, and Tokyo, Beijing and Washington all need to be involved in that, and to some extent that's a special opportunity for Japan," he said.

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