- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

TOKYO President Bush today used his clout as leader of the free world to pressure the Japanese legislature to swiftly enact economic reforms proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi but stalled by lawmakers.
In a bid to help the embattled Mr. Koizumi, whose popularity has plummeted as Japan's unemployment has risen to a record high, Mr. Bush said the stability of the Far East and even the United States depends on a strong Japan.
"My trip to Asia begins here in Japan for an important reason: For half a century now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times. From that alliance has come an era of peace in the Pacific," Mr. Bush said in a speech to the Diet, Japan's legislature.
"America, like Japan, is a Pacific nation, drawn by trade and values and history to be a part of Asia's future. We stand more committed than ever to a forward presence in this region."
The fragility of the Japanese economy was brought home yesterday when an offhand comment by Mr. Bush temporarily drove down the value of the yen in Japanese currency markets. He said during a joint press conference with Mr. Koizumi that he had discussed currency devaluation with the Japanese leader.
Shortly after the conference, White House spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that Mr. Bush misspoke and that the two men actually had talked about deflation, not devaluation, the much more prickly issue of letting the yen drop in value against the dollar to make Japanese exports more competitive overseas.
The yen quickly rebounded and ended higher for the day.
Mr. Bush also urged Mr. Koizumi to use his own clout to sell his reform agenda to lawmakers.
"Sometimes it is very difficult to get a reform package done in any society, particularly structural reform, and what the prime minister is proposing is a bold agenda, and it takes somebody who is willing to spend political capital to get the agenda done," Mr. Bush said at the press conference.
In his speech to the Diet, the president, who once owned the Texas Rangers, compared Mr. Koizumi to Major League Baseball's most famous Japanese player.
"He reminds me of the new American baseball star, Ichiro [Suzuki]: The prime minister can hit anything you throw at him," he said, drawing laughter.
Mr. Bush said he wholeheartedly supported Mr. Koizumi's plan to revive the world's second-largest economy. But the prime minister said his nation may be incapable of seizing the opportunity as the third recession in a decade shows no signs of receding.
"Ten years ago, we were overconfident. Now we've lost confidence. But I would like to tackle structural reform with confidence and with hope," he said at the press conference.
Mr. Koizumi referred to a past American president's term as an example of the reform he was seeking.
"Look at … Reagan reform none of these reforms were achieved within a year or two. In fact, the results of the Reagan reform came to fruition after he had retired," he said.
Mr. Bush took the pressure off the man he called his "friend" by saying, "I'm not here to give advice; I'm here to lend support.
"When he looked me in the eye and told me that he is going to take measures necessary to improve in all three regions, I believe him. I believe that's his intent. And that is good news, because it's going to require a strong leader to deal with the difficult problems facing the Japanese economy," the president said.
Mr. Bush praised the Japanese leader for his support of the U.S.-led war on international terrorism.
"Japan is a generous host to America's forward-deployed forces, providing an essential contribution to the stability of Asia. This enduring partnership benefits both our countries, but it also benefits the world.
"The peace of the world is now threatened by global terror. And we have had no better friend, and nobody provides such steadfast support, than the Japanese government," Mr. Bush said.
In the Diet speech as well, Mr. Bush praised Japan for its role in fighting terrorism.
"Japan is making these great contributions even in a time of economic uncertainty and transition that has caused some to question whether your nation can maintain these commitments and your leadership in the world. I have no such questions, and I am confident that Japan's greatest era lies ahead," he said.
Mr. Bush told Japanese lawmakers that the United States, like Japan, had been through tough economic times, including the late 1970s and early 1980s, when "our competitiveness was weak, our banks were in trouble, high taxes and needless regulation discouraged risk-taking and strangled innovation."
But America overcame the difficulties by "bold actions" reducing taxes and regulations and encouraging competition."
"We learned that in times of crisis and stagnation, it is better to move forward boldly with reform and restructuring than to wait, hoping that old practices will somehow work again," he said.
The two leaders, who talked privately for three hours before yesterday's press conference, also came to a consensus on an air-pollution accord. Mr. Bush last year rejected the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that called for dramatic reductions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global climate change.
The administration deemed the legislation as too restrictive but last week offered a new proposal to reduce emissions.
"The United States has come up with a very positive proposal [for] the problems of environment and the problems of economy," Mr. Koizumi said. "These should proceed hand in hand, and they should not run counter to each other on the future problems of the globe."
The prime minister also stood by Mr. Bush's description of North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil."
"The expression 'axis of evil,' I believe, reflects the firm resolve of President Bush and the United States against terrorism," Mr. Koizumi said. "President Bush, I believe, has been very calm and cautious vis-a-vis Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
"He will not exclude any possibilities in order to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to prevent terrorism. He will resort to all possible means to fight against terrorism. And I believe this resolve was behind the expression 'axis of evil.'"

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