- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

Crossing his past

Japanese Ambassador Shunji Yanai met his past on a recent visit to New Orleans.

As he explained Thursday in a forum on Japan, Mr. Yanai said saw the Crescent City at the outbreak of World War II when he was 6 years old and his family was deported to the United States from Colombia, where his father was the Japanese ambassador.

They were arrested "as enemy citizens" and later confined in a hotel in Cincinnati under military guard.

"Don't worry, we were treated quite properly," he told the forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

They were soon transferred to New York, put on a ship to Africa and exchanged for U.S. prisoners of war.

On a visit to New Orleans last week, "I met an American man who was part of that exchange," he said.

"It's odd how one's life journey sometimes crosses its own path," he said.

He recounted that story to illustrate how "the great forces of history affected" him.

Those forces have also affected U.S.-Japanese relations, as the former enemies became allies in the Cold War and today share some of the closest ties on the international scene, he said.

However, he added, "The Cold War is not yet over in northeast Asia… . Nuclear weapons and long-range missiles today still cloud the future."

"The Korean Peninsula is still divided, and tension remains high between the Chinese continent and Taiwan," he said.

"North Korea is a country shrouded in layers of shadow and intrigue," he added, warning, "We therefore must remain vigilant and maintain a reliable deterrent, just as NATO did in Europe."

He said he once stood on the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea when he was a diplomat to Seoul from 1981 to 1984.

"You couldn't help but wonder what life was like under the system on the other side," he said. "I vividly witnessed the fear and uncertainty of the Cold War in northeast Asia."

He noted that the Japanese people were "deeply affected" in 1998 when North Korea test fired a missile that flew over Japan before landing in the ocean.

"Imagine if Cuba launched a missile that flew over Florida and landed in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

Mr. Yanai noted the strengthened bonds between the United State and Japan but regretted they are not as strong as U.S. ties with NATO nations.

"Although relations between the United States and Japan are wide and deep, they are not to the level of mutual understanding that exists between the United States and Europe," he said.

"That should be the goal of the bilateral relations between our two countries a parity of understanding with Europe and with each other. What a different dynamic that would be. What doors it would open and what new perspectives it would bring to both our nations."

Take my wife

Like a Japanese Henny Youngman, the ambassador Thursday used his wife to set up a joke.

After thanking the moderator for a wonderful introduction, Mr. Yanai said he was making his third visit to CSIS since arriving in Washington only four months ago.

"When I told my wife that I was coming here again this morning, she said, 'You speak to them more than you speak to me.' I said, 'Well, they listen.' "

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