WASHINGTON — JAPAN'S ``global partnership'' with the United States appears to have suffered a premature demise in the sands of Saudi Arabia. ``We still believe in the concept,'' says a US official who used to spend a lot of time promoting it. ``But these days, we don't mention it for fear Congress will hoot it down.''
In the US government offices that deal most closely with Japan, there is palpable disappointment that when the issues of peace or war hang in the balance, the world's second richest nation seems ``to have disappeared off the radar screen,'' as one official puts it.
Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama is in Washington today and tomorrow to reaffirm Tokyo's support for the US-led international coalition in the Persian Gulf. Japan has already pledged $4 billion in direct and indirect aid for the effort to force Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.
Although Mr. Nakayama is not expected to mention any new figures, Washington policymakers are pretty certain that Tokyo will come forward with an even larger contribution when it is asked to do so.
But official Washington's disappointment with Tokyo is not over the size of its financial commitment to the Gulf effort. Rather, it is over what many officials perceive as Japan's indifference to what is at stake in Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and its unwillingness to show leadership in dealing with the crisis. These officials can be found in the State Department, in the Pentagon, and in other departments dealing with Japan.
Also, when the US and some of its other allies are putting the lives of their young men and women at stake, money alone is not going to give Japan a top seat in world affairs, critics say.
In the early days of the Gulf crisis, US officials hoped that Japan would send units of its Self Defense Force, even in non-combattant roles, to help with communications and logistics. Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, mindful of his ``global partnership'' relationship with President Bush, indicated such support. But when opposition parties attacked the proposal as a violation of a constitutional ban on sending Self Defense Forces overseas, Kaifu, whose government lacks a majority in Parliament's upper house, gave up the idea.
Some US officials would still like to see Japanese action on this front.
In the Pentagon, however, some voices are calling for Japan to shoulder the task of dealing with massive refugee flows expected in the event of war. Other officials ask why such ideas have not come directly from the Japanese.
An American relief worker recently returned from refugee-choked Jordan noted that Japan had contributed more money to the relief effort there than any other country, yet the public knew nothing about it because it saw no Japanese faces.
Nor has Japan spoken up recently on world issues unrelated to the Gulf crisis, a US source says.
The future of the world's free trading system rests on whether the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, can overcome a deadlock between the US and the European Community over agriculture. The US wants to phase out subsidies, but Europeans insist on keeping them. Japan, which has more to gain from a free trade system than any other nation, has kept silent, says a source in the office of the US Special Trade Representative.
The cumulative effect of this kind of silence is a wide perception here in Washington that Japan is absent from the decision-making process in world affairs except when such decisions directly impinge on its ability to sell its Toyotas and buy its oil.