News Analysis: Clinton's inaugural visit leaves Japan with assurance, deliberation 2009-02-18 10:25:42   Print

    By Ma Jie

    TOKYO, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Japan on her first overseas trip as the chief U.S. diplomat, heralding messages that Japan remained the key ally of the United States, while prompting Japan to deliberate on its role in the international community when its domestic politics is a mess.

    Clinton's visit started from a visit to Tokyo's Meiji Shrine to pay respect to "Japan's tradition and culture", followed by a highlighted meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, a signing ceremony of a relocation agreement of U.S. marines and a post-meeting joint press conference.

    She also met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, families of abductees by Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), talked to university students and even the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa in her taut one-day itinerary.


    Clinton's visit is able to erase Tokyo's bitter memories of former President Bill Clinton's nine-day visit to China bypassing Japan.

    In blunt words, Clinton reaffirmed in Tokyo that "the alliance between the United States and Japan is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, as working together to deal with a multitude of issues not only in Asia and the whole world is the top priority of the Obama administration".

    One of the significant agreements the two sides had reached was the inking of the relocation of U.S. marines from Japan's Okinawa to Guam.

    Under the accord, Japan will spend a total of 2.8 billion U.S. dollars on "projects to develop facilities and infrastructure on Guam" for the relocation of some 8,000 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force personnel and their 9,000 family members from Okinawa by 2014.

    "The agreement reflects a commitment to modernize our posture in Asia-pacific. It reinforces the core of our alliance, the mission to ensure defense of Japan against attack and to deter any attack by any necessary means," Clinton said.

    She said that the two countries share contributions in realignment of forces and the relocation of marines from Okinawa to Guam, calling it "one more example of the strong and vibrant cooperation" the two sides enjoy.

    But the alliance needs to come at the price of, or be cemented by, at the repeated request of the United States, Japan's increasing engagement in international affairs, including reconstruction of Afghanistan, anti-terrorism in Pakistan and combating pirates off Somalia. It remained uncertain if Japan will devote more efforts in such areas when itself was engulfed in the worst economic recession and domestic political turmoil.


    For Tokyo, the abductees by the DPRK remained the top concern. In order to soothe Japanese anger over Bush's removal of DPRK from a terrorist blacklist last year before Pyongyang fully addressed the abduction issue, Clinton also met in person with some families of missing abductees to express her sympathy.

    But Ramesh Thakur, founding director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs I Waterloo, Ontario of Canada wrote in his essay to Japan's Daily Yomiuri newspaper that Clinton is "unlikely to satisfy Tokyo on the emotional hot-button issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang," as "the U.S. policy of engagement rather than confrontation with Pyongyang is likely to be maintained."

    At least, Clinton has left hopes for Japan by making a promise not to forget the abductees, pledging to help Japan resolve the issue and calling it a priority for the United States.

    In the meantime, analysts here said that Japan's domestic obsessions with the understandable trauma of abductees should never have been allowed to trump Japan's higher ordered interests when it came to nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and nuclear non-proliferation.

    They also warned Japan, if entangled with just domestic politics and abduction issues, might lose its international influence that matches its strength as a nation and could diminish its presence in the world.


    Before Clinton's visit, there had been wide-spread concern that the Obama administration would favor China to Japan in its Asian-Pacific policies.

    In fact, with the reduced tensions over Taiwan Straits, the military importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance may have declined slightly in recent times in regard to China.

    Being chosen as the first destination of Clinton's inaugural trip, as well as the fact that Aso Taro was invited by Obama to visit White House as the first foreign head of state, Japan now can be assured it will not be traded for China. Instead, Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone said the two sides have reached consensus that "China will play an important role in international community."

    The cooperation engaging China included six-party talks, currently hosted by Beijing, climate change and many others.

    But this time in particular, Clinton, accompanied by Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change, hopes to work with China on environment preservation and climate change.

    "Japan is, as you know a leader in clean energy and there is an opportunity for Japan working with China to help make buildings more energy-efficient, to help create more energy-efficient vehicles," she said, adding "and there's an opportunity for the United States to enter into partnerships with China."

    Clinton said she will discuss the envisaged trilateral partnership on sustainable development in China with Chinese officials when she visits the country later this week.

    According to Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, "none of us should want a strong Japan-U.S. alliance based on, or at the price of, bad relationships with China."

    Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, Washington, also expressed similar viewpoints in his recent essay published in the Daily Yomiuri.

    "Japan is needed and vital. The United States needs an Asia strategy that has room both for China and Japan to serve as responsible regional stakeholders of interests and power, working more collaboratively than in zero-sum conflict," he wrote.

Editor: Deng Shasha
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