East Asia through the Prism of the U.S.-Japan Relationship

Thomas Foley, Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan
May 24, 2001

MR. FOLEY: Thank you very much. I have great pleasure in being here today, particularly because of an old friendship and association with Peter Kovach, so I'm delighted to have this opportunity.

As Peter said, I returned to the United States in the first week of April. I originally intended to return around the first of the year, but I was asked to stay for a time because of the tragic submarine incident which saddened all of us in the United States. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy. I think the strength of our relationship has allowed us to overcome the immediate consequences of that very, very tragic event. And it is certainly true that the U.S.- Japan relationship, I think, is very strong indeed. There's a new administration in Washington and a new administration in Tokyo - a new prime minister and a new cabinet - and both of the administrations are advancing new policies and new approaches to existing problems. In either case, there is some controversy about the proposals that have been offered. But there is no controversy about the commitment of both governments to maintaining and possibly even strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship.

One of the first things that Prime Minister Koizumi said upon assuming responsibility was to reaffirm that the U.S.-Japan relationship was a cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy. And President Bush, both during the campaign and subsequently, indicated that his administration would emphasize and underscore the fact that has been true in our policy for 40 years or more: that the U.S.-Japan relationship is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. And in the words of Mike Mansfield, "the most important bilateral relationship in the world, from the standpoint of the United States, has always been the relationship between the United States and Japan."

Nevertheless, there are always problems in this relationship. It is one that Prime Minister Obuchi celebrated as being based on common values which informed and supported common interests. But as everyone knows, the history and culture of the two countries are vastly different. Japan is an ancient country and a new democracy. The United States is a young country and an old democracy. But they share very much the important institutions of parliamentary democracies, open elections, freedom of determination of governments by their people. They share, of course, an open market economy, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a respect for human rights, respect for individual liberties. One can go down the list a very long time and recognize that the United States and Japan have a constant interest in all these areas of institutional democracy and free economy.

However, the United States and Japan, of course, developed this relationship out of a bitter adversarial condition in the Pacific war. And it is a remarkable event, I think, that the relationship is going so strong, coming from those very difficult years. The United States and Japan - this is obvious, but just to underscore it - have a fundamental military security relationship which is being examined, I think, in both capitals. Prime Minister Koizumi has indicated that his government may - or he personally would like to see some modifications, either of interpretation or of the constitutional limitations of Japan's self-defense force concept. And he has spoken positively about collective security opportunities for Japan. In United States, several of the important figures in the new administration, particularly Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage in the famous Nye-Armitage report, emphasized the need to develop a broader security relationship with Japan.

One of the difficult areas is Okinawa. Because of the presence of so many of our bases and forces there, there has been a conscious effort on the part of United States and Japan to try to minimize the occasional difficult irritability of that situation. And one of the things that was accomplished by my predecessor was to develop the so- called Sako (sp) report, a special action report on Okinawa, which was concluded in December of 1996 and is largely on the way to full implementation. There are some - still are important elements of that to be concluded, particularly the movement of the (Kadena ?) air station.

I think the other great area, of course, is our economic relationship, which has been of concern to both countries. The United States, for the past three years, has been concerned that Japan's economic recovery was slow, that there was a beginning - a very positive beginning of more direct foreign investment in Japan, obviously infusion of great amounts of public money, and stabilizing the banks, and restructuring have gone forward in important areas. But we still feel, as many in Japan feel, that a full addressing of the problem of bad loans in the banks and real estate that lies behind them is an important part of economic reform and adjustment in Japan.

The new Prime Minister is enjoying, as far as I know, unprecedented popularity. His recent polling figures range from 80 to 90 percent. I'm sure most of the Japanese correspondents and others who are familiar with Japan would agree that most of these Prime Minister would be happy to have half of that, or maybe a third of that. So - (chuckles) - one wonders at this remarkable level of public confidence. But I think it is a very happy event because, in my judgment, one of the difficult difficulties in Japanese economic recovery has been the sense of some undue pessimism and lack of confidence on the part of the Japanese public itself. The feeling that things weren't changing, that the political system was not sufficiently responsive, I think, has had an impact in the economic sphere as people have tended to view the future in a somewhat dour way, and Japanese reactions to the difficult times or difficult judgments about the future has been to increase savings rather than increase consumption. And the consumption sector of the Japanese economy has been one of the persistent lagging problems in Japanese recovery. Sixty percent of the Japanese economy is in consumer spending. But as far as I know, Japan is of the few, if not the only country where people over 70 are adding to their savings, not drawing from their savings.

