Clinton's Visit to Tokyo Is a Time to Think Big
The US and Japan should be able to work out enough differences to focus on their common global agenda
SEVENTY percent of the public doesn't trust elected politicians. They think democracy isn't working very well, but they have more confidence in local government. A majority are dissatisfied with their public schools. Improving the economy is their top priority, but reforming medical care and welfare is also of concern. Government bureaucracy is suspect, along with big business that protects profits by laying off employees. Politicians want some government departments restructured or even eliminated.Skip to next paragraph
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The United States? No, Japan.
President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto have more to talk about during Mr. Clinton's Tokyo state visit April 16-18 than the unfair treatment of Kodak or Fuji film in each other's market, or how US bases in Japan could be consolidated.
If the past is prologue, however, we are likely to read more about US trade demands and Japanese difficulties accommodating our bases than about what we truly have in common with our most important partner: the advancement of healthy, civil, unpolluted societies around the world.
If both leaders elevate their sights, perhaps this can be avoided. They must conceive a new vision to guide them in dealing with a troubled world facing problems that cry out for greater cooperation from the only two global powers whose combined energies could surpass the sum of separate efforts.
Part of the problem is that Americans and Japanese are a bit fed up with each other after decades of pushing and shoving on trade disputes. True, it's good politics on both sides to talk tough. When US negotiators threaten dire consequences if their requests are not met, Mr. Hashimoto wins votes by stiffing them.
But this dampens the climate for a sounder bilateral relationship. Furthermore, enthusiasm in both countries to tackle the sorry state of the human condition in much of the world is seriously undermined.
Somehow Americans, while admiring much about Japan, still find it terribly different. And the Japanese, still in many ways fascinated by America, view with dismay (and some disdain) too much social disarray in the only country they believe cares at all about them. But consider what is actually going on:
Clinton proposes uniforms for American schoolchildren - just as Japanese schools talk about getting rid of them.
The Japanese want less emphasis on rote learning in the classroom and greater attention to student creativity. Americans want to focus more on basic learning skills, less on the peripherals.
US researchers fret about "overindividualism" in American society at the expense of community. At the same time, Japan moves "toward an evermore insistent assertion of ... individuality," according to The Public Perspective.
We are inching toward each other as both countries find more common ground to cope with post-industrial problems. Three years ago the US and Japan agreed on a "Common Agenda" for a rich variety of joint efforts on global issues, where such cooperation could - if properly funded - make a difference. The following are some results of the bilateral efforts under this best-kept secret:
Virtual elimination of polio from the Western Pacific; sub-Saharan Africa is next.
Educational projects on HIV and AIDS in the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Zambia.
A crop substitution program in Peru to eliminate narcotics at the source.
A series of coral-reef workshops in the South Pacific.