RELATIONS BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN

UNITED STATES AND JAPAN

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Japan and the U.S. compared
by size and latitude
Japan is one of the closest allies of the United States. It has stayed close with the United States even when many other allies abandoned it during the Iraq war. The United States views Japan as being at the center of a U.S. vision for Asia, with Japan and the United States being key allies in the face of challenges of rising China and threatening North Korea.

The United States-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region U.S. Senator John McCain has called it “the indispensable anchor of peace, prosperity and freedom in the Asia-Pacific.” In the 1950s U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower called the U.S.-Japan relationship an “indestructable partnership.” When he was ambassador to Japan veteran American politician Mike Mansfield called the Japan-U.S. bond “the world’s most important bilateral relationship.”

In 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, Tokyo and Washington signed the U.S.-Japan Security treaty, in part to make Japan an ally against Communism during the Cold War. In the 1980s American politicians who are regarded as too friendly to the Japanese are called members of the Chrysanthemum Club.

In 1992, President George Bush had suddenly come down with the flu during a state dinner and vomited all over Japanese foreign minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who cradled Bush in his arms and tried to help him.

Japan and the United States are increasingly oriented their joint foreign policy and military strategy around containing and dealing with China and North Korea.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan -U.S. Relations mofa.go.jp/region/n-america/us ; U.S. State Department on Japan www.state.gov/p/eap/ci/ja ; U.S. State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs state.gov/p/eap ; 150th Anniversary of Japan -U.S. Relations mofa.go.jp ;Essay on Business and Japan and U.S. Relations aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japan Policy Research Institute jpri.org ;

U.S. Embassy in Japan: Tameike Tokyu Bldg., 1-14, Akasaka 1-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107, ☎ [81]-(3)-3224-5115, telex: J29180, fax: [81]-(3)-3582-6429. There are also consulates in Osaka and Fukuoka. Japanese Embassy in the United States: 2530 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20008, ☎ (202)-939-6700, fax: (202)-328-2187.

Links in this Website: JAPANESE MILITARY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CHANGING JAPANESE MILITARY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AMERICAN MILITARY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN AND THE WORLD Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TERRORISM, PIRACY AND KIDNAPPING AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN, IRAQ, IRAN AND AFRICA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SOUTH KOREA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NORTH KOREA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CHINA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RUSSIA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; UNITED STATES AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;TRADE AND OVERSEAS BUSINESS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;TOURISM AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources on Foreign Affairs : Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan mofa.go.jp and mofa.go.jp ; Paper on Development of Japanese International Relations allacademic.com ; Wikipedia article on Foreign Policy of Japan Wikipedia ; Foreign Policy Magazine on the New Hatoyama Government foreignpolicy.com ; Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies japanesestudies.org ;The World and Japan Database Project ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp ;Japan in the World (last updated in 2003) iwanami.co.jp/jpworld ; Book: Japan’s International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security amazon.ca/Japans-International-Relations

Think Tanks and Research Groups: Japan Policy Research Institute jpri.org ; The Japan Forum on International Relations jfir.or.jp/e ; Japan Watch, Commentary on Political and Economic Issues jipr.org ; Japanese Institute of Global Communications glocom.org ; Japan Analysis and Research Through Internet Information dandoweb.com ; Documents Related to Postwar Politics and International Relations ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp ; Foreign Aid Organizations: Japan and the IMF imf.org ; World Bank (click countries at the top or do a search) worldbank.org ;Japan International Cooperation Agency jica.go.jp ;

Japan and the United States as Foreign Policy Partners

Richard Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state wrote Japan and the United States are engaged in “mutual efforts to promote regional stability in places such as the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, and our joint efforts in overseas development programs and international peace support operations. Further, there is China. For all of us, its reemergence on the world stage may be the most important event to take place in the first half of the 21st century. There are many possible scenarios for how that will occur, but our interests rest in making sure it is peaceful. In that regard, our best prospect lies in having China rise in a region full of strong, vibrant democracies. Japan, together with the United States, Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, must stand as a bulwark against destabilizing forces.

