No. 6 — February 16, 1996


Weekly Review

--- by Barbara Wanner

Senior administration officials in Washington and Tokyo have generated a flurry of activity in recent weeks aimed at ensuring that upcoming meetings between President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto both in the United States and in Japan accent the positive despite tensions on the security and the economic fronts. During a February 7 meeting in Tokyo with Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda the president's national security adviser, Anthony Lake, appeared anxious to establish a positive tone for Mr. Clinton's April 16-18 visit to Japan, reportedly saying that this summit "should shape the future course of close bilateral ties." One of the main goals of the Clinton-Hashimoto talks, both governments concur, is to reaffirm the importance of U.S.-Japan security relations. These have been called into question by many Japanese in the aftermath of the rape of a local schoolgirl on Okinawa last fall allegedly by three U.S. servicemen. Continued spade work at the working level in the coming two months appears necessary, though, based on Mr. Ikeda's remarks concerning the need to make "tangible progress" on the issue of reallocating U.S. troops stationed in the southernmost prefecture as well as his unwillingness to offer any commitments on pending transpacific trade disputes.

The inconclusive nature of this latest top-level meeting does not necessarily bode ill for the upcoming summit or bilateral relations in general. In fact, Tokyo's abrupt announcement February 9 that Mr. Hashimoto will meet informally with Mr. Clinton in Santa Monica, California February 24 further underscores the priority that the premier attaches to keeping U.S.-Japan relations on an even keel. Mr. Hashimoto has stated repeatedly that the alliance with the United States is the most important of Japan's international ties, terming the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty the "pivot" of bilateral relations (see JEI Report No. 3B, January 26, 1996). According to chief cabinet secretary Seiroku Kajiyama, the Japanese government had been seeking an early meeting between Messrs. Clinton and Hashimoto since the latter's January 11 election to be prime minister. The idea for such a meeting is to allow the two leaders to "brew personal credibility," which, in turn, would facilitate a successful visit by the president in mid-April. Thus, the tete-a-tete in Santa Monica — where Mr. Clinton will be campaigning for reelection — "will not be an occasion to talk about specific issues," Mr. Kajiyama told the press February 9, adding that "if people trust each other, they will more readily produce solutions." (At least some White House officials have a different take on the upcoming Clinton-Hashimoto get-together. U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor told a February 9 news conference in Washington that all major trade issues would come up for discussion.)

Keeping the lines of communication open may have been the major purpose of the Ikeda-Lake talks in Tokyo, judging by the fact that they appeared to cover much of the same ground as when the foreign minister visited Washington in January (see JEI Report No. 3B, January 26, 1996). Concerning the controversial issue of U.S. military installations on Okinawa, Mr. Ikeda basically reiterated the point he made earlier that the Hashimoto government would like to develop a clear policy on troop consolidation and reallocation in time for the April summit. The Okinawa rape tragedy has sparked an anti-American military backlash throughout Japan and prompted calls for a reduction in the U.S. base presence, particularly in the southernmost prefecture (see JEI Report No. 42B, November 10, 1995). Reflecting his constituents' outrage over the rape as well as their long-simmering resentment that some 75 percent of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan occupy land on their island, Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota in late January presented Mr. Hashimoto with his prefecture's "future vision." A key element of this blueprint is a sharp reduction in American forces stationed on Okinawa within 20 years (see JEI Report No. 4B, February 2, 1996).

The U.S. government has insisted that the security of Japan and the stability of the Asian Pacific region hinge on maintaining about 47,000 troops on Japanese soil. Mr. Lake evidently held firm to this position in his conversation with Mr. Ikeda. Secretary of Defense William Perry in his February 7 meeting at the Pentagon with a group of visiting Japanese parliamentarians also emphasized that it would be extremely problematic in the near term to reduce as well as to relocate substantial numbers of U.S. troops to other parts of Japan. Although American defense officials evidently are trying to develop an approach that would respond in part to Tokyo's demands, insiders say that it is unlikely that adjustments in the U.S. troop presence in Japan will occur according to Okinawa prefecture's "vision."

On the trade front Messrs. Ikeda and Lake similarly restated their respective government's positions, which remain at opposing poles. Yet, both officials agreed that the importance of the political and the security dimensions of the April summit should not fall victim to unresolved trade disputes. Among these are: implementation of the framework-negotiated insurance agreement, renewal of the semiconductor trade accord that expires in July, elevation to government-level negotiations of the disagreement concerning market access in Japan for U.S.-made photographic film and paper, and liberalization of air cargo rights. However, neither Mr. Lake nor Mr. Ikeda brought anything new to the table that might move discussions on these issues off square one.

One area in which the U.S. and the Japanese governments may have broken some new ground is in dealing with the potentially volatile situation on the Korean peninsula. Saying that the current budget battle in Washington will not be resolved in time for the United States to pay for oil shipments in February and March to North Korea, the American foreign policy adviser asked Tokyo to provide an unspecified sum of money (reported elsewhere to be $12 million) as a stopgap measure. Under the terms of an October 1994 U.S.-North Korean accord aimed at defanging Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons development capability the United States is to supply North Korea with crude oil as an alternative energy source in exchange for Pyongyang's promise to freeze its nuclear energy program and eventually dismantle its graphite reactors, which produce plutonium, a key building block of nuclear weaponry. Until two replacement light-water reactors are built Washington agreed to provide the insular communist country free of charge with some 500,000 tons of oil each year to cover its energy needs (see JEI Report No. 41B, October 28, 1994).

Mr. Lake reportedly emphasized that a Japanese contribution was necessary to avoid giving Pyongyang "a reason or excuse to pull back" from its pledge to dismantle its nuclear program. Although Mr. Ikeda appeared noncommittal, pointing out that the United States primarily is responsible for paying for these oil shipments, the Hashimoto government responded in a more positive manner the following day. Mr. Kajiyama said February 8 that Japan is "likely" to foot the bill for the oil to be supplied to North Korea this month and in March. The government's chief spokesperson stressed, however, that Tokyo would regard this response as "temporary" and "exceptional." In the previous day's talks, moreover, Mr. Ikeda had remained firm in his discussions with Mr. Lake that Japan would not join the United States in offering extra rice assistance to North Korea. The food aid from Washington, announced February 1, involves a donation of some $2 million to a United Nations food assistance program operating in North Korea (see JEI Report No. 5B, February 9, 1996).

The fact that Mr. Hashimoto has selected the United States as the first country to visit after his assumption of the premiership, Japanese government officials note, should help foster good relations between Tokyo and Washington. Clinton administration officials, in turn, have welcomed the Japanese leader's positive view of U.S.-Japan relations. Although both sides appear to concur that a reaffirmation of the bilateral alliance will serve as an important confidence-building measure in the region, the weeks leading up to the mid-April summit may test American and Japanese officials anxious to close some not insignificant gaps. Goodwill may prevail, but this may not be enough to bridge differences, insiders propose.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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