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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
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755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
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541: Developmentally challenged

By Yoneyuki Sugita

Go our own way

Regardless of who wins on election day, Japan should seek its own path in Asia

As Tuesday's US presidential election comes down to the wire, it remains a neck-and-neck race. However, it's interesting that both President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry share the same fundamental beliefs about America's role in the world, differing only in style. They are both wholeheartedly convinced that the United States, a hegemonic power, has the prerogative to make judgments about right and wrong and to redress injustice to bring stability to the world. Bush takes a unilateral approach while Kerry emphasizes bringing allies to the table (all the while stressing that America will never need a "permission slip" from anyone in taking military action). Both candidates believe a clear line can be drawn between good and evil. Bush is a strong proponent of preemptive strikes against evil wherever it exists, while Kerry prefers a measure of diplomacy, but is ready to drop the preemptive hammer if necessary. Both backed the military attack against Iraq. Bush actively promoted it, whereas Kerry supported, though reluctantly, a Congressional resolution that gave Bush the power to act as a last resort. Now that US troops are in Iraq, they both want to "win" (whatever that means), differing only on tactics and timetables for ending the occupation.

Yoneyuki Sugita is associate professor of American history at Osaka University of Foreign Studies

Both Bush and Kerry pledge to prosecute the "war on terrorism" vigorously. The pre-eminent goal, stressed more heavily by Kerry, is the elimination of Osama bin Laden. Indeed it is natural for any victim to blame their assailant, but, as a world leader, the United States should have reflected deeply on its own misconduct to find the reasons why the country was so abhorred. The US lacks the right combination of strength and wisdom: Other nations, though they may fear US military might, neither respect nor admire America as a natural leader whom they are willing to follow.

Bush and Kerry debate who has a better plan to bring security to the world. I believe that the biggest threat to global peace and stability, however, comes not from Iraq, Iran, or North Korea, but from the US itself. Aggressive and unwarranted behavior, such as military attacks on Afghanistan in the absence of any internationally proven evidence about who was guilty; the ousting of Saddam Hussein without UN approval; and the dismal failure of its occupation of Iraq, are prevailing causes of current global instability.

Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, both Bush and Kerry reject Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Bush relies mainly on six-nation talks, while Kerry offers a pledge of a bilateral dialogue. China, a growing power experiencing high-speed economic growth, now aims to transform a post-Cold War uni-polar world dominated by the United States into a multi-polar world in which China would be counted a significant power. Taking advantage of its influence over North Korea, China exerted its leadership to establish the six-power framework to deal with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Moreover, China has been trying to exert positive leadership in the Asia-Pacific region, proposing, for example, to establish several regional economic and security arrangements, such as a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, ASEAN plus One (China), ASEAN plus Three (China, Japan, and South Korea), and an East Asian Free Trade Area.

The US is still unquestionably Japan's most important trading partner, but Asia as a region exports to and imports more from Japan than it does with the States. The US takes 29 percent of Japan's exports and sends it 17 percent of its imports, while Asia as a region takes 44 percent of Japan's exports and sends the same percentage in imports. Moreover, the US, as of 2002, accounted for 37 percent and 47 percent of Japan's inward and outward direct investment, respectively. If Australia is included, an even larger economic zone results, with Japan and China accounting for even more trade activity. It is clear that Japan's economic center of gravity is now shifting away from America and toward the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan has heavily relied on advice and direction from Washington ever since the end of World War II. Things appeared to have changed, however, in September 2002, when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid an official visit to North Korea to hold a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Koizumi's act signaled that Japan was searching for a way to take an independent route in international affairs. Unfortunately, because of strong pressure from Washington to get back in line with US foreign policy, Japan's flirtation with autonomy came to an abrupt end.
No matter who wins the US presidential election, the next administration will continue to try and make Japan heavily dependent on its foreign policy. However, it would be encouraging if Japan could find the temerity to start making a separate contribution toward stability and peace in its own neighborhood. By cooperating with China and other Asia-Pacific nations to establish comprehensive regional economic and security arrangements, Japan might in the long run help to contain aggressive and self-righteous US behavior.