Friendly foreign governments see a change in administration in
Washington as an opportunity to improve their relationship with the
So it is that the Japanese government is exploring the idea of
proposing closer economic integration of the American and Japanese
The powerful Ministry of International Trade and Investment and
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are both seeking comment from trade
experts in Washington on a new proposal: the creation of a
consultative or study group of wise men from the two nations.
The two ministries differ somewhat on the specifics. Apparently
Japan's government hasn't got its act entirely together.
Presumably a more precise proposal will be presented to the
George W. Bush administration when it is in place.
Japan-US relations are important. In recent years, the American
economy has been racing along while Japan's economy, the world's
second-largest, has been loitering.
Like a commercial jet, the world economy flies more safely with
at least two engines working at full power.
Now the US engine shows signs of sputtering. The Federal Reserve
last week noted that "economic growth may be slowing further." So
the prosperity of Japan could become much more vital to the world.
The Japanese initiative resembles somewhat the "open-market
agreement" called for by Bruce Stokes, a fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations. In a book, "A New Beginning," published by the
council last summer, he suggested a 10-year deal aimed at opening
up the Japanese economy to more investment and trade.
Tariffs are not much of a blockade to trade between the two
nations. But bureaucratic regulations and informal decisions often
keep the Japanese economy relatively uninviting to outsiders.
From Japan's standpoint, a new council might handle - in a less
embarrassing way - the sometimes useful US pressure on Japan to
implement economic and structural reforms. The US argues Japan needs
to open up its financial, retail, agricultural, and other
Economist Lawrence Lindsey, expected to be named Mr. Bush's chief
economic adviser in the White House, has criticized the Clinton
administration's use of gaiatsu, or foreign pressure, on Japan.
"Japan-bashing by the administration has become a convenient way of
appeasing some political constituency," he told the American
Enterprise Institute Dec. 1. "In Japan, American tirades have
become so expected that political discourse has moved away from
creative solutions to domestic problems toward designing face-
saving, and necessarily short-term, responses to American attacks. …