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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2002

Congressional Research Service sings Kawaguchi's praises

Staff writer

OSAKA -- The U.S. Congress welcomes the appointment of Yoriko Kawaguchi as the new foreign minister, as she is a competent bureaucrat-turned-businesswoman who understands U.S.-Japan issues, according to Richard Cronin, a Japan expert at the Congressional Research Service, the legislative branch's nonpartisan research arm.

News photo
Richard Cronin

In an interview Friday with The Japan Times, the day Kawaguchi was moved over from environment minister to foreign minister, Cronin said her prior experience in the U.S. will benefit both sides.

"Kawaguchi is very competent and served in the embassy in Washington during the early 1990s with MITI," Cronin said. "So she knows how bureaucracies work."

While Cronin said U.S.-Japan relations were not marred in any significant way under Kawaguchi's outspoken predecessor, Makiko Tanaka, who disagreed with U.S. policy on issues ranging from theater missile defense to the Kyoto Protocol to how to deal with China, he added that Tanaka's statements and actions were often strange to Japan-followers in Congress.

"Some members of Congress were aware there was tension rising out of things Tanaka had said. And some of the things that were happening within the (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi Cabinet with her were puzzling or dismaying to Congress," Cronin said.

Kawaguchi's appointment comes just before President George W. Bush's Feb. 17-19 visit to Japan.

While the Bush administration has indicated that the focus of his talks with Koizumi will be on the economy, Cronin said it might be more effective for the two nations to address security issues.

"Getting any results from engagement with the Japanese government on economic issues is a questionable proposition. Officials from Washington, like Treasury Secretary (Paul) O'Neill, come and go, offer their opinions on the Japanese economy, and then the Japanese government proceeds to do what it does, which tends to be driven by either a sense a crisis or the underlying political problems.

"There might be more interaction on security issues, which might actually lead to something more substantial than on economic issues," Cronin said.

In particular, theater missile defense is likely to be discussed. The U.S. Defense Department is reportedly interested in Japanese electronic sensor technology that may be useful in intercepting enemy missiles just after they leave their launchpads, when they are still moving slowly.

"I would expect some statement of hope that the U.S. and Japan could move further along the road in the area of cooperation on missile defense," Cronin said. "But Japan is a long way from thinking about procurement. The real question is, to what extent can Japan participate in the R&D efforts and what contributions does Japan have to make?"

While he said Congress was generally satisfied with Japan's dispatch of three naval vessels to the Indian Ocean last year, some could not fully understand why there was such an intense debate in the Diet over whether to send a destroyer equipped with the Aegis defense system and advanced intelligence-gathering capabilities.

Opponents of the dispatch claim such an action could violate the war-renouncing Constitution due to the warship's sophisticated functions.

"People in Congress, the Defense Department and the Pentagon don't understand why, in Japan, sending an Aegis-class destroyer has become something of a theological issue," Cronin said. "The reason, of course, is that down the road, this debate about Aegis ships plays into the debate about theater missile defense, which is likely to be sea-based."

Bush and Koizumi are expected to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, but one of the most contentious, and one in which Congress takes a keen interest, is not expected to be brought up: the issue of compensation to American former prisoners of war who were brought to Japan during World War II and forced to work for Japanese firms.

"The president, the State Department and the Pentagon have all voiced their opposition to attempts to get compensation, saying everything was settled in the 1951 peace treaty," Cronin said.

"But this remains a hot issue with Congress. Although amendments to a House and Senate appropriations bill that would have addressed POW compensation were dropped from the final bill last year, I would expect that issue will be revived in a future bill."

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