Bush's Asia Trip - A Key Opportunity

IT would be ironical and sad if George Bush's New Year visit to Japan increases resentment and distrust between the American and Japanese people. This is not yet a foregone conclusion. But extraordinary efforts both in Tokyo and in Washington will be needed to reestablish real partnership in US-Japan relations.The president departs Dec. 30 for a trip to Australia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. White House officials had hoped that the trip would articulate a framework for post-cold-war partnership between the United States and Japan. Think tanks talked of a Pacific Charter that would make clear a continuing American commitment to Asia and the Pacific. But in both countries it looks as though domestic concerns will take precedence over international ones. Stubborn economic recession has bit deeply into President Bush's popularity, and the White House must prove that expensive trips abroad promote American exports and hence protect American jobs. As for Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan, his first couple of months in office have been little short of disastrous. Mr. Miyazawa came to the premiership an acknowledged expert in international affairs, conscious of his country's need to be seen as more than an economic animal, as a responsible member of the world community. But he botched passage of legislation that would have enabled Japan to take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations. His own party rejected a proposal for a tax dedicate d to foreign aid - a continuation of taxes that earlier this year financed $9 billion out of Japan's $13 billion contribution to the Gulf War. Nor has Miyazawa shown leadership on rice. Some relaxation of Japan's total ban on rice imports could help set an example for other governments reluctant to reduce agricultural subsidies. ON the American side, for the first time since he became president, Bush is taking along a high-powered delegation of 21 business leaders, including the chief executives of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Three-fourths of the US's $40 billion trade gap with Japan is accounted for by cars and car parts, and Bush has said he intends to open wider the long-closed Japanese market. That is a legitimate purpose. The problem is that trade is not susceptible to quick fixes, least of all to the hype that surrounds a presidential visit. Talks between Washington and Tokyo have been tough and long, and changes have come about slowly but steadily. Experts on both sides know that a presidential visit cannot dramatically speed the process. But in Washington a stableful of Democratic hopefuls is waiting to pounce on the president should he fail to win drastic changes. Sometimes, a problem can be solved or at least eased by changing the context in which it is discussed. Edson Spencer, former CEO of Minneapolis Honeywell, says that trade is a key issue in US-Japanese relations but that the overall context must be one of partnership. The US and Japan account for 40 percent of the world's gross national product, he says, and these "two leading economies have got to cooperate politically and economically." Spencer supports the idea of a Pacific Charter, similar in spirit to the wartime Atlantic Charter enunciated by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. That would clearly commit the US to Asia, both in terms of business and of politics, and provide a vehicle for a post-cold-war partnership between the US and Japan. It would reassure Asian and Pacific countries, which experienced Japanese invasion and occupation during World War II, that the US would not forget them. The present moment is a turning point in world history. The old world of confrontation between communism and the Western democracies is dead, while the shape of the new world is still but dimly perceived. Bush is right to be concerned about American jobs, but he must not lose the opportunity afforded by his Asian visit to articulate these larger concerns.

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