Departing Foley believes strength of ties will prevail

February 16, 2001
Used by permission of The Japan Times

The following are excerpts from U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley's interview with The Japan Times:

Q. What do you think the U.S. and Japanese governments should do to prevent overall bilateral relations from being damaged by the Feb. 9 accident in which a Japanese ship sank off Hawaii when it was hit by a surfacing U.S. submarine?

A. The U.S.-Japan relationship will of course survive this most recent tragic accident. We have been deeply apologetic and expressed regrets to the government and people of Japan. It's very difficult to understand how it could have happened, because there are elaborate procedures to prevent such an accident from occurring. The matters are of course under active investigation ordered by President (George W.) Bush, and the information on conclusions will be made available to the Japanese government. We are determined to find out whatever the cause was, not only to make sure that it never happens again, but also to have a better understanding of what did in fact occur.

Q. What is your assessment of Japan-U.S. relations during your tenure as ambassador here?

A. It has been a very interesting time. . . . Japan is going through many changes and challenges, and I believe that it is a time that will be looked on in the future as a period of change in Japan.

In the security area, the United States and Japan have never institutionalized their security arrangements to the degree that they now exist, with implementation of the (Japan-U.S. defense cooperation) guidelines and the beginning of the diversification of some of our (military) training activities.

On the economic side, things have moved in many directions that have been very beneficial to both countries and to the international economy. Japan's willingness, particularly in the financial sector, to encourage (foreign) investment is a sharp departure from the past, where Japan had enormous investment abroad and very little foreign direct investment here.

Q. Do you think Japan is willing to share greater responsibility in the bilateral security alliance and in the international community?

A. I sense that there is growing support (in Japan) for a more active role in peacekeeping operations. I think Japan deserves great credit for its support for peacekeeping operations in a financial sense, but I think a more direct (role by the Self-Defense Forces) in peacekeeping will be welcomed. It's of course a matter for Japan to decide, but it would be welcomed if Japan is willing and able to take a more active role. The U.S. is a very strong supporter of Japan's (hopes to obtain) permanent membership on the (U.N.) Security Council, and I think a more active role in peacekeeping would be entirely consistent with that.

Q. How would you comment on the recent report by Deputy Secretary of State-appointee Richard Armitage that suggests Japan take a greater security role, such as exercising the right to collective defense?

A. The Armitage report has many interesting and useful recommendations, although it's important to note that it was not a government report. In addition to a question of whether Japan wishes to make whatever legal changes, there is still a very important area where Japan is participating in terms of military exercises, or humanitarian opportunities that do not intervene (with its) constitutional principles. The question of collective security in the formal way would have to be decided by Japan, and the Armitage report recognizes that.

Q. How do you think U.S. security and economic policy toward Japan will change, in substance and/or in emphasis, under President Bush?

A. I don't believe there will be any essential change in policy toward Japan because U.S. policy toward Japan has been one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy for many decades. Fundamentally, the relationship is based on common values, which then create common interests. Both countries have a (representative) democracy, both countries are open economies, are constitutional systems, support the rules of law, support human rights, support peaceful resolution of disputes and so forth.

The (Bush) administration has taken a very positive attitude toward maintaining and strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. It has made it clear, as I have tried to as long as I've been here, that we don't have any stronger alliance or partnership anywhere in the world than we have with Japan. Both countries want to improve relations with China, but the reason we do that is because of the strength of our own bilateral relationship. So I see the Bush administration not as (seeking a) change in policy, but as (pursuing) a continuation and re-emphasis of the importance of the relationship.

Q. Do you expect any changes in the U.S. commitment of keeping 100,000 troops forward deployed in East Asia under the Bush administration? The latest Defense Department report did not refer to that number.

