Bush's Words of Support for Koizumi Resound Hollow
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
If friendship can be defined as helping another when in need the relationship between George Bush and Junichiro Koizumi could be an attempt at just that. President Bush's visit to Japan came at the right moment for Koizumi who is facing mounting opposition and an increasingly ailing economy. A pledge of confidence in Koizumi's leadership by George W. Bush was expected but few believe that these words of support will be followed up with real policy initiatives that could help Japan climb out of its third and worst recession in a decade. The Japanese public is tired of the games played by their politicians and knows full well that Japan's economic recovery is not the primary consideration for President Bush who is described by many in Japan as "a man who likes war".
To be honest, there wasn't much hype outside of Japan surrounding Bush's visit. In fact most onlookers were more concerned with his stops in China and South Korea. Many predicted that President Bush's trip to Japan would be nothing more than a morale booster for Prime Minister Koizumi and a behind the scenes attempt to urge that Japan protect American interests (particularly those relating to the auto industry). According to Charles Scanlon of the BBC, the Japanese public was also unenthusiastic about Bush's visit. Scanlon reported that "President Bush suffers from an image problem in Japan" ("Japanese unimpressed by Bush", February 15). The main reasons being, his unilateral flouting of the Kyoto Treaty and the inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil". Bush's climate proposal left much to be desired and the entire concept of an "axis of evil" seemed utterly foreign for Japanese who rarely, if ever, resort to moral diplomacy. More over, "Japan is preoccupied with an internal crisis of confidence," wrote Scanlon and they are "deeply cynical about American intentions".
While Bush called Koizumi a "great reformer" in front of the world press today (Ron Fornier, AP, Feb. 18), most critics questioned "what reforms?" In the minds of many Koizumi appears to be backtracking on reforms. In his article Fornier quoted former Rep. Lee Hamilton (Democrat-Indiana) as stating, "there is a concern in Washington that the PM is all windup and no pitch, more style than substance" ("Bush and Koizumi to talk Japan's Economy", Feb. 17). Others including Clay Chandler of the Washington Post claimed that Koizumi had dropped the ball and that "when it came to the economy it was difficult to find something nice to say. In ten months since Koizumi came to power, Japan's economic indicators have gone from bad to wretched" ("Struggling Japanese Leader Set to Greet Bush", Feb. 17).
With most of the world focused on Bush's encounters with China and South Korea, what we witnessed in Japan may be a case of 'Japan passing'. As James Brooke of the NY Times pointed out "Japanese officials are now seen as the world's slow-learning school boys, greeted by lectures at every turn" and in the words Bank of America strategist Marshall Gittler, "it seems that the world has managed to get along without Japan quite nicely. As long as there is not a financial crisis, Japan will be just less and less important on the world stage" (Bush to encounter a much less formidable Japan" Feb 17).
The truth is that Japan has much to offer the world and in particular Asia. Nevertheless, its priorities are clearly with domestic economic recovery. On the international level, considering Japan's consensus oriented values, it is finding it increasingly difficult to engage in an international political climate determined by US defined notions of good versus evil. These concepts simply do not enter into Japanese foreign policy. Although in some cases unjustifiable, Japan remains averse to diplomatic labeling and continues to opt for what ASEAN has called Japan's "constructive engagement". As to the inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil", Japan can play an important part in dissuading Bush from starting a war in East Asia and in convincing him that a peaceful resolution of the threat perceived from North Korea is a policy that must be adhered to.
- Ron Fornier, "Bush opens trip with discussion on Japanese economy, urges PM to act on promised reforms", The Associated Press, February 18, 2002
- Ron Fornier, "Bush and Koizumi to talk Japan's Economy", The Associated Press, February 17, 2002
- James Brooke, "Bush to encounter a much less formidable Japan", The New York Times, February 17, 2002
- Clay Chandler, "Struggling Japanese leader set to greet Bush", The Washington Post, February 17, 2002
- Charles Scanlon, "Japanese unimpressed by Bush", The British Broadcast Corporation, February 15, 2002