US-Japan Conflict Hides Shared Interests
Mccarthy, Terry, The Independent (London, England)
BEFORE Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japan's Trade Minister, left Tokyo yesterday for "last-minute" talks in the United States over stalled trade negotiations, he performed a very Japanese gesture. Asked whether he was going to make a breakthrough in the talks and stave off trade sanctions, he sucked in air between his teeth, frowned as if in pain and said it would be "a little bit difficult". History does not record how his American counterpart, Mickey Kantor, reacted to this; he was probably more blunt.
On the surface, Japan and the US appear to be at odds over most matters. President Bill Clinton is threatening sanctions against Japan, if talks to reduce its $60bn ( pounds 37bn) trade surplus are not completed by Friday. Japan says US demands amount to managed trade. It denies its markets are closed and says US firms must try harder to export to Japan.
Over international affairs, the US and Japan differ equally sharply. While US Marines were shooting their way out of trouble in Haiti, Japanese troops in Africa were preparing to withdraw from their mission to help Rwandan refugees, on account of deteriorating security in the camps and a danger that the Japanese might be forced to defend themselves.
After several shootings close to Japanese troops in Goma, Zaire, the Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, on Monday, said Tokyo "must consider withdrawing the personnel" if the situation worsens. The US aspires to some form of world leadership now the Cold War is over. But Japan, repeatedly reminded about its wartime aggression by other Asian nations, sticks resolutely in the background when it comes to foreign policy.
This low profile has spawned a variety of "hidden agenda" scenarios. During the 1980s a common argument made by futurologists was that Japan and the US, alienated by cultural, political and economic differences, were heading towards another confrontation. Fear of Japan's supposedly uncontrollable economic machine was epitomised in Michael Crichton's novel, the Rising Sun, in which ruthless Japanese industrialists pursue their agendas in the US, beyond the reach of US law enforcement. …