Monday, April 30, 2007

Step-up of the US-Japanese Alliance and a Little Turbulence

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States to meet President George W. Bush to strengthen mutual ties from April 26 to 28. This is Abe’s first visit to the United States since he became the prime minister. Japan is assuming more important role as a US ally, and the strategic partnership between both countries is going to evolve more global one. Regional security problem, notably North Korea, was also a critical issue. While further cooperation was discussed at Camp David, the media criticized Abe’s denial to the Korean comfort women problem. Let me tell you briefly about this summit.

Although Japanese media were concerned with negative impacts posed by Shinzo Abe’s revisionist remark on sex slaves during the wartime, the US-Japanese summit at Camp David was successful to create an atmosphere for global partnership.

In addition to Far Eastern issues, President Bush and Prime Minister Abe talked about global security issues such as Iran and Iraq affairs. According to “Bush and Abe Enforce Allies Position” in AXcess News on April 30, Abe expressed his support for US initiative against Iran. President Bush thanked Japanese contribution to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently Japan is the second largest donor to Iraq and the second largest to Afghanistan. In another article, entitled “Abe Visits US in Move to Reshape Japan’s Foreign Policy Image” in Axcess News, Dennis Wilder, Senior Director for East Asia at the National Security Council, told reporters "[Bush and Abe] will discuss our common approach to the North Korean nuclear problem, the ongoing realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, and ways to deepen our defense cooperation" on 25th.

Generally speaking, the media report this summit positively. The Washington Post was critical to Abe as to the sex slave issue in its editorial on March 24. However, articles like “Japanese Leader Aims to Rebuild Ties with Bush” and “Bush, Abe Warn of Tougher Stance on North Korea” in the Post on April 27, focus more on the future of the alliance and the threat of North Korea. Other media are the more or less the same. According to “Bush: Patience with N. Korea not Unlimited” in the Boston Globe on April 27, both Bush and Abe agreed to stand firmly against North Korean nuclear proliferation. In International Herald Tribune, I found another article, entitled “Bush and Abe End US-Japanese Summit with Show of Cooperation, on North Korea” on April 27. Just as other news sources mentions, Japan was concerned that US stance against North Korea was softening. The Joint Statement impressed that both leaders were firmly united against this common threat.

Japanese and South Korean media present slightly different viewpoints. Sankei Newspaper, one of the leading conservative media in Japan, lauds this summit for a step toward further US-Japanese partnership. Like American media, Sankei supports Abe’s idea to establish the alliance of Asia-Pacific democracies by the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. However, Sankei worries negative impacts on US-Japanese relations posed by Congressman Mike Honda’s resolution to denounce Japan’s wartime conduct. According to Sankei, Honda is considering further resolutions to demand Japanese apology for its wartime misbehavior to Asians (US-Japanese Summit, From Postwar Regime to New Regime; April 29, in Japanese).

South Korean newspaper, Joong Ang Ilbo, questions whether this summit will be a further step toward stronger US-Japanese ties or damaging the alliance. As a South Korean paper, Jong Ang Ilbo emphasizes how the dispute on comfort women ruined the US-Japanese relationship. But this paper focuses more on North Korean nuclear bombs and abduction. Koreans are more “future-oriented” than I had expected (US-Japanese Honeymoon, whether Developing or Ending?; April 27, Japanese version).

Some American media focus on the sex slave issue. Norimitsu Onishi, a leftist writer of the New York Times writes extensively on this issue. Quoting a comment by Professor Mike Mochizuki at George Washington University, Onishi says that Abe still does not admit coercion on wartime sex slaves, although he regretted this problem in the past (Sex Slave Dispute Follows Abe Even as He Bonds with Bush, April 29). Foreign Policy Blog mentions that Congressman Mike Honda still demands unequivocal apology to Shinzo Abe (Japan’s Abe Threads the Needle).

Dan Blumenthal, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contributed an article to the Los Angels Times on April 26, and he points out small chasms between the United States and Japan. Abe’s vague attitude to the Yasukuni and wartime sex slaves perplexed American policymakers. On the other hand, Japan was troubled by softening US approaches to North Korea. Despite these difficulties, Blumenthal insists that the United States and Japan must strengthen the common front against North Korea, and President Bush should support Abe’s initiative for the alliance of Asian democracies by the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. He concludes the essay as follows.

Embedding Japan firmly in a network of Asian democracies (much as postwar West Germany was anchored in NATO) should also reassure any who might have genuine concerns about its intentions. If Beijing is really worried about resurgent Japanese militarism, rather than intent on keeping Japan isolated and off-balance, it should welcome such a development.

As current policy to North Korea seems to be ineffective, Robert Joseph, Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security until this March, warned that the present deal helped survival of Kim Jong Il regime without any gains for non-proliferation. I will talk about his lecture at the AEI on April 24, in my forthcoming post. This could be of some help to fill the gap between Japan and the United States.

In any case, priority must be given to step-up of the US-Japanese alliance: defeating terrorists and rogue states in the Middle East, dealing with China, curbing North Korean threats, establishing new partnership with India and Australia, and so forth. Prime Minister Abe has made the wartime issue unnecessarily big as he denied coercion. Asian nationalists may continue to launch Shame Japan campaigns, but Japanese leaders should be well-aware of their policy priorities. Overreaction to those campaigns will simply make things worse for Japan. It is Japan’s national interest to assert postwar regime change, rather than to refute Asian claims regarding wartime conducts so vehemently. Don’t call unnecessary attention to such issues with provocative remarks.