A. Both Secretary (of State Colin) Powell and Secretary (of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld in their confirmation hearings emphasized the commitment of the new administration to the Asia-Pacific region. I have no way of knowing whether the administration will in some time recommend some change in (the) particular configuration of U.S. forces in Japan. I know of no immediate plans to do that. The president has ordered a very extensive review of U.S. defense priorities and resources, but for the moment, any assumption is premature.

I think too much note was taken by the fact that (the) 100,000 figure was not included in the Defense Department report. I don't think the administration has made any determination on what force levels or troop positioning might be recommended in the future.

Q. Would you comment on the spate of misconduct by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa, as well as on the controversy over Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston's internal e-mail messages that described top Okinawa officials as "nuts and wimps?" Are you concerned that there is a lack of understanding among U.S. military personnel over the sensitive nature of the U.S. forces' presence in Okinawa?

A. I think there have been unfortunate incidents that have gotten understandable irritation . . . particularly in Okinawa. We seek to be good neighbors and to avoid incidents that occasionally marred confidence.

If you actually read all of (Hailston's) e-mail . . . it is a plea to his commanders to understand the impact (of misconduct by service members). I know him, and he is a person who is deeply sensitive to the concerns and feelings of (the) Okinawan people.

Q. As for Okinawa's demand for a 15-year time limit on the U.S. military's use of a new airfield to be built as a relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station helicopter operations, is it a matter of principle for the U.S. not to accept any such time limit or do you see any room for compromise?

A. It is difficult to foresee what might be the security circumstances 15 years ahead. The security operational requirements and facilities should be based more on security reality than on specified periods of time. . . . There is no evidence of any dramatic change in (the) security situation on the Korean Peninsula and other places in the region.

Q. The Japanese economy has been in trouble for almost a decade. How do you foresee its future, and what measures do you want to see Japan take to bring the economy back on the right track?

A. I think Japanese business leaders increasingly see deregulation as an important step to ensure the vibrancy of the private sector and the opportunity for new business and economic activities to take place, particularly in sectors like information technology. We were very pleased with the decision to lower the regional and local interconnection rates of NTT. (In addition to) the financial sector, we see great opportunities for deregulation in the medical devices and pharmaceutical, building materials, and power and energy sectors to stimulate Japanese growth.

Two years ago, there were many people who were quite pessimistic about Japan's economic future and many of them believed that there was a serious risk of economic collapse in Japan. Those exaggerated fears have disappeared. I am a very strong believer that, while it may take some months or more, the Japanese economy is going to demonstrate a strong recovery. If Japan continues to move forward (with) deregulation and encouraging investment and restructuring, I think it will benefit its own economy, and that in turn (will) benefit U.S. and international interests.

Q. What do you think is the most important thing for maintaining and strengthening our relations in various areas?

A. I've always wished that we could have a better balance of (American) students studying in Japan to the large number of Japanese studying in the United States. It is still very imbalanced. We need more and more Americans who have the opportunity to study here. We all know that our two countries have very different histories and cultures. . . . It's a relationship that can, if it isn't carefully managed and carefully tended, lead to misunderstanding. This is a relationship, although extraordinary valuable, (that) I would call a high-maintenance relationship. Person-to-person contact is very important.

Q. As you leave Japan, what is your message and advice for the Japanese people? What are your plans back in the United States?

A. I'm leaving around March 1 with very many pleasant memories of being ambassador in Japan. It's a country that I always respected and even more so after having an opportunity to live here. . . . I am going to be a visitor to Japan as a private citizen and look forward to coming back again and again. If I worry about anything, I have a concern that Japan, which has demonstrated a great capacity many times, is perhaps showing a little lack of confidence about the future.

I'm going to go back to Washington D.C. and rejoin the law firm where I was before I came (to Japan) in 1997. I am going to accept a part-time teaching appointment and I am going on the board at several organizations that are interested in U.S.-Japan relations - U.S.-Japan Foundation and Asia Foundation. This is not a retirement; I am going to be very busy. I am going to try in any way I can to continue to work as a private citizen toward maintaining and strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.