- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Although Japan has supported the U.S.-led war against terrorism in various ways for nearly a year, its government is considering legislation that would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to operate in Afghanistan in case the United States shifts its military forces to Iraq.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi are visiting the United States this week and next. Mrs. Kawaguchi will come to Washington on Sunday from New York City and stay until Wednesday.

In addition to attending the opening debate of the U.N. General Assembly, the top Japanese officials expect to meet with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

"Of course the main topic of the meetings will be Iraq," said a veteran Washington correspondent from Japan who did not want to be named.

"The Japanese government was reluctant to cooperate with a U.S. pre-emptive attack against Iraq and its consequences," the correspondent said. "But now the usually indecisive Japanese government may be making up its mind to help the U.S. war against Iraq."

Echoing a widespread opinion, the correspondent went on: "Japan has never had a clear foreign policy. It moves if it gets pressured by somebody. And Japan has been obedient, like a primary school student, to the United States for more than a half-century."

In a speech this year, Mrs. Kawaguchi told the Japan Press Club in Tokyo that her foreign policy could be summarized in three words: strong, caring and straightforward. She said Japan-U.S. relations are strong, confirmed by Mr. Bush's February visit to Japan.

The Japanese foreign minister, unlike most of her predecessors, seems eager to express Japan's perspective to the rest of the world. For example, Mrs. Kawaguchi insisted that global warming was an important issue, and that Japan would continue to pursue a constructive response from the United States while seeking international rules with the participation of developing countries.

"Needless to say, the [Japanese] government will continue to act proactively to ensure the safety of the state and its people on its own initiative, but under international cooperation," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Although Japan's postwar constitution prohibits recourse to war and its neighbors worry about any return to militarism, Mr. Fukuda emphasized the importance of "international dialogues."

Mr. Koizumi announced in Tokyo last month that he would visit North Korea on Tuesday for talks with leader Kim Jong-il. Mr. Koizumi's visit will be the first to North Korea by a Japanese prime minister, and the summit with Mr. Kim is also unprecedented.

"Leaders must show political will," said Mr. Koizumi. "That's why I decided to go there."

The visit will come less than nine months after the Japanese coast guard sank a North Korean vessel disguised as a fishing boat. The sinking came after a chase from Japanese to Chinese waters in which the intruders reportedly fired shoulder-launched rockets that missed the Japanese ships.

The Japanese salvaged the sunken craft from the bottom of the East China Sea on Wednesday, a week after another suspected North Korean spy ship was photographed approaching Japanese waters.

Even so, a high Japanese government official says North Korea which is suspected of having kidnapped Japanese citizens in the 1960 and 1970s to help train its spies has shown interest in dialogue with Japan.

"For instance, on the abduction issue, they had been saying that issue did not exist, but now call it 'a political matter,' suggesting Mr. Kim is ready to discuss it."

Besides discussing normalization of relations and North Korea's weapons development and nuclear program, the Japanese official said, the issue of "unidentified ships" in Japanese waters will be aired. For North Korea, compensation and an apology for Japanese colonialism are expected to be important.

The Japanese official said that reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and having North Korea join the international community are crucial for the stability of East Asia.

But for Yohei Mori, Washington correspondent of the Ryukyu Shimpo in Okinawa a part of Japan distant from its four main islands where most of the U.S. military presence is based all the declarations of Japanese politicians and officials amount to mere words.

"Japan has no strategy [in foreign policy], but the U.S. has. So Japan always asks the United States what strategies it has, and exactly follows it." Mr. Mori said this may be "the DNA of Japanese diplomacy."

"In the short-term perspective, this tendency has worked for about 50 years, and especially after the September 11 attacks. But in the longer view, Japan has lived under the huge influence of China for hundreds of years," said the correspondent of the Okinawa newspaper.

"Koizumi is saying what he wants to say [to distinguish himself from] his predecessors. He is nice-looking and young. But regarding the substance of what he has done, there is almost no difference," Mr. Mori said.

"For example, in the Persian Gulf war, Japan did just merely what the U.S. wanted Japan to do. As for Okinawa, where U.S. military bases occupy about half of its territory, Koizumi has never told the U.S. to reduce its bases there. It's because he knows the United States cannot do that in the present situation, and he does not want to get Washington upset."

As for Mrs. Kawaguchi, Mr. Mori said, she did acted on reforms in response to corruption in the Foreign Ministry, "but in diplomacy, she has never done anything new. She just follows precedent."

In May, when Chinese police pulled out several North Koreans seeking refuge in a Japanese Consulate, Japan was not decisive, he said. "Japan is always swinging between countries that have clear attitudes."

But Mr. Mori sees some hope. When Mr. Armitage visited Japan last month, Japan and the United States began a "strategic dialogue" in which both countries examined each other's strategy in order to avoid differences or misunderstandings. The Bush administration has a similar arrangement with Australia, the Okinawa correspondent said, and representatives of the three countries have met in Japan to open a dialogue.

"The U.S. wants Japan [to act as the] Britain of Asia. So it wants Japan to establish a law to protect classified information so it can talk about anything, as it does with Britain," Mr. Mori said. "But when one country has no strategy, is a dialogue possible?"

Despite limited interest of Japan in the United States and frequent references to President Roosevelt's characterization of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as "a day that will live in infamy," Japan's image among Americans appears to be improving.

In this year's Gallup poll of U.S. attitudes toward Japan commissioned by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, 67 percent of respondents in the "general public" group and 91 percent of "opinion leaders" rated Japan as "a dependable ally or friend."

Those were record highs since the annual surveys began in 1960, the ministry said. Respondents who viewed Japan "favorably" also set a record 49 percent of the American general public, and 81 percent of opinion leaders.

On other Gallup questions, 46 percent of the general public and 64 percent of "opinion leaders" ranked Japan as "the most important partner to the U.S. in the Asian region;" 56 percent and 94 percent of those respective groups felt Japan played an important international role in science and technology; 51 percent and 94 percent said Japan played an important role in the global economy, and 85 percent of respondents in both groups considered Japan-U.S. security arrangements to be either "very important" or "somewhat important" to U.S. security interests.

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