So if the new administration brings a greater sense of public confidence and enthusiasm, one believes that that might spill over into the economic sector and bring greater economic optimism.

One of the things that troubled me in Japan - I'm going to end with this - was, just before I left, there were - in the year before - polls that asked - not business executives, but the general Japanese population, "What country to think will be the second-largest economy in the world 10 years, 15 years from now?" And the answer in plurality - it was a divided response - was China, not Japan. More Japanese suggested that China would be the second-largest economy than Japanese predicting the Japan would be the second-largest economy.

Now China has a dynamic economy; a very impressive one and it is moving very rapidly, but if - as far as I understand the relationship - if China achieves its very ambitious objective of doubling the size of the Chinese economy in the next 10 years, and Japan does nothing - does not grow all - the Japanese economy will still be about twice the size of the Chinese economy at the end of the decade.

That's not a reflection against China; it is an underscoring of how strong, fundamentally, the Japanese economy is. Or, another way to put it is how large it is - occupying almost 70 percent of the entire economy of Asia.

I believe personally that Japan is going to see an economic recovery of greater dimension in the coming years. In areas like information technology, particularly, I think Japan will demonstrate, as it is doing now, that it has the capacity, again, to lead the world in key technologies and to move forward in a way that it did so dramatically in the '60s, '70s and 80s of the last century. So in that sense I'm very positive about the economic future of Japan.

I'm taking too much time in the formal remarks, so I would like to just stop at this point, and welcome your questions.

MODERATOR: Your question, sir.

Q I'm - (name, affiliation inaudible) - you alluded to the issue regarding Japan's right of collective self defense. But as you know, that there is prohibition on the exercise of Japan's own right of self defense has been debated on by - (inaudible) - and others in the Japanese Diet for possible revision. And Bush administration officials also informally encourages Japanese side to remove that long-standing ban, allegedly for the closer defense cooperation for contingencies between the two countries. I know this is one issue that Japan should eventually make a decision on, but I like to hear your view from the standpoint of management of the alliance.

MR. FOLEY: Well, of course it goes without saying that the decision about Article Nine or any other feature of the Japanese Constitution, which is now under consideration, is totally a matter for Japan. And the United States has no official position of any kind with respect to the possible revision of the Japanese Constitution. We would hope that, either through interpretation or through whatever legislative or other changes that might be involved, that Japan could take a stronger position in peacekeeping operations.

Japan today is restricted by its own interpretation of what it can do in peacekeeping operations in a rather severe way. As you know, there have to be five conditions before Japanese peacekeeping can involve direct use of Japanese self-defense forces or other forces - police forces. And those circumstances very rarely - (chuckles) - exist, or when they do exist, there's hardly much need for peacekeeping operations, to put it another way. So I think we would welcome that. And we would hope that there would be opportunities for Japan to engage in perhaps a closer relationship on some joint activities. But how this can be done and whether it involves an amendment to the constitution and whether the Japanese public and government wish to move in the direction is entirely a matter for Japan to decide.

Q My name is Ben Bangola (sp). I'm Washington correspondent for - (inaudible) - news. I would like to know, first of all, what lies ahead when Tom Daschle becomes majority leader in the Senate as a result of expected switchover by senator from Vermont?

And my second question is, Secretary Powell is also touring Africa, promoting African Growth and Opportunity Act. Can that law, passed by Congress last year, evolve with Republican administration?

MR. FOLEY: I'm sorry, what - the Congress --

Q Yes, I would like to know --

MODERATOR: The second question is --

Q The second question, Colin Powell - Secretary Powell is touring Africa, promoting trade, investment under AGOA.


