AS a further reminder of how much the United States-Japanese
relationship is changing, celebrations will be held in Japan in
mid-May to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the return of
Okinawa to Japanese control. Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi
Miyazawa is also expected to visit Washington prior to this July's
G-7 meeting in Munich.
It is hoped these events will refocus attention on the positive
aspects of the relationship and stimulate interest again in the
touted "global partnership." But with elections in both countries
this year, it is unlikely much progress will be made in overcoming
perceptions of animosity.
Recent tensions have arisen from a sense of uncertainty over the
US and Japanese roles in the world of the 1990s. Now that there is
no longer a credible military threat to Japan, managing the
alliance will be more difficult. Permanent American troops, 75
percent stationed on Okinawa, will eventually be removed from
Japan. Competition for resources and market share and the equitable
distribution of economic gain will be the main challenges facing
Disparaging comments about trends in American society by
Japanese politicians have led to perceptions in the US that Japan,
with its financial strength, now feels superior to its strongest
ally. This may be more accurately interpreted as a reflection of
Japan's emergence from a long-standing feeling of inferiority in
its relations with the US.
The Japanese are understandably proud of their economic and
social accomplishments since World War II. At the same time, they
are also aware of their image as a nation plagued by political
scandals that has yet to find its diplomatic niche.
Japan has often felt isolated from the world community and is a
nation with a long history of playing catch-up. It now finds that a
larger stake and greater influence in global matters is accompanied
by unprecedented interest in Japan's affairs. And many complain
that Japan has not lived up to its international responsibilities.
While Japan has been unable to successfully present itself to the
world as a nation actively engaged, it is no doubt inevitable that
the Japanese will, in time, show leadership and initiatives that
demonstrate their belief in a shared destiny for all nations.
In many ways, Japan's domestic political structure has stifled
its ability to offer leadership internationally. The Japanese
system does not formulate quick or dynamic foreign policy.
Previously, Japanese leaders have relied on gaiatsu, or external
pressure, to unify moves on contentious trade and foreign- policy
issues. But there is no such pressure from the US or elsewhere to
force domestic political reform. …