Renewing the U.S.-Japan Relationship: Fifty Years after the San Francisco Peace Treaty Was Signed, There Is a Need for a Recommitment by the Two Nations to Work Together to Ensure the Future Security, Economic Prosperity, and Political Stability of the Asia Pacific Region. (Worldview)

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ON SEPT. 8, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka signed a Joint Statement at the Opera House in San Francisco which commemorated the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty at the same location exactly 50 years earlier and reaffirmed the bilateral ties between the two countries. The Joint Statement comes at an important time in the American relationship with Japan. Tanaka, known for speaking frankly and even provocatively, had already signaled the need to address the fundamentals of the relationship in her first visit to Washington earlier in June. At the same time, she assured Powell that Japan sees the U.S. as the lynchpin of Japanese foreign policy. She added, however, that "It may be time for both countries to reevaluate the benefits and burdens [of the relationship]."

The sentiments she expressed are closer to those of the Bush Administration than one might think at first glance. The Bush Asia policy team came into office emphasizing the need to refocus American attention on Japan, its most important Asian ally. Implicit in this charge is a reevaluation of many of the fundamentals of the relationship.

The timing of Tanaka's comment is highly symbolic. On Sept. 8, 1951, at the San Francisco Opera House, Japan and 48 other countries signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It formally restored Japanese sovereignty after six years of Allied occupation and solidified what came to be known as the "San Francisco system." This framework established by the treaty defined Japan's relationship to the world, particularly to the U.S., and set in place the political, economic, and security structure by which Japan would be understood for most of the post-World War II years. It has been arguably the most successful treaty in modern history, not only enabling the rebuilding of a devastated nation, but fostering a modern democracy that contributes actively and positively to international society. It also provided the dynamic beginning for what has become America's central economic and security relationship in Asia.

The key elements of the San Francisco system linked the U.S. and Japan in profound ways. America was responsible for Japan's defense, while Japan financially supported the stationing of U.S. troops on Japanese soil. Japan was more than simply an ally in the Cold War. Its policies on relations with East Asian nations--China, Taiwan, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations--mirrored America's. In return, the U.S. opened its markets to Japan, aggressively promoting a global free market that Japan used to build itself back from the destruction of the war. Moreover, for much of the period of recovery, the U.S. tolerated a Japanese market that remained restricted to outside investors. These tenets, in addition to the Japanese 1946 Constitution that includes the Article 9 renunciation of war clause, form the basis of Japan's role in the postwar international community.

Fifty years after the monumental signing of the treaty between the Allies and Japan, the San Francisco system has broken down. The Cold War framework of power politics has evaporated, and China has begun to emerge as an economic and military power. Japan has taken its place as a mature economic power and, in an increasingly global and multilateral economy, exercises its economic and diplomatic power independent of the U.S. With these external changes have come demands, both within Japan and in the U.S., that Japan become a more "normal" nation--with an independent foreign policy that reflects its own national interests, a healthy democracy that is not hamstrung by a political party that has held power almost without interruption since the end of World War H, and an economy that can compete in a newly borderless world. The San Francisco Declaration is the first step in recognizing the evolution of the bilateral U.S.-Japan relationship and emphasizing the need for continuing close cooperation and collaboration between the world's two largest economies. …