Tuesday, September 6, 2011

06/09 Japan-U.S. alliance must be rebuilt

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The inauguration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet should lead to a halt in the erosion of Japan's diplomatic relations of recent years, which is essential for making the nation's voice better heard in the international community.

At a press conference held shortly after his appointment as prime minister, Noda stressed the need to achieve that goal, saying: "The Japan-U.S. relationship is a central pillar of our country's diplomatic and security policy at a time when the world is becoming more and more multipolar. [Bilateral relations] must be deepened and expanded."

Noda is an unknown quantity as prime minister. However, we hope he will steadfastly adhere to this fundamental principle in fulfilling his duties.

The Japan-U.S. alliance has long functioned as a public good to preserve peace and security in the Asia-Pacific basin. Many Asian countries share this perception. Unstable Japan-U.S. ties would harm relations between Japan and its Asian neighbors.

The nation's diplomatic environment has been increasingly unfavorable in recent years. The Noda administration was preceded by short-lived cabinets formed by five prime ministers. This has been compounded by the rise of China and some other newly emerging nations, a development that has undeniably resulted in a relative decline in Japan's national strength as the mainstay of its foreign relations.


Put U.S. ties on track

This is particularly evident in the turmoil and stagnation in the Japan-U.S. relationship due to a change of administration that took place two years ago. This paralysis can be attributed to former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's unskilled diplomacy, followed by an ill-conceived attempt by his successor, Naoto Kan, to put off bilateral issues.

With this in mind, the new prime minister must work to bring the nation's tattered external relations back on track, focusing first on shoring up its alliance with the United States.

Noda is scheduled to attend a number of meetings with the leaders of other nations, including a session of the U.N. General Assembly in late September. His diplomatic itinerary for November and beyond also includes a summit meeting of the Group of 20 nations and territories, the East Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The prime minister must use these diplomatic opportunities to establish trust with U.S. President Barack Obama and other national leaders. Doing so is essential to defend our national interests.

He must also take specific actions to resolve pending issues facing Japan and the United States and not just follow the steps taken by his predecessors, Hatoyama and Kan, who both had only harped on "a deepening" of the bilateral alliance.

Washington has called on Tokyo to make "concrete progress" in settling the dispute over the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture "within one year." Failure to do so could prompt the U.S. administration to drastically reconsider a plan to relocate U.S. marines in the prefecture to Guam.

Noda must do all he can to overcome the gridlock in the Futenma controversy through talks with leaders and residents in Okinawa Prefecture. This task requires the prime minister to join hands with Cabinet members related to the dispute--Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa and Tatsuo Kawabata, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs.


Promote talks with China

It is no less important for Noda to promote dialogue with China.

The collisions between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japanese vessels in waters off the Senkaku Islands in September last year strained bilateral ties. Although summit talks among Japan, China and South Korea have since taken place, Tokyo and Beijing remain caught in a standoff over natural gas field exploration in the East China Sea and other bilateral problems.

The prime minister should step up security talks between Japan and China while also increasing bilateral economic and trade cooperation. Living up to this responsibility is essential to realizing what is called a "strategically reciprocal relationship" between Tokyo and Beijing, instead of leaving the mutually avowed goal an empty slogan.

The Noda administration also must decide, as soon as possible, whether to send Self-Defense Forces personnel to South Sudan for a U.N. peacekeeping mission, another decision his predecessors put off.

We hope the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties will agree to abandon the unreasonable practice established over the years of restricting visits to other countries by prime ministers and foreign ministers.

For years, opposition parties have insisted that attendance at Diet sessions by such political figures must take precedence over overseas travel on official business. The public does not even begin to understand why the country's national interests must be compromised because its prime minister and foreign minister are prevented from visiting other nations under what can only be described as a misguided rule meant to preserve "the authority of the Diet."

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 5, 2011)

(Sep. 6, 2011)

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