Japanese Government and People Uncertain about Prospects of Second Bush Term
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Japanese news reports indicate that, at best, Koizumi administration officials expect "no change" in US-Japan relations during Bush's second term. This was the response expressed by Japan's foreign minister Machimura and echoed by several other administration officials. For his part, prime minister Koizumi stated that he hopes president Bush will "continue to contribute actively to world peace and stability under international coordination." The answer to whether this expectation will be met is an open question. As far as the general populace in Japan is concerned, a recent opinion survey reported by the Associated Press on January 19 indicated that almost forty percent of Japanese consider Bush's re-election as a "negative for world security." while over fifteen percent consider it a positive thing.
If the newly appointed personnel on Bush's "Japan Team" are any indication, Japan may be in for a rough ride. In replacement of deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, Bush (apparently with the strong recommendation of Condoleezza Rice) has nominated former US trade representative Robert Zoellick to the post. Zoellick was often feared in Japan during the late 1980s and early 1990s due to his association with Japan-US trade friction. Apart from this negative legacy, policy and organizational analysts in the US are skeptical of Zoellick's organizational management skills and worry that his lack of connections in Japan will make him less open than Armitage was.
Bush has also replaced the well liked US ambassador to Japan Howard Baker. Ambassador Baker was credited for improving Japan-US relations due to his influence on Capitol Hill and in the White House. In contrast, the incoming ambassador Thomas Schieffer is a former Texas representative and business friend of George W. Bush, he has little leverage in Congress. Although Schieffer served as ambassador to Australia since 2001, analysts in Japan are measuring their expectations.
President Bush's new list of "tyrants" has not created much comfort in Tokyo either. As was laid out in his inauguration speech, Bush has committed his final term to fighting "tyranny" and to destroying the "outposts of tyranny." As was outlined by the incoming Secretary of State Rice, the list of outposts includes North Korea, Myanmar, Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe. Japan has long pushed the US to take a cautious, yet steady, approach to North Korea and has done much to get the abductees issue taken up at the six-party talks. However, with Richard Armitage no longer in the mix and two economic hands leading the US' Japan team, there is concern that Japan's political and security concerns will not reach the Oval office. Already, the Kyodo News Agency has reported on Japan's luke warm response to Bush's "ending tyranny" drive in stating that Japan will "tolerate" Bush's plan. Judging from sound bites coming out of the Koizumi administration, the Japanese government is holding its as Bush begins his second term.