Q Could that law - would that law evolve with the new Republican administration?

MR. FOLEY: Let me --

MODERATOR: What he means is the Africa Growth --

Q Opportunity Act - has it changed, to grow under Republican administration?

MR. FOLEY: Now, yeah. Well, I think there is, as you know, a recent action of the Congress to encourage closer trade relations with Africa. And this administration is committed to that policy, as well as the last administration.

I don't think that I am even - because of my political background in my political background in the Congress - considered an expert on the Senate. I was Speaker of the House - (chuckles)--- and these are rather different bodies. And by the way, I learned when I was nominated to be ambassador to Japan by President Clinton how important the Senate was. I suddenly developed a great respect for the Senate that - (laughter). I always had respect, but even greater --

But there's no doubt this is an historic event. And you probably heard Senator Jeffords today. He intends to leave the Republican Party, become an independent, and to vote with the Democrats to organize the Senate. The obvious conclusion of that is that when that happens - and he says he will not do that until the bill on tax reduction is placed on the president's desk for signing - that Senator Daschle is presumed to be the next majority leader. And that would mean, normally, that the committee chairmanships would move from Republicans to Democrats, and the parties would just change places. That's not a matter of light consequence. The majority leader, like the speaker, moves the agenda of the Senate. The committee chairmen largely determine the scope of - and the schedule, and agenda of their committees - not totally, but in very large part. So it will have very great impact, I think, certainly on the business of the Senate.

Q Richard Finney (sp) with Radio Free Asia. Japan and the U.S. seem to be a little out of step on the issue of human rights in that Japan seems very quick to grant development aid countries to countries like Burma and Vietnam. Do you foresee any better cooperation or kind of mutual alignment between Japan in the U.S. on that kind of issue?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think, in fairness to the Japanese government - I'm not a spokesman for the Japanese government - but the Japanese government would say that we desire the same consequence. We desire to see parliamentary democracy and be recognized in what we call Burma and others call Myanmar. And the differences are that we have opposed any extension of serious infrastructural aid to Burma until the proper actions are taken with respect to the opposition party. Japan has decided to conclude a previous commitment on a hydroelectric dam, but - and to some extent, on an airport, which they argue is necessary for safety purposes. But there is no opening of the aid gates by Japan. And the United States and Japan, I think, share that common goal of supporting parliamentary democracy and recognition of it by the present regime.

Q (Inaudible) - magazine. With the collective security between the United States and Japan - (inaudible) - what kind of picture do you see when you introduce China into the picture?

MR. FOLEY: Well, both the United States and Japan desire a positive and constructive relationship with China. Both of our policies reflect a one-China policy, both of our countries desire to have peaceful and improving relations with China, and we are, I think, are very much committed to that goal.

The area of Chinese military activity, including its buildup of its forces, is not one that has created any overall sense of alarm, and I don't think that the U.S.-Japan relationship should create that reaction in China. In fact, for many years the U.S.-Japan relationship has included a strong security component. And I don't foresee, personally, that there will be anything that will threaten China or legitimately be considered as threatening China, or depart from the intention of both countries to have positive, constructive and improved relations with China.

MODERATOR: Someone in back.

Q My name is Murray Hebert (sp), Far Eastern Economic Review.

Ambassador, you referred to the Nye-Armitage report.

Can you tell us, when the report was released here, what reaction did the Japanese officials have to that, and what aspects are they interested in, and what might they not be interested in?

MR. FOLEY: It was very widely read in Japan. I think the report was considered of very great significance in Japan, as it was here. But my sense is that the report was probably directed even more to a domestic U.S. audience than to any audience overseas or any foreign audience. But it received great attention immediately in Japan. I was asked about the Armitage report by every senior Japanese official, almost, that I spoke to. And they found it one of great interest and significance.

The report, I think, if you've read it, is eloquent on the importance of the relationship. I think it shoots for a relationship - or aims at a relationship between the United States and Japan similar to the U.S.-British relationship. I'm not sure that that's a good comparison, but it certainly is one that reflects the desire of both countries to very strong, open, consultative relations. And I think the report is well schooled on that point.

