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Commentary (August 25, 2004)

Keep Relations with U.S. in Perspective

Masamichi HANABUSA  (Chairman, English-Speaking Union of Japan)

Undeniably the United States is very important to Japan. Nevertheless, I have detected some worrying signs in the present state of Japan-U.S. relations. More frequently than before, we hear people argue that good relations with the U.S. is an objective in itself. In addition, many Japanese unwittingly equate good Japan-U.S. relations with what Americans consider "good."

I am inclined to think that some lopsided aspects of our relationship with the U.S. deserve to be reconsidered from a detached viewpoint if we want sound Japan-U.S. relations to continue into the future.

Let us start by re-examining our alliance. We seem to be moving toward acceptance of the view that it is desirable for Japan to revise its Constitution so that we can exercise the so-called "right of collective self-defense" to accommodate U.S. desires. Some politicians dare to argue that, as long as Japan aspires to be a U.S. ally, it is only natural that Japan's Self-Defense Forces help defend the U.S. from attack. The logic of this argument seems blatantly simplistic now that it has become clear that the U.S. will pursue its national interest at all cost.

According to the military doctrine adopted by the Bush administration, America will not hesitate to resort to preemptive attacks when judged necessary. Thus, in theory, we must anticipate the possibility that the U.S. will take military action that goes beyond the traditional interpretation of self-defense, or that it will use its military supremacy principally to pursue U.S. national interests.

Faced with this reality, Japan would only be conducting an exercise in nostalgia if it insisted on the traditional interpretation of collective self-defense, which presupposes an ally under attack. What is urgently required of Japan is to precisely determine the geographic, circumstantial and modal conditions under which Japan will deploy its military forces abroad.

Most urgently, we must achieve a national consensus on when Japan will participate in peacekeeping operations endorsed by the United Nations without reservation. Ongoing arguments about Japanese military collaborations with the U.S. are fraught with the danger that Japan's hitherto extremely cautious stance toward its military alliance with the U.S. may turn into uncritical enthusiasm for it.

As for financial relations with the U.S., an extremely anomalous situation exists. As a result of massive intervention by the Bank of Japan to prevent "excessive over-valuation of the yen," Japan has accumulated an extraordinarily large cache of dollar-denominated assets such as U.S. Treasury bonds. These in turn cover America's ever-increasing "twin deficits" (trade and budget).

If debts owed to Japan were denominated in yen, the U.S. would be forced to cover foreign exchange risks, which would impose a degree of financial discipline. At present, though, it is creditor Japan, not debtor U.S., that is balancing the accounts. Furthermore, a strange phenomenon exists in which the Tokyo Stock Exchange is in the hands of foreign investors even amid massive outflows of money from Japan due to the long run of ultra-low domestic interest rates.

Overseas dealings in futures and various derivatives apparently make Japanese financial markets prone to manipulation. Strong attention must be paid to this unfavorable and dangerous relationship with the U.S. and serious efforts made to gradually rectify the situation.

We should also scrutinize American involvement in recent Japanese discussions regarding the revision of our Constitution.

I am of the view that part of the significance of our Constitutional-revision debate is the emerging Japanese inclination to review the postwar "reforms" imposed on Japan by the U.S. Setting aside arguments about what to add to the present Constitution, many Japanese desire to clarify Japan's identity in terms of its tradition and culture, as well as to take indigenous initiatives to correct distortions that have become apparent in Japanese society regarding the role of the family, the functioning of the Upper House and the system of local government, among others.

Whether Japan revises or retains the controversial Article 9 of the Constitution may be of great interest to Americans, but they are strongly advised to exercise judicious caution and not intervene in this important Japanese domestic issue. It is pointless for Japanese politicians go to Washington to seek U.S. views on this matter. This time around, the Japanese must make their own independent decisions.

(This article originally appeared in the August 19, 2004 issue of The Japan Times)

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