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Anxieties and Expectations of "Anything But Bush" Approach

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The Japanese Foreign Ministry distributed to journalists in late November a paper titled: “Dispel five misunderstandings about the incoming Obama administration and Japan-U.S. relations.” The paper lists five growing concerns:

  1. The new administration might make light of Japan;
  2. the administration might make direct approaches to China, bypassing Japan;
  3. the administration might make concessions to North Korea;
  4. Japan-U.S. friction might be reignited; and
  5. the Japanese Foreign Ministry has few connections with the U.S. Democratic Party members. The paper expresses ministry views denying these negative possibilities.

The paper first questions whether the next administration would treat Japan lightly. It argues to the contrary: “The incoming president understands the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance as indispensable, being based on common values and interests and he has expressed his support for it.” It also states: “The Clinton administration signed an agreement to return the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station and issued the joint security declaration.” In response to concern that there are few ties with Democratic Party members, the paper notes confidently: “In preparation for the inauguration of a new administration, Japan has taken necessary steps from more than a year ago.”

President-election Barack Obama has named more members for his administration in the run-up to the inauguration of his administration in January. He has brought in many persons close to former President Bill Clinton, including Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State.

The aim of the Foreign Ministry’s release of the paper ahead of the inauguration of a the first Democratic administration in eight years was to dispel pessimistic views growing in Japan about the future of Japan-U.S. relations. The spread of pessimism was touched off by a China-centered Asia policy platform written by Senator Clinton last fall. But at the root of such pessimism has been fear that the new administration might take an approach contradictory to the policies taken by the Bush administration.

To make a clear distinction from those of the previous Clinton administration, Republican President Bush significantly changed foreign and domestic policy directions. This stance was called an “anything but Clinton (ABC) approach.”

In the days of the Clinton administration, economic friction occurred often between Japan and the U.S. In contrast, Japan-U.S. relations under the Bush administration were in extremely good shape, in part because of a relationship of trust established between President Bush and then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. That is why many are now worried that the Obama administration might take an anything but Bush (ABB) approach.

Meanwhile expectations are growing of the incoming Democratic administration in Okinawa Prefecture, which expects the new U.S. administration to translate the Futenma-return plan decided by former President Clinton into practice. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima said: “I have the impression that Mr. Clinton had sensitive feelings toward Okinawa. I would also like to talk with Senator Hillary Clinton.”

It is uncertain, though, what view Clinton has about this issue. A person close to Obama said: “It is impossible to decide what approach the U.S. should take to the Futenma issue before a new cabinet is formed through a general election in Japan.”

In the same way as Japan concerned about moves by the incoming Obama administration, the U.S. also seems to be nervous about Japan’s unstable political situation.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Ayumi Tsuda (Political Reporter)

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