Some of what the report urges is already being done, frankly. I mean, the United States is urging, along with Japan's help, greater foreign direct investment in Japan. The United States and Japan have been working to open up our markets more fully. We have very good consultation on a host of issues including our mutual relations with North Korea. So I think the report is a very good one, but it points to some future changes including, particularly, the possibility of defusing training in Okinawa, and even reducing the level of Marine presence in Okinawa that has excited a lot of interest, particularly in Okinawa.

MODERATOR: Over here.

Q Thank you. Ole Orset, Nordic Media.

Mr. Ambassador, here in D.C. we have probably one of the strongest symbols of Japanese-American friendship around the Tidal Basin and in the blooming cherry blossom trees. But we also have seen some troubled incidences over the years. You mentioned Okinawa, we saw the submarine accident, and so forth. Now we have the Pearl Harbor movie out. What kind of impact do you think that will have in the American --

MR. FOLEY: I don't think it will have any. I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm not a good critic, but I can personally suggest that - I haven't sensed any nervousness about the movie's release in Japan. The movie, according to all the critics I've seen, celebrates the courage of individual soldiers and sailors and airmen. It doesn't demonize Japan, it doesn't go into an effort to still up old feelings. And it's basically a love story. Two things: it celebrates the courage of that generation, and it's a - has a high of degree of romantic interest. I think it will be a hit in Japan. My guess is it's going to go over well in Japan. We'll see, but I wouldn't be at all surprised, and that's what I expect.

Q (Inaudible) - Nikkei Newspaper, the Japanese daily newspaper.

A question about Taiwan. Both Japan and America had some difficulties the last couple of months in specific to Taiwan. In a sense, do you think the U.S. and Japan have some cooperation in the management of Taiwan policy, or is Taiwan can be sort of uncertain factor?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think, again, you know, the countries have a similar circumstance in this respect: both countries recognize China as one China. Neither country recognizes Taiwan as an independent or separate entity - state entity. Both countries, however, have groups of citizens who admire the development not only of the economy, but of democratic institutions in Taiwan. So that has caused, from time to time, some controversial problems such as China's reaction to meetings that some individual Americans might have with Taiwan officials, when they have on occasion been allowed to transit through the United States or Japan, in the Japanese case.

But, again, the two policies of the countries are identical.

Q How damaging is the spy plane in the U.S.-Chinese relationship? And how does missile defense system fit into that?

MR. FOLEY: The plane incident?

Q Yes.

MR. FOLEY: Oh, the plane incident was an unfortunate incident. The U.S. position is clearly the plane was operating in international airspace and its contact with the Japanese - rather, the Chinese Air Force led to a very regrettable accident, and one that we do not feel was, in any case or in any way, the result of any actions by the U.S. aircraft crew. And, you know, the Chinese have told a different story, but - and, there's no doubt it was a very irritable incident between the two countries which I hope we are going to finally resolve. The Chinese announced yesterday that the plane would be returned in crates.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. FOLEY: Oh, missile defense? Well, the U.S. government is committed - this administration is committed to consultation with its allies and others about its plans to develop a missile defense system. At the present time, to my knowledge, the technology does not exist to deploy such a system, so we are undertaking on the part of - the U.S. government is undertaking to discuss this matter with not only the Russian Federation but with European allies and our allies in the Pacific area. Japan is participating on a research program on the theater missile defense, which is, again, in a research mode.

Q Sujono from Suara Merdeka, Indonesia. I was just wondering, how to you foresee the APEC? Do you think it will continue to be a viable organization?

MR. FOLEY: I hope so. I think APEC has served a very important purpose and it needs to have a strong commitment from the countries involved so that it can continue to be a significant process in the liberalization of trade and in broader economic relations between the countries in the Asia-Pacific region. I hope very much that it will have a continued and viable future.

MODERATOR: Let's see if someone else who hasn't asked a question - (pause) - then let's go back to where we started.