For Japan to downgrade its presence and influence in the region and beyond would only cede ground to incompatible values and interests...A retreat by Japan from the world stage would not only reduce the strength of the alliance, but it would remove Japan as a force for stability in the region and around the world. As I have argued in the past, the strength of the alliance depends on a more equal partnership between our two nations. Were Japan to withdraw from its important international engagement, the less equal that partnership would become, putting at risk important endeavors

Americans like Japan Best in Asia While Japanese Views Towards the U.S. Are More Complex

In May 2012, Jiji Press reported: “More Americans regard Japan as the United States' most important partner in Asia, a survey by the Japanese Foreign Ministry showed. About 50 percent of Americans consider Japan most important, up 19 percentage points from the previous year, followed by China, which was unchanged at 39 percent, the ministry said. Japan retook the top slot after being overtaken by China in last year's survey. [Source: Jiji Press, May 24, 2012]

Among a group of influential people questioned in the poll, China ranked top at 54 percent, up eight points, while Japan came second at 40 percent, up 12 points. China remained top for the third straight year. In a question about the most important partner, respondents were asked to choose from three countries--Japan, China and Russia. Last year, Australia, South Korea and India were added to the list. Commissioned by the ministry, the U.S. polling service Gallup Inc. conducted the survey in February and March on 1,200 members of the general public and 200 people in leading positions in the government, business, academia and other areas in the United States. [Ibid]

In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Ninety-four percent of Japanese respondents to a recent opinion poll appreciate the U.S. military's relief operations for Japan in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. According to the joint survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup from late November to early December, 94 percent of Japanese respondents said they appreciate the relief operations, in which up to 20,000 U.S. service members each day searched for missing people, transported relief supplies and engaged in other emergency activities. Seventy-five percent of U.S. respondents were satisfied with the U.S. operations. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 19, 2011]

However, the poll also revealed that Japanese appreciation of U.S. help after the March 11 disaster did not necessarily result in improved feelings toward the United States. For the second year in a row, the number of Japanese respondents who viewed Japan-U.S. relations negatively outnumbered those who saw the relations positively. The percentage of Japanese who said Japan-U.S relations were "good" or "very good" was 35 percent, while the percentage of those who called relations "poor" or "very poor" was 41 percent. The figures went up by 2 percentage points and 1 percentage point from last year, respectively. The percentage of respondents who said they trust the United States "very much" or "somewhat" was 47 percent, down 5 points from 2010. Forty-two percent said they do not trust the country "very much" or "at all," up 5 points from last year. [Ibid]

Eighty-two percent of Japanese respondents think the lack of progress on relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture has had a negative impact on the bilateral relationship, up 3 percentage points from last year. This result may suggest that Japanese people's anxiety over the Japan-U.S. alliance is preventing their feelings toward the United States from improving. [Ibid]

Meanwhile, 52 percent of U.S. respondents said Japan-U.S relations were "good" or "very good," while only 8 percent of them said the relations were "poor" or "very poor." On the Futenma Air Station issue, 59 percent said they do not know much about the topic--an answer choice only available for U.S. respondents. The percentage of respondents who said Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord was 50 percent in Japan and 72 percent in the United States. On a question asking respondents to choose domestic institutions they trust--with multiple answers allowed--the Self-Defense Forces topped the Japanese list with 75 percent, up 12 percentage points from last year. It was the first time the SDF was chosen as the most reliable institution. The telephone survey was conducted on 1,023 people in Japan from Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, and on 1,006 people in the United States from Nov. 28 to Dec. 4. [Ibid]

Japanese Hostility Towards the United States

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Japanese P.M. Koizumu at Graceland with
Elvis's wife and daughter
and George and Laura Bush
The 1989 bestseller, The Japan That Can Say No by Shintaro Ishihara argued that trade disputed between Japan and the United States were based on American racism and desire to dominate Japan militarily.

In a December 2004 Gallup survey, 53 percent of Japanese said they distrusted the United States. Many ordinary Japanese were not happy about their government’s Iraq policy. Polls showed that most Japanese were opposed to involvement by Japan in Iraq. One Japanese man told the Washington Post, “Bush...wants support on Iraq. When it comes to the United States, were are stuck in the role of a yes-man. No matter how much we disagree with America on this issue, were are not in a position to say no.”

A housewife told the Washington Post, “I am dead against sending the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq...Koizumi is supporting the U.S. regardless of the meaning of U.S. actions, to an extent that is embarrassing.

The United States and Japan have some disagreement over the handling of North Korea.

