Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Reset in Japan-U.S. Relations?

Life rarely gives chances for a fresh start. But the launch of a new cabinet under Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Japan following the bruising leadership race in the Democratic Party of Japan offers just that opportunity.

Kan’s victory came a year after the D.P.J. came to power for the first time in Japan by ousting the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party. But neither the administration of the first D.P.J. prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, nor the Obama administration in the United States, was able to seize the opportunities presented by this historic shift.

Now, with the financial crisis subsiding, there is a chance for a fresh start — if the two sides have the will to seize it.

For some time, both Japan and the United States have failed to deal with outstanding irritants in their economic relationship, such as the continuing restrictions on the import of U.S. beef. This has stymied efforts to extend the U.S.-Japan economic dialogue into new, more promising areas.

At the same time, the dispute over the location of the U.S. Marine Futenma air station on Okinawa became a standard by which the Hatoyama government’s commitment to the U.S.-Japan relationship was measured.

As a result, that one issue absorbed energies that might have been spent on a badly needed discussion about the future of the security relationship. It also contributed to Hatoyama’s ultimate fall.

But there can be a fresh start only if both sides are ready to rebuild trust and purpose, and to produce tangible results on issues that really matter.
The U.S.–Japan security alliance is strong, but not as strong as it should be.

American attention and capabilities have been diverted from Northeast Asia by wars elsewhere; on the economic side, investment and trade flows between the United States and Japan have slowed as more dynamic and faster growing markets have beckoned.

The Futenma airfield has dominated the U.S.-Japan security dialogue over the past year in a way that is out of all proportion to its strategic significance.
Resolving this issue would help turn attention to a comprehensive assessment of American and Japanese capabilities in the region and the threats that need to be addressed. It would be wise to start this process sooner rather than later, considering the fiscal adjustments faced by both the United States and Japan and the potential impact on their defense budgets.

A broader, regional approach is becoming more important in assessing the bilateral relationship and the future of the U.S. forward deterrent. Constructively including China in this approach, given its growing military capabilities, is key to any long-term resolution of regional tensions, like those on the Korean Peninsula.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statements in Vietnam signaled that the United States will not stand aside in important regional disputes. To some, that appears to set the United States as a counterweight to China. A true balance of power, however, requires that the United States invest in multiparty Asian solutions that give China an appropriate role to protect its interests while ensuring that no single country can dictate outcomes. A sound U.S.-Japan alliance needs to be embedded in that broader regional context.

Coincident with these security concerns, the United States and Japan need to focus on reviving and refashioning regional economic institutions.

This has at times been a matter of concern as Japan has tried to balance its relations with the United States with its need to promote a more integrated Asian market open to Japanese goods. At the same time, the United States has been sensitive about the formation of any economic grouping in which it does not have a seat at the head table.

The new Japanese administration should use its remaining months as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) to prepare for issues that can be worked on collaboratively with the United States when the U.S. succeeds Japan in November.

One major concern should be engaging Asian nations on a sustainable environmental path. As the largest developed economies, the United States and Japan must provide the leadership and technology to encourage other Asian nations to join a climate deal with real commitments — something most (including the United States) have been reluctant to do.

This is not a zero-sum game, but one that offers huge opportunities for domestic growth, including export jobs, badly needed in both countries. Japan should be encouraging the United States to move faster on climate policy and energy efficiency and the two nations need to consider a collaborative approach in promoting nuclear technology.

In short, there needs to be a paradigm shift. Both countries face similar problems of unsustainable deficits, low growth and divided domestic politics. Priorities need to move from small to strategic, from bilateral to multilateral, from old battles to new opportunities, and from “zero-sum” to “growing the pie.”

Initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and business formation in Japan, to pool research and development efforts and promote meaningful exchange among universities, and to take the lead in Asia on the Internet and “cloud computing” are all examples of ways that Japan and the United States should be working together.

Likewise, the U.S.-Japan bilateral security dialogue should be harnessed to the challenge of articulating and building a regional security framework that reflects the reality of emerging power centers and interests in Asia.

The inauguration of a new administration in Japan offers a chance for a fresh start and a new beginning.

It is an opportunity for both sides to recover our bearings and for the U.S.-Japan relationship to meet the justifiably high expectations that those in both countries hold for it, and from which Asia and America will benefit.

By JIM FOSTER and DON KANAK Jim Foster,former State Department official, is vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Don Kanakis a former president and chairman of the A.C.C.J. International Herald Tribune

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