TOPICS: Asian doubts over US-Japan ties

Suvendrini Kakuchi

Japan-US relations, following President Bush’s whirlwind Asian tour, earlier this month, are set to play a strong role in political maneuverings in the region, say analysts, many of whom express misgivings over the strengthened bilateral alliance. Bush supposedly aimed at promoting global democracy, used the tour to boost his image through voicing support for human rights and his anti-terrorism campaign. That message was cemented in Kyoto, the first stop of his Asian tour, while at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi; Bush said the bilateral relations would help Asian nations to achieve greater freedom and economic prosperity. Bush went to the extent of saying that he saw Taiwan as an example of demo-cracy; unmindful of the effect such statements would have on Beijing.

Bush and his entourage seemed oblivious to the rallies and demonstrations in the streets of Kyoto, calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and for the withdrawal of US bases on Japanese territory rather than strengthen them. Proceeding to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Pusan, South Korea, Bush’s message grew louder, saying that a ‘’free Japan has helped to transform the lives of others in the region,’’ referring to Japanese investment and aid, jump-starting several Asian economies. Analysts contend that Koizumi’s strong show of support for Bush and vice versa, play a crucial role for the US to flex its muscles in Asia, where the rising power of China and India is watched warily by both countries. Japan’s past colonisation of South Korea and China continues to plague relations with these countries and recent visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine by Koizumi have escalated the tension.

Six-party talks to stop the nuclear weapons programme in North Korea is not working well. An immediate consequence to the Koizumi approach is friction developing between China and Japan over a joint-declaration now being drafted for the East Asia summit at Malaysia in mid-December. Leaders of pro-US countries like Australia, India and New Zealand, are also invited for preparatory meetings, challenging Beijing’s view that the new East Asian community should only include the ASEAN plus Japan, China and South Korea. Just how far Japan is now willing to bend over backwards to accommodate the US can be gauged by the fact that Foreign Minister Taro Aso told his visiting Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari, that Japan was ready to waive loans worth $6.1 billion. The waiver is expected to pave the way for Japan to resume fresh loans to that country by the end of the fiscal year April 2006. Japan will also become one of the few remaining countries to extend support for US troops in Iraq, when Koizumi extends the December deadline for 600 Japanese Self-Defence Forces stationed

there, to return home. The pronounced shift towards the US under Koizumi is watched helplessly by many Japan experts who have now begun talk of sitting it out till the end of his term.