Relations Between the U.S. and Japan During the Clinton Years

Many Japanese do not look back on the Clinton years with any fondness. Many see the period as dominated by talk of “trade wars”. Trade representative Mickey Kantor who was seen as the face of the Clinton administration in Japan was regarded as abrasive and pushy

See Trade, Economics

Relations Between the U.S. and During the Bush Years

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Koizumi and Bush
Japan was one of the “coalition of the willing” that supported the United States in the war in Iraq in 2003. The United States has said it would support Japan’s bid to take a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

U.S. President George Bush and Japanese President Juichiro Koizumi were on very good terms. Bush met Koizumi’s successor Shinzo Abe in Washington in April 2007 and gave him a very cordial welcome.

See Iraq,

See Koizumi, Abe, Fukuda, Aso

Relations Between the U.S. and Japan Under Obama

Japan was the first country visited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after U.S. President Barrak Obama took office in January 2008. During her March 2009 visit Clinton met with Prime Minister Aso, opposition leader Ozawa, families of North Korean abductees, and Shinto priests at Meiji Jingu shrine. She embraced the Empress like an old friend when they met. Earlier she said “Our alliance with Japan is a cornerstone of American policy in Asia, essential to maintaining peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.” In February, Aso visited Washington to meet with Obama who called Japan a “great partner.”

The citizens of the town of Obama in Fukui Prefecture are big fans of Barrak Obama A volunteer group in the city put up “Ganbaree Obama!” (Go Obama!) posters and created a special daruma good-luck doll for him when he was running for off. Their efforts received worldwide attention. In March 2008 the town received a letter from Obama in which he said: “I am touched by your friendly gesture. We share more than a common name we share a common planet and common responsibilities.”

When Obama, won the election the people of Obama, Fukui Prefecture honored the new President-elect with a hula dance, a nod to Obama’s home state of Hawaii. Studying English using a book of Obama speeches was popular after the 2008 election.

Some Japanese did not welcome Obama’s victory so warmly. They felt he would favor China over Japan, and bring back Clinton-era protectionism and trade wars to protect American jobs

U.S. and Japan Relations Under Obama and Hatoyama

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Hatoyama and Obama
The Japanese were greatly moved by Obama’s speech in Prague in April 2009 in which called for an abolition of nuclear weapons, with some seeming to thinks he was going to do something in the immediate future to reach that ideal. Invitations by the mayors and Hiroshima and Nagasaki for Obama to come to their cities were given a lot of media attention.

U.S. President Barack Obama came Japan in November 2009 on visit that was reduced from two days to a day so Obama could make a speech at a funeral for mass-murdered military personnel. During his stay Obama 1) met with the Japanese Emperor, 2) held discussions with Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama on controversial measures such as the use of military bases, 3) insisted that relation between Japan and the United States were as strong as ever and 4) mentioned his fondness for green-tea-flavored ice cream. Some Japanese took note that Obama spent one night in Japan while he spent three nights in China.

After the election in August 2009, the DPJ said it would pursue a “more equal” and independent path with Washington than it had in the past. Hatoyama said it was important “for both sides to be able to firmly say what needs to be said, and to increase the relationship of trust.” Even before he took office Prime Minister Hatoyama raised some eyebrows when he asserted “the era if U.S.-led globalization is coming to an end.” He also said he was a “big fan” of the United States.

In August 2010, a U.S. ambassador (John Roos) for the first time attended the ceremony marking the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima. Some Japanese were upset he also didn’t attend the Nagasaki ceremony some while conservative Americans were angered that it implied an “unsaid apology” for the dropping of the bomb. A month and half later Roos visited Nagasaki.

In a survey in conducted in December 2010, by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup polls, 40 percent of Japanese respondents said they felt that Japan-U.S. relations were poor. The dispute over the relocation of the Futenma base was sited by 79 percent of Japanese as a factor that has undermined the relationship.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the Japan -U.S. Alliance “the cornerstone” of U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and said the commitment of the United States to the defense of Japan was “unshakable.” Obama visited Japan when the APEC meeting was held in Yokohama in November 2010. During his two-stay he took time to make a helicopter side trip to Kamakura, which he visited with his mother when he was six, and saw the Great Buddha statue there and had a green-tea-flavored ice cream bar.

