Greater Dialogue Needed to Overcome Political Obstacles to U.S.-Japan Relations

Greater Dialogue Needed to Overcome Political Obstacles to U.S.-Japan Relations

The quick one-day visit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Washington Nov. 16 was by all accounts a successful "meet and greet." However, it fell far short of the substantive policy agreements and memorable photo-ops that characterized such meetings during the era of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Bush and Fukuda had open discussions on issues ranging from North Korea to global warming to beef. However, the lack of substantive agreements that resulted highlights alarming trends in the U.S.-Japan alliance. If not properly managed, the new rifts in the alliance -- in large part attributable to domestic challenges in Tokyo -- have the ability to undermine future bilateral cooperation.

Fukuda's visit to Washington occurred during a time of enormous uncertainty in the U.S.-Japan alliance. Though the alliance remains on firm footing and the foundation of America's Asia policy, recent tensions regarding Japan's commitment to anti-terror cooperation with the U.S. military and dismay over America's perceived "soft line" policy toward North Korea are signs of unrest and instability in the alliance.

It is unlikely that the 71-year-old Fukuda will share the same rapport that Bush and Koizumi did, but both leaders should seek to revitalize the continuity and collegiality that the alliance experienced during the early years of the Bush tenure. Domestic politics constrained Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, and, after its July takeover of the upper house of Japan's Diet, Fukuda faces even stronger opposition from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in pursuing his foreign policy objectives.

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