Q I'm from the Sankei Shimbun, again.

Mr. Howard Baker was confirmed by the Senate as your successor yesterday. And if you were to give any words of advice or caution, what would they be? (Laughter.)

MR. FOLEY: I've already spoken to - several times to Senator Baker, who is an old friend of mine. And by the way, I'm absolutely delighted with his appointment, and I congratulate the president, as well as Howard Baker and Nancy Kassebaum Baker. It's a splendid appointment in every way, and he will represent United States with great distinction in Japan.

The - I think my advice is - has been pretty limited. There's not very much I need to suggest to Howard Baker. I had hoped to learn more Japanese than I did, and so I told him that it is difficult when you are at our more senior years to learn a difficult language, but whatever he can learn will be useful. He should try to get out of Tokyo as much as possible. Tokyo is one of the great cities of the world, but Japan has so many wonderful places to see and to go - 47 different prefectures. I had promised myself that I would try to do what Japanese ambassadors do in the United States, visiting all the states. I wasn't able to do that, but I regretted I didn't do more of it, and now as a private citizen, when I go back to Japan I'm going to make up for that a little bit.

When I asked Mike Mansfield, when I was going out to Japan, for his advice - because we're old friends, too - he said, "Be yourself." And I think that's pretty good advice. Most, I think, people who go to Japan find it's a marvelous experience; they find that it's a great honor, particularly because of the long and distinguished line of American ambassadors that precede you. But you can't be somebody else. You have to be yourself, and as you see your own responsibilities, to try to represent the interests of the United States well.

I was criticized a bit, frankly, for being too friendly to Japan. When my nomination was announced, a couple of publications suggested that I was too much of a "chrysanthemum club" as they put it, "member" - too much of an open, sort of, Japanophile.

And so at my confirmation hearing, I was asked if that would be a problem. And I told another story about Mike Mansfield.

George Shultz, when he was Secretary of State, used to have a large globe next to his desk, and when he would meet ambassadors or ambassadors-to-be, he would very often say "Ambassador, show me your country," meaning, show me the country to which you are going to be posted or accredited. Now when he did that with Mike Mansfield, Mike took the globe and swung it around to the western United States and pointed at a large state next to mine - Montana - and said, "Mr. Secretary, this is my country." And what I meant to convey by that - I think every ambassador knows it's a great honor to go to Japan, our strong and loyal and wonderful ally and partner, but we go to represent the United States. And I hope we can all, in our own way, do that well. And doing that well, I think, also supports U.S.-Japan relations.

MODERATOR: Let's go to - (off mike) --

Q (Off mike) - right now they have two Japanese baseball players. (Laughter.)

MR. FOLEY: (Chuckles.) The most famous people in my state right now.

Q Any comment for those two Japanese players?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I hope they stay and they don't get weaned away. They're doing a great job.

Q Second question is a whaling issue. Now you are a private citizen, so - a sort of primitive question - is there culture difference between U.S. and Japan for dealing with whaling issues, or the way the Japanese government be opened up. The last year's decision was bad, I mean - I'm saying the Japanese approach was bad, or can you say something about whaling issues?

MR. FOLEY: About which issues?

Q About whaling?

MODERATOR: Whaling. About the whales.

MR. FOLEY: Whaling? Oh, the whaling issue, I'm sorry, sorry, yes. Well, we actually take very - this is one of the areas that is, unfortunately, one of - an irritable issue, a difficult issue. The United States, by the way, is not alone in having concern about Japanese whaling activities. The Irish ambassador, when I was in Tokyo, led a delegation of 13 countries to make an official objection to the expansion of the Japanese so-called-scientific whaling expedition. And, on the other hand, I think it would also be fair to say that this is an issue on which foreign concerns, as real and sincere as they are, have had a limited reaction on the Japanese people. There is not, to my judgment, a very strong recognition in Japan - at least not a vocal one - of the problems that the Japanese whaling policy has brought. And so it remains one of those issues on which we don't agree.