Ties between the United States and Japan appeared to have been strengthened by support and aid given by the U.S. to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Japan was thankful for he “outstanding support” from the United States and “We’ll never forget U.S. assistance.”

See tsunami

Futenma Base Issue

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Hatoyama and Obama
After the Hatoyama government was elected in August 2009 a big deal was made the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine’s Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, which local people objected to because it was the source of so much noise. According to the plan, agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 2006 before Hatoyama took office, the flight operations of Futenma’s noisy helicopter facility would be moved a coastal area of Camp Schwab in Nago, a less populated part of Okinawa and 8,000 Marines would be moved from Okinawa to Guam.

According to the deal much of the base at Nago would be made on land reclaimed from the sea to minimize the impact on residents. Among the biggest objectors to the deal were residents of Nago and environmentalist who opposed the effect of construction on sea life in the area. Among those upset by the delay of the move were people that lived around Futenma.

There is strong opposition to the Futenma base and the deal made with the Americans by leaders of the small political parties that formed a coalition with Hatoyama’s party. Mizuho Fukushima, the female leader of Social Democratic Party, a coalition partner in the Hatoyama government, was among the most vocal and unyielding of the opponents of the base.

The government of U.S. President Barack Obama put strong pressure on the Hatoyama government to abide by the agreement struck before Hatoyama took office. The issue caused considerable strain between the government of Japan and the United States. Diplomatic dinners were canceled. Promises were broken. At one point U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador in the middle of a huge snowstorm to express her displeasure at they way events had unfolded. The New York Times said that Japan-U.S. relations were at their “most contentious” since the trade wars in the 1990s. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates bluntly demanded that Japan live up to its side of the bargain some Japanese viewed the message as “openly hostile.”

Among the ideas that were floated as alternatives to the base but were ultimately abandoned for lack of support was combining Futenma with Kadena Air base or moving the base to Shimojishima Island about 280 kilometers southwest of Okinawa or even Guam, proposals that had been rejected in earlier negotiations. The issue became further complicated in January 2010 when a new mayor was elected to Nago that opposed the base.

Hatoyama originally said he would make a decision on the matter before the end of 2009 but postponed the decision until May 2010. In the meantime the United States said it would not aggressively pursue the matter. On the issue, Joseph Nye, a professor of international relations at Harvard, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “My impression is that has to do with upper house elections...that it is a political situation where you have domestic politics determining the agenda...But I don’t think it’s going to determine the long-term future because we have such strong national interests in common.”

See U.S. Military and Japan

United States Angered Over Hatoyama’s Foreign Policy Remarks

In 2009 United States warned Hatoyama about its wavering policies on bilateral ties, The New York Times reported in May 2011, quoting U.S. cables posted on WikiLeaks. The U.S. administration under President Barack Obama fretted about Hatoyama's positions over relations with China and the contentious plan to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa, the report said. [Source: Kyodo, May 5, 2011]

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, complained in October 2009 that Hatoyama told his Chinese and South Korean counterparts in Beijing that Japan depended on the United States too much. Such remarks "would create a crisis in U.S.-Japan relations," Campbell was quoted as telling Akihisa Nagashima, parliamentary defense secretary of Japan. "Imagine the Japanese response if the U.S. government were to say publicly that it wished to devote more attention to China than Japan," Campbell was quoted as saying. [Ibid]

A cable dated Dec. 10, 2009, also showed that U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos told then Japanese land minister Seiji Maehara that the United States had "a problem" with Hatoyama telling Obama to trust him over the relocation of the Futenma Air Station "but not following through," the paper said. Maehara, a conservative and pro-U.S. lawmaker, was quoted as telling Roos, "There were only two countries who enjoyed watching what was currently happening to the U.S.-Japan alliance---China and the DPRK," referring to North Korea, the paper said. [Ibid]

U.S. Removes Diplomat over Comments Angering Japan

A top American diplomat, Kevin K. Maher, was removed from his post after stirring outrage in Japan for reportedly belittling Okinawans, a State Department official said. The United States ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, flew to Okinawa to apologize in person to the governor of the island. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, March 10, 2011]

