A FEW years ago in Detroit, two white auto workers used a baseball bat to beat an Asian-American to death. They blamed Vincent Chin (an American of Chinese descent) for the problems of domestic car companies. Recently, Japanese businessman Yasuo Kato was stabbed to death in his garage near Los Angeles, allegedly by a man who blamed Japan for the loss of his job. The man is reported to have earlier told Mr. Kato, "I know you're Japanese and the American economy is going down because of the Japanese."
The unwarranted blame of Vincent Chin and Yasuo Kato for problems in America have a striking similarity to current political rhetoric - "Japan bashing." While the rhetoric of politicians is not as blatant, its potential danger is great. Presidential challengers across the field - from Pat Buchanan on the far right to Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa on the Democratic left - have been improvising on the old "America First" tune.
The more soft-spoken Democrat Paul Tsongas cracks, "The cold war is over, and Japan won." From many who should know better we hear subtle to outright blame of Japan for our recession.
All this political rhetoric is not only wrong, but dangerous. With it, we risk doing real damage to the Japanese-American alliance, our most important alliance in this post-Soviet era. Maybe we all need reminding that together America and Japan account for close to 40 percent of the world's GNP, that America, not Japan, is the world's largest exporter, and that Japan is the biggest buyer of our goods in the world. United States exports to Japan now total $48 billion. To put it simply: The US exports more
to Japan than it does to Germany, France, and Italy combined.
But our political rhetoric against Japan is dangerous for another reason. Its racist undertones are evident. Why do we hear so much about the Japanese "buying up America" when Japanese investment is still only 60 percent of total British investment in the US? Adjusted for Japan's and Britain's populations, the average Briton owns nearly four times as much of America as the average Japanese. And why are there anti-Japanese protests in Louisville when Toyota's plant expansion there will mean 200 new Americ an jobs in the local economy? The racist element, whether overt or implied, is there. And it is ugly.
America does many things well - excelling in the aircraft, software, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, and agriculture industries, to begin a long list. Across the board, we are the most innovative, most productive country in the world. But when we allow ourselves to seek scapegoats in tough economic times, we are all demeaned by it. We hurt others without reason and hurt ourselves without knowing. America is bettered by the contributions of Americans of Asian descent - I think of our Olympic figure-sk ating champion, Kristi Yamaguchi. And all of us benefit from Japanese investment in this country, which now employs 600,000 Americans and buys a huge portion of America's debt.
I do not suggest that Japan is above reproach. There are problems - whether they be licensing requirements that are unnecessarily stringent or a distribution system which is outmoded. But let us look, too, at what Japan is really doing. One thing is certain: Japan does import a lot, so its markets are by no means closed. For example, Japan exports very little food, raw materials, or fuels, but imports a lot of these. By contrast, it imports relatively few motor vehicles or other machinery, but it exports
a lot. What this suggests is that Japan is exporting what it is good at making, and importing what it lacks. Isn't this, after all, why countries trade in the first place?
A trade deficit is all too often taken as conclusive proof of "unfairness." But let's allow the consumers, American and Japanese, to decide what a good buy is. It may be easy to construe Japan as a "villain" - and Asian-Americans as their partners in crime. But such attempts are shortsighted, illusory, and hurtful to all Americans. It's time to stop looking at Japan as the enemy and start recognizing it as one of America's vital trading partners and allies. In so doing may we both enjoy the fair judgment
and continued economic prosperity which will surely result.