In September 1997, the United States and Japan issued new guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation that would expand the role of the Self-Defense Forces in the transpacific security alliance and enable the two countries to respond more effectively to emergencies in areas surrounding Japan. In April 1998, the government of then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto introduced legislation to implement the 40 areas of bilateral cooperation detailed in the new security blueprint. The bills languished in the Diet for nearly a year, however, due in part to the concerns of some legislators that the SDF's added roles and missions would exceed Tokyo's longtime interpretation of the "peace constitution."
By early April 1999, the outlook for approval of the guidelines bills seemed to have improved considerably. The mid-January formation of a governing union between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, a conservative, pro-defense opposition group, had strengthened Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's hand on this issue. He also had announced the goal of securing enactment of the measures before his early May summit in Washington with President Clinton. This deadline gave LDP officials greater incentive to work out a deal with more dovish opposition parties that addresses some of their concerns but stays true to the new bilateral defense cooperation agreement.
The late March intrusion of suspected North Korean spy ships into Japanese waters, which occurred just seven months after Pyongyang's launch of a ballistic missile over northern Honshu, further boosted the LDP's case for prompt action on the guidelines bills. Most observers anticipate that the legislation will pass the Diet soon with only minor changes. North Korea's provocative behavior also has spurred a related debate on whether the Self-Defense Forces Law gives the SDF sufficient authority to defend Japan effectively from foreign incursions.
Concurrent with the guidelines discussions, a movement for a more general examination of the nation's constitutional strictures on military activities is gaining momentum among growing numbers of elected officials in both the ruling and the opposition camp. Special bipartisan research committees were established in the two houses of the Diet earlier this year to study the issue. But defense analysts warn against jumping to the conclusion that the Japanese soon will fight shoulder-to-shoulder with their allies in conflicts both near and far from home. These experts predict that the work of the special Diet panels could drag on for a decade or more and, even then, produce no dramatic changes.
Furthermore, it is not clear whether lawmakers are completely in sync with their constituents. Polls indicate mixed opinions on stepped-up SDF support for U.S. forces. In addition, a growing number of local assemblies have objected to the American military's use of civilian airports and harbors, as called for in the new guidelines. Such resistance could complicate implementation. Nevertheless, the very discussion of the guidelines bills and the heretofore taboo subject of constitutional reform represents an important first step in a long-overdue national debate on Japan's defense-related roles and responsibilities in a post-Cold War world.
TOKYO BANK FAILURE SUGGESTS INDUSTRY'S PROBLEMS NOT OVER by Douglas Ostrom
Japan's banking crisis persists, recent statements to the contrary by high-ranking officials notwithstanding. Telltale signs include oddly timed announcements and queues at distressed institutions as well as developments that suggest that even customers of large banks remain uneasy.
Although Vice Finance Minister for International Affairs Eisuke Sakakibara told a Tokyo forum in early February that Japan's financial crisis, then at least six years old, would be over "in one or two weeks," the events of a Sunday in mid-April suggested that he was correct when he later called this remark an exaggeration. Two of Japan's 60 second-tier regional banks long considered the weak links in a banking system that also includes 64 generally larger first-tier regional banks as well as 19 big banks took actions April 11 that revealed the persistence of deep problems despite heroic measures by the government to alleviate the banking industry's difficulties.
LOW WAGE HIKES FOR FY 1999 JUST ONE OF JAPANESE WORKERS' CONCERNS by Jon Choy
With Japan's economy still moribund and the outlook for corporate profits certainly dim, the results of this year's nationwide private-sector wage negotiations or shunto were a foregone conclusion. According to a survey by the country's top economic daily, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, management boosted average monthly wages for FY 1999 by a record low 2.09 percent or just ¥6,308 ($52.57 at ¥120=$1.00). Reflecting the competitive strength of Japan's leading exporters, manufacturing-sector employers offered a more generous raise, but even this amounted to only 2.11 percent or ¥6,314 ($52.62).
ISHIHARA'S WIN IN TOKYO GOVERNOR'S RACE NOT LIKELY TO UNSEAT OBUCHI by Barbara Wanner
As further evidence of widespread voter dissatisfaction with the leadership provided by political parties, Tokyo's huge pool of nonaligned voters rallied behind independent candidate Shintaro Ishihara in the April 11 gubernatorial election. A charismatic former member of the Liberal Democratic Party who is best known in the United States for espousing highly nationalist, anti-American views in the 1989 bestseller The Japan That Can Say No, Mr. Ishihara trounced the competition in a crowded field of 19 candidates. He won nearly 31 percent of the vote, almost twice as much as the second-place finisher, Kunio Hatoyama, who also officially ran as an independent but enjoyed the full support of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party (see Table). Election rules in Tokyo require at least 25 percent of the total vote to win; the contest is repeated until one candidate emerges with that level of support.
OBUCHI URGES ARAFAT TO DELAY PROCLAMATION OF STATEHOOD by Marc Castellano
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has joined other world leaders in urging Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to delay the unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence planned for May 5, the day after an interim self-rule agreement with Israel expires. Mr. Arafat hinted that he may heed this advice and postpone any action at least until after Israel holds general elections May 17. As part of an ongoing diplomatic effort to garner international support for Palestinian independence and to increase awareness about the new challenges facing the Middle East peace process, the Palestinian leader has visited a long list of world capitals. He was in Tokyo April 7 and April 8 for meetings with Mr. Obuchi and Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.
For understandable reasons, Tokyo is worried that Japan market access problems or other transpacific trade issues might usurp its envisioned statesmanlike agenda for Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's May 3 meeting with President Clinton in Washington. That concern has made otherwise intransigent Japanese trade officials amenable to presummit consultations with their U.S. counterparts on several potential market access flash points. One is flat glass.