According to Japanese news reports, Mr. Maher told students at American University in Washington during a lecture in December that the Okinawans were “masters of manipulation and extortion.” Mr. Maher, who was head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, has called the news reports inaccurate and incomplete. The comments came at a sensitive time when Tokyo has been trying to persuade Okinawans to accept the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to elsewhere on the island as part of a broader agreement that would reduce American forces on Okinawa. [Ibid]

While it was unclear why it took so long for the comments to become public, they have become front-page news in Japan, where many people called them racist. Ultra-nationalist groups used loudspeakers to protest in front of the United States Embassy in Tokyo. But the most intense anger appeared in Okinawa, where there is deep resentment over the heavy United States military presence. The Okinawan prefectural assembly adopted a resolution calling for a retraction and apology. [Ibid]

Seeking to control the damage, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said he repeatedly apologized to Japanese officials for misunderstandings caused by the reported remarks. He said Mr. Maher had been replaced as head of Japan affairs, although he still works for the State Department. “We do believe that this has caused some harm,” Mr. Campbell told reporters in Tokyo. The reported comments “in no way reflect the views of the government of the United States and the people of the United States.” [Ibid]

Better U.S.-Japan Relations with the LDP Back in Power?

In December 2012, Glen S. Fukushima wrote in the Washington Post: Proponents of the Obama administration's "pivot," or rebalance of attention and resources, toward Asia should be heartened by the results of Japan's parliamentary election. The Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) landslide victory in the Lower House on Dec. 16 augurs well for a reinvigorated relationship between the United States and Japan. [Source: Glen S. Fukushima, Washington Post, December 21, 2012. Fukushima is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He was deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan and China from 1988 to 1990.]

The reasons are threefold. First, the LDP is experienced in U.S.-Japan alliance management, much more so than the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had ousted the LDP from power in September 2009 after half a century. Although the DPJ was well-intentioned, its tenure the past three years was plagued with intraparty bickering, friction with the professional bureaucracy and a generally ineffectual and non-strategic foreign policy. [Ibid]

Second, the LDP will rely more on the expertise, experience and continuity offered by the professional bureaucrats, who were cast aside by the DPJ, especially in the Cabinets headed by Prime Ministers Yukio Hatoyama (2009-2010) and Naoto Kan (2010-11). Perhaps reflecting their shortcomings as chief executive and in managing Japan's relationship with the United States, Hatoyama chose not to run in the Dec. 16 elections and Kan lost his seat in the Diet to a relatively unknown LDP candidate. Of the three DPJ prime ministers since 2009, only Yoshihiko Noda, who served from 2011 to 2012 and whom many consider similar in style to previous LDP prime ministers, won re-election. [Ibid]

Third, the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, values the Japan-U.S. alliance and has said publicly that his top foreign policy priority is to restore the trust and confidence that has characterized Japan's relationship with the U.S. since the end of World War II. Although he is often portrayed as a nationalist, Abe, who studied in the United States and speaks English, is a staunch advocate of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. That treaty was renewed and ratified by the Diet in 1960, in the face of mass protests, under the leadership of his grandfather, then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. [Ibid]

But there are caveats. The LDP victory was more a rebuke of the DPJ than a resounding endorsement of the LDP. Although voters see the LDP as more experienced and disciplined than the DPJ, they perceive that it has done little to reform itself since its defeat in 2009. For instance, all five contenders for the party presidency in October (Abe, Yoshimasa Hayashi, Shigeru Ishiba, Nobuteru Ishihara and Nobutaka Machimura) are the sons of LDP politicians, despite widespread criticism of the LDP's perpetuation of inbred political dynasties. [Ibid]

What Japanese voters want most from their prime minister is leadership to revive the economy. The postwar economic miracle slowed in the early 1990s and has stagnated since the middle of that decade. The desire for economic growth is clearly widespread. The three major issues defining the platforms of virtually all the political parties running Dec. 16 impinged on the economy: the future of nuclear power, the proposed increase in the consumption tax and whether Japan should join the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Abe's tenure as prime minister is likely to be judged more on whether he can revive Japan's economy than on advancing the national security and patriotic agenda he holds dear. [Ibid]

For the Obama administration, the good news is that Abe is staunchly pro-American and wants to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security relationship. The bad news is that his revisionist views of history and controversial views of Asia could lead him to speak and act in ways that exacerbate tensions with neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea. On the other hand, Abe considers himself a pragmatic realist, and some Japanese political observers even see in him a parallel with U.S. President Richard Nixon, who, precisely because of his conservative credentials, could open the way to improving ties with China. It is not yet clear which side of Abe we are likely to see. Can the U.S. influence the outcome?

