Security Alliance, Beef Trade Top Issues in U.S.-Japan Relations

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso signed a new Special Measures Agreement January 23 committing Japan to provide $1.2 billion annually over the next two years to help support the stationing of U.S. forces in Japan, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo announced in a press release.

"The U.S.-Japanese alliance is strong and remains a foundation of Asia's secure peace," Zoellick said at the signing ceremony.

The current structure of the Japanese host nation support emerged in 1991, with the signing of the first Special Measures Agreement. In 2004, Japan spent almost $1 billion to employ 23,055 local employees at U.S. bases.

Zoellick also expressed appreciation for "Japan's involvement in helping to promote peace and democracy around the world, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The deputy secretary is in Japan as part of a weeklong trip to Asia.  After visiting Japan, Zoellick will travel to China January 24-25 to review security issues through the U.S.-China Senior Dialogue in Beijing then travel to Chengdu in Sichuan province to hear regional authorities' views on a changing China.  From China, Zoellick will continue on to Davos, Switzerland, for meetings of the World Economic Forum January 25-28.  (See related article.)


The status of U.S. beef exports to Japan has been one of the topics of discussion during Zoellick's meetings with Japanese officials.

At a January 23 press briefing, the deputy secretary said a recent shipment of U.S. beef to Japan containing pieces of vertebrae was an "unacceptable mistake."

Since the discovery of the problem shipment, Japan has reinstated a ban on U.S. beef originally imposed in December 2003 after a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) was discovered in a U.S. herd in a single cow imported from Canada.

Although the United States does not consider the incident a food safety issue, "we have a commitment under the agreement with Japan about the beef that we brought in," Zoellick said.

According to the October 2004 agreement governing U.S. beef exports to Japan, such products may not contain any "specified risk materials ... including bovine heads (except for tongues and cheek meat, but including tonsils), spinal cords, distal ileum (two meters from connection to caecum), vertebral column (excluding the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the wings of the sacrum and the vertebrae of the tail) of all ages." (See related article.)

"I know it's a great point of sensitivity in Japan," the deputy secretary said, adding the U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed the firm responsible for the problem shipment from the list of approved exporters for Japan and has taken other steps to strengthen the inspection system. (See related article.)

"I think that right now our focus has got to be on remedying the problem," Zoellick said.


Addressing relations between China and Japan, the deputy secretary said that, despite tensions, "the two countries want to have a constructive relationship."

"We're trying to urge both parties to look at the historical record honestly and fairly and openly and appropriately, but to also look to the future and not just the past," he said.

Both countries are enormously important and have strong economic ties, Zoellick said, adding that relations between China, Japan and the United States could be improved by seeking mutual cooperation on interests such as energy security.

Working together on energy-price related issues, such as increasing the variety of sources of oil and gas supplies and cooperating to build strategic petroleum reserves, is relevant to building mutual cooperation, according to Zoellick.

He also cited cooperation between China and Japan at the January 11-12 meeting in Australia of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate during which representatives from China, Japan, the United States, South Korea, Australia and India announced the establishment of eight public-private task forces intended to accelerate clean technology deployment and share best practices in key business sectors. (See related article.)

"I honestly think that this is an area where we should be able to promote considerable common interests," Zoellick said.


The deputy secretary told reporters he planned to discuss Iran's nuclear program during his meetings with senior Chinese officials in Beijing.

"The goal is to stop Iran from having the nuclear fuel cycle process," Zoellick said, adding his discussions with the Chinese will focus on how to get a good strong message to Iran about the dangers of developing nuclear weapons capabilities.

The United States believes that Iran should be referred to the U.N. Security Council to resolve international concern over the goals of that nation's nuclear program, the deputy secretary said. (See related article.)


Resuming the negotiations with China, North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program is another topic Zoellick said he planned to discuss with the Chinese.

The deputy secretary also said he was interested in hearing from the Chinese about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's recent trip to China and about any interest from North Korea in economic reform.

According to media reports, Kim returned January 18 from a weeklong trip to China for visits to industrial sites in southeast China and discussions on resuming the nuclear talks.

When asked about a date for the resumption of Six-Party Talks, Zoellick said that China has urged North Korea to resume talks soon and that some have suggested early February as a possibility.

"That's certainly what we said we would like to do, and I don't believe we've had a response from the North Koreans," he said.  (See U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.)


Turning to trade, Zoellick said he would emphasize the need for China and the United States to make progress during the meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in April.

The JCCT was established in 1983 as a government-to-government consultative mechanism to resolve bilateral trade issues and promote commercial opportunities between the United States and China.  Senior officials from both nations chair the JCCT annual plenary session. (See related article.)

Zoellick cited intellectual property rights and improving U.S. access to Chinese markets as key topics for the April talks.

The deputy secretary also said he would meet with some Chinese nongovernmental organizations to discuss "the rule of law" and judicial capacity.

For additional information on U.S. policies, see East Asia and the Pacific.

The text of a press release on the Special Measures Agreement is available on the U.S. Embassy Tokyo Web site.

The transcript of Zoellick's press roundtable in Japan is available on the State Department's Web site.