You can almost say, though, that - to me it's interesting that - where are the differences in U.S.-Japan policy: whaling; a slight nuance - and not-so-slight in terms of our feeling about it - but on Burma. And it's very difficult to find many others where the United States and Japan find themselves in a different policy internationally or domestic - on domestic issues - of the economy. So, again, it's a matter of emphasis and nuance rather than any sharp differences. I think we are about as close as most allies can get.

MODERATOR: We have time for a couple more questions.

Q There are reports that U.S. global strategic focus is shifting towards Northeast Asia. Do you see that kind of tendency?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think - obviously there has been a concern about the circumstances on the Korean peninsula. In 1998, Bill Perry went to North Vietnam, and there was an important change in policy, at least to the extent of there being the famous summit between Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jong.

This administration has taken some time to reexamine their policy. I think, personally, they will reaffirm - I guess, I am not informed on this, so this is my surmise - that they will, again, strongly encourage Japan, the United States and South Korea to maintain a policy of encouraging peaceful development of the relations with North Korea. But at the present time, one of the concerns, I think, that this administration has, is that there has not been much evidence, as far as I know, of a relaxation of military activities or operations on the North Korean border. And so the administration - the president, I think, is looking to see - I'm not his spokesman, but - looking to see some movement in that direction.

MODERATOR: The last question over here.

Q Mariko Ikiro (ph) with Kokai TV. Looking back at your tenure in Japan, what was your most gratifying experience, and what was your most frustrating? And how would you compare the caliber of the Japanese politicians to that of your former colleagues?

MR. FOLEY: (Chuckles.) Well, I don't have any problem with that - I will take that question first.

I first came to Japan in 1968--69 to take part in what was then called the second Shimoda conference, which brought together Japanese and American business and government officials. For a long time, I was very active in supporting and encouraging parliamentary exchanges between the United States and Japan. So I have known, over the past 30 years, leaders of the Japanese political parties, pretty much across spectrum, and they are people of enormous ability. Some of my best friends were Japanese political leaders, and not just LDP, but in other parties as well. I value very much my friendship with Madame Doi, for example, who was the speaker of the Japanese Diet.

And so I think - parliamentarians share a bond because we have the same tasks, which are to represent our constituents and move our country in the direction we think is best for our people. And so when you see that in another country, in a kind of another parliamentary body, you recognize it and you share a bond and a sense of relationship with the people who are involved in that important profession. I have the highest respect for Japanese politicians, if you want to say that - Diet people, government officials. Obviously the Japanese bureaucracy is one of the most talented and one of the most respected in the world.

Now, one can argue about whether there should be greater or less role for Japanese ministries in setting policies, but there is no question of the enormous talent and ability of officials of the Japanese government, and every country that has had any contact with Japan recognizes that.

Let me - help me on the other question.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. FOLEY: Oh, most frustrating - the most difficult - the most difficult one was not so much a policy question, but this is a very, very sad consequence of the Ehime Maru. I felt deeply saddened by that because it was a total unnecessary accident. It was really beyond explanation how it happened, and it involved the loss of life of nine people, including four students. The representatives of the families - two fathers both lost teenage sons. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy. And when you are living through - or were on the periphery of it, as I was - you never forget it. Now, I think and hope that we've - as I say - been able to go forward from that.

The most - the happiest one, I guess, was just getting to know Japanese people well. I cannot remember a single - now maybe ambassadors don't have this problem, but I can't remember a single personal unpleasant association or contact with anybody in Japan. You know, even the protesters outside the embassy sometimes waved - (laughter) - when I went in. That's - very few places in the world that you have that experience. (Laughter.) That was the greatest thing - the chance to live in Japan and to see - and - (inaudible) - and I had some great pleasure in getting to know some Japanese friends very well and very personally. We would've had more opportunity if both of us had been better at the language, but that's just my problem. I should have learned it at seven rather than try to learn it at 70. I would sometimes order a particular beverage at a reception and get ice water, which was the result of my bad Japanese rather than anything else. (Chuckles.)

MODERATOR: We thank you very much.

MR. FOLEY: Yes, thank you very much. I appreciate your coming today.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Foley, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your good questions.