The Obama administration declared its intention to shift the U.S.' focus to Asia, which is concurrently the center of the world's economic growth and a potential source of long-term strategic challenges. Japan is the world's third-largest economy, a technology leader, a stable democracy and "cornerstone ally" of the U.S.; the country is key to the success of the Obama policy. [Ibid]

United States and Japan’s Disputes with China, Russia and South Korea

In August 2012, Yoshikazu Shirakawa and Seima Oki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Hoping to remain neutral in territorial disputes over the Takeshima and Senkaku islands, the United States has urged Japan, South Korea and China to resolve the issues through peaceful dialogue. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the United States takes "no position" on Japan's proposal to take the territorial dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima islands to the International Court of Justice. [Source: Yoshikazu Shirakawa and Seima Oki, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 26, 2012]

However, comments by Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, suggest a different slant on the U.S. position. After meeting Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and other U.S. officials, Sugiyama said the two nations agreed that international disputes should be settled peacefully under international law. Nuland made no mention of international law, leading many analysts to think she wanted to avoid saying anything that could suggest the United States supports Japan's proposal to take the issue to The Hague. [Ibid]

The U.S. government is likely concerned that the dispute between Japan and South Korea could adversely affect their cooperation with the United States on issues concerning North Korea, and has prompted the two Asian neighbors behind the scenes to resolve the ongoing row. Reaffirming that Japan and South Korea are both "strong, important, valued allies of the United States," Nuland described the recent dispute as "obviously not comfortable for us," indicating the United States would prefer not to see the row intensified or prolonged. [Ibid]

However, the United States has in the past clearly supported Japan in its dispute with Russia over the northern territories off Hokkaido. When then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri--one of the four islands claimed by Japan--in November 2011, a senior U.S. State Department official made a comment in support of Japan that invited a harsh rebuke from Russia. [Ibid]

Meanwhile, the government of Chinese President Hu Jintao has shown a keen interest in the deepening row between Japan and South Korea over the Takeshima islands. The Chinese media has been critical in its reporting of Japan's stance on the issue. China's official Xinhua News Agency released an article saying the territorial dispute is having a grave impact on the Japan-South Korea relationship. The article said Japan was plunging itself into a crisis by simultaneously intensifying territorial rows with two of its neighbors. [Ibid]

A diplomatic source in Beijing said China and South Korea have some shared values, both having suffered at the hands of Japanese aggression. With the Japan-China relationship being strained further due to the Senkaku dispute, China could seek to form a united front with South Korea, the source added. A source knowledgeable about Japan-China relations said, "China could make a bold move while the Japanese government is struggling with its relationship with South Korea." And then there is China and Russia. Following the collision of a Chinese trawler with Japan Coast Guard vessels off the Senkaku Islands in September 2010, China and Russia put pressure on Japan by issuing a joint statement condemning attempts to falsify history. [Ibid]

Japan and U.S. Sanctions on Iran

Japan gets about 10 to 15 percent of its crude oil exports from Iran. The Japanese government has lobbied the U.S. government to be exempt from the ban on Iranian oil imports. In May 2012, Kentaro Nakajima wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “The U.S. State Department announced that Japan and 10 European countries will be exempt from U.S. sanctions on crude oil imports from Iran, which have been imposed to prevent the Middle East nation from developing nuclear weapons. This is the first time waivers under the the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a section stipulating economic sanctions against Iran, have been applied since its enactment in December. [Source: Kentaro Nakajima, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2012]

With the decision, Japanese financial institutions will not be subject to U.S. sanctions for conducting deals with Iran's central bank. In reaching the decision, the United States evaluated that Japan has cut a significant amount of Iranian crude oil imports. The 10 other countries exempted are Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. All are EU members. [Ibid]

Regarding Japan, the U.S. State Department noted its efforts to cut crude oil imports from Iran by 15 percent to 22 percent during the last half of 2011, when it had to rely more on thermal power generation following the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March. The department, however, did not disclose details regarding how much Japan will cut crude oil imports in the future, citing corporate confidentiality. [Ibid]

"Japan's significant reductions in crude oil purchases is also especially noteworthy considering the extraordinary energy and other challenges it has faced over the past year," U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a statement released. "We commend these countries for their actions and urge other nations that import oil from Iran to follow their example.” [Ibid]

American Submarine and Japanese Fishing Boat Incident in 2001

In February 2001, the U.S.S. Greenville, an American nuclear-powered submarine, surfaced suddenly in waters off of Hawaii, while taking some VIPs on a routine training ride, and collided with the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel used for training high school students about commercial fishing.

