By Robert J. Carraro. Robert J. Carraro, a. former journalist, is an officer of the Asia Foundation's Center Pacific Affairs .
The Christian Science Monitor
NOTING that Japanese behavior has come to have a "major impact" on the international community, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa earlier this year outlined his government's agenda to assume "a positive role and responsibilities" in establishing a "new order for peace." The Miyazawa government is encouraging the country to assume a greater international role commensurate with its "enhanced national strength." But the transition to an activist foreign policy is unlikely to be smooth for Japan.
Japan's foreign policy has long been predicated on a healthy relationship with the United States. Expectations are high for Prime Minister Miyazawa's mid-April meeting in Washington with President Clinton. The Japanese see coordinated US-Japanese leadership, under "a shared vision," as the best solution to global problems such as AIDS, the environment, and economic policy coordination. They were reassured by Mr. Clinton's recent statements that he attached "enormous importance" to the US-Japan relations, and that he considers it "the most important bilateral relationship" for the US.
Nonetheless, the US-Japan relationship is one of Japan's greatest foreign policy challenges. A strong perception of Japanese intransigence on trade, the result of a pattern of incremental steps to open its market, have deepened distrust in the US.
During the first month of the Clinton presidency, Japan came under fire on several fronts. A report issued by the American Chamber of Commerce detailed many barriers that foreign businesses still face in Japan. In the worst news of all, Japan's trade surplus with the US reached record levels. In 1992 it grew by 14 percent to nearly $44 billion. All of this increases pressure on Japan to further open its markets and to stimulate its sputtering economy prior to the Tokyo Group of Seven summit in July.
Yet, recent threats by the Japanese that they will take "appropriate steps" in response to future American sanctions illustrate Japan's frustrations at what it sees as insufficient respect. Late last year, a high-level Foreign Ministry Council concluded that Japan should quit the practice of reacting to demands made upon it and should put specific proposals forth that will require an American response. But there are also voices in Japan, most notably Sony head Akio Morita, who warns that resistance by Tokyo to further opening of the economy will only bring about Japan's own economic decline. Mr. Morita contends that, "Japan itself has become a fortress."
In the meantime, uncertainty over American intentions in Asia has contributed to calls by some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for an expanded Japanese political and security role in the Asia-Pacific region. …