Land of the Clouded Sun

President Bush has discovered on his second tour of Europe that he's become the Continent's favorite punching bag. But he can take solace. Japan is getting it worse from friend and foe alike.

The Land of the Rising Sun is seeing its reputation sink, mainly among its Asian neighbors. Its economy has hit the skids again, depressing imports of goods; a new school textbook that whitewashes Japanese atrocities in World War II and before has upset South Korea, China, and others; its attempt to create a regional trade zone has faltered; and it's in a bitter trade dispute with China.

Japan also refuses to send former President Alberto Fujimori home to Peru, where he's wanted on charges of corruption. The government gave citizenship to the fugitive leader, based on his parents being Japanese-born, thus protecting him from extradition.

Environmentalists, too, are after Japan for claiming that minke whales, which Japanese ships catch, are just "the cockroaches" of the ocean. They also await a firmer endorsement of the climate-saving Kyoto accord. If Japan backs out of it, as the US has, the accord may go up in smoke.

Even its close ally, the US, resents the way Japan demanded the handover of a US serviceman accused of rape before he was indicted.

Many of these disputes arise from a lack of various reforms in Japan, which many people demand, but are resisted by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Fortunately, a popular prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, promises big changes. If he succeeds, the world might see a new Japan.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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