The 58-meter, 499-ton Ehime Maru was carrying 35 people, including 13 high school students, and sunk within 10 minutes in 549-meter deep water about nine miles from Diamond Head. Nine Japanese on the boat---four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three crew members---were killed.

The Greenville specially reinforced steel rudder ripped open the stern of the Japanese ship. A survivor on the Ehime Maru told Time, "I saw something come up. I thought it was a whale. All I heard was someone screaming, 'Danger! Danger!." He recalled being angry that the crew from the submarine was unable to help and the Japanese in the water had to wait 45 minutes to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

Based at Pearl Harbor, the Greenville is a 110-meter, 6,086-ton attack submarine armed with nuclear missiles Although the Greenville was vital to global nuclear strategy it had been reduced on a day to day level to an underwater theme park for VIPs who were allowed to sit at the controls, steer the ship, look in the periscope and go through combat training exercises.

The Greenville was commanded by Captain Scott Waddle, who was well drilled in entertaining VIPs, as part of the Distinguished Visitors program, on his submarine and spent much of his time doing it. On the day of the incident a group of 16 V.I.P.s, mostly Texas oilmen, were taken out at the request of a retired American admiral.

Two civilians were sitting at the main controls in the control room of the Greenville when the collision occurred. One was at the ballast control, which controls ascents and descents by filling or emptying water in the ballasts. The other was at the helm control, which operates the ruder and helps steer the ship.

Events During American Submarine and Japanese Fishing Boat Incident in 2001

The Greenville departed from Pearl Harbor at 8:00am and was scheduled to return at 3:00pm. The outing included a variety of maneuvers that caused the submarine to rise and fall and fishtail, with the climax, an "emergency blow," a sudden surge to the surface from the depth. The outing was behind schedule, in part because Waddle wanted to finish swapping stories with his VIP guests.

Submarines preparing to surface for an "emergency blow" are supposed scan the area carefully with passive radar and rise to periscope depth of 60 feet and make a 360̊ visual check and then drop to 400 feet for sudden surge upwards. On the day of the collision, Waddle hurried these procedures.

One of the sonar operators spotted the Ehime Maru when it was about 10 miles away and observed it until approached to within about 2½-miles but failed to alert Waddle or other officers. Later Waddle said he was distracted by the VIPs and was "a little bit" lazy.

Waddle only scanned the ocean perfunctorily for about 1½ minutes with the periscope (he is supposed to take about 3 minutes). He said he saw planes landing at Honolulu Airbase but failed to see the Ehime Maru, perhaps because of high waves, haze or narrow profile of the white bow of the ship. Waddle ordered procedures for the emergency blow to begin. The sonar operator was aware that the Ehime Maru was approaching but didn't say anything. An investigation revealed that civilians in the control room prevented updates of the movements of surface ships and a back-up radar system that gives information to the captain was out of order

Apologies, Testimonies and Salvaging the Emihe Maru

Waddle lost command of his ship. He was not court martialed but his career in the navy was over. He told a U.S. Navy court: "I am solely responsible for this truly tragic accident, and for the rest of my life, I will live with the horrible consequences of my decisions and actions."

Ehime Maru families were given $13.9 million in compensation by the U.S. Navy. Waddle apologized to the Japanese prime minister and the families of the nine people who died but also spoke at length about how the tragedy had affected him personally.

In the fall of 2001, the Emihe Maru was lifted off the ocean bottom with cables dropped by a salvage ship and moved to shallow waters near the shore. Divers found all but one of the missing bodies. The ship was then taken to another site in deeper water, where it remains today.

In October 2005, a final report on the Ehime Maru accident by the U.S. National Transportation safety Board concluded that Waddle and his crew were at fault and miscommunication led to the accident.

Image Sources: 2) and 3) Kentai, Office Japanese Prime Minister

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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