The presidential candidate had some disparaging -- and not quite accurate
-- words for this close U.S. ally.
China's Zhang Jike celebrates after winning the singles table tennis. (AP)
Coming home after several weeks in Tokyo, I had planned to write about
several issues that are consuming the attention of Japan's political and
policy elites. But instead I came back to a hubbub stirred up by
presidential candidate Mitt Romney's commentary on Japan.
At first, I found it hard to believe that Japan had come up at all in the
U.S. presidential race. Not since the trade disputes of the 1980s did Tokyo
factor in our domestic political contests, and even then it was in large
part a function of our own economic concerns and the protectionist impulse
that this created in some sectors of our society. China seems to be our
demon of choice today in electoral politics, and politicians in the midterm
elections fixated on that perceived threat.
After having read about Romney's comments in Foreign
Policy, I'm a bit concerned. First, the Republican candidate for
president seems to be misinformed about Japan's economy. He described Japan
as "a nation that suffers in decline and distress for a decade or a
century." But this is simply not true. Japan remains a formidable economic
force, although China squeaked by Japan in the global ranking in 2010. But
that is no reason to ignore the world's third largest economy. In terms of
GDP per capita, Japanese citizens continue to be far richer than Chinese,
and Japan's businesses continue to invest confidently in the United States.
Second, Mr. Romney's remarks were not simply a careless slip, but rather the
basis of his analysis of Asia. The Romney campaign's
website contains a very
simplistic rendering of East Asia, one that focuses almost exclusively on
China and that completely omits our closest ally, Japan. It would be
reckless to continue to be misinformed about one of the world's most
More worrisome is his inference that Japan is no longer important to the
United States, or for that matter in global affairs. Today, the United
States counts Japan as one of its strongest partners in virtually everything
we do around the globe. For example, the United States has worked tirelessly
with Japanese diplomats and successive political leaders to contain nuclear
proliferation--first with North Korea and now with Iran--and Japan has
coordinated closely with us on our latest rounds of sanctions
on Iranian oil. Japan has been one of the world's most significant
contributors of overseas development assistance, and has played an
indispensable role in one of Washington's most pressing challenges, the
stabilization of Afghanistan. Tokyo leads the effort to organize global
assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, with the largest pledge of
$5 billion in economic assistance over five years, and has just convened
a donors meeting bringing
together over 55 countries and 25 international organizations to work
together on Afghanistan's future.
Tokyo is also a critical partner in global economic governance. Japan stands
strongly behind the Bretton Woods institutions that continue to ensure that
the world economy has a lender of last resort, and has been a formidable
force in support of the International Monetary Fund's effort to stabilize
European finances. It has worked together with the United States and Europe
in the World Trade Organization to ensure free trade practices are
respected, and disputes are fairly adjudicated.
Undervaluing Japan is not only mistaken, it is potentially compromising to
our own national interests in Asia. For over half a century, Japan has been
the cornerstone of our alliances there. During this half-century, Tokyo and
Washington have grown into a mature relationship of military cooperation
that far outpaces other alliances in the region. Our two countries now work
to ensure ballistic missile defense against North Korea, to patrol and
maintain open sea lanes of communication in the Western Pacific, to police
and if necessary act against piracy and proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, and to assist other Asian nations, particularly in Southeast
Asia, in building the capacities they need to defend their coastal waters
and airspace against these new 21st century threats.
Japan is a prosperous nation, with a consistent policy of providing stable
and sustaining support for the global liberal order. Is it having difficulty
generating economic growth? Well, yes. The debate over how Japan might
achieve better and sustainable economic growth has been ongoing for some
years now. But this year, expectations are that Japan will record a 2.4
percent growth rate. This will most likely mark a better economic
performance than the United States or the European economies. Japan is an
advanced industrial economy, and like the rest of us, is struggling to
compete with the emerging economic powerhouses, especially China.
Japan is also a thriving democracy with a commitment to the rule of law, a
nation that has actively led the effort to build sustainable norms and
institutions for regional governance in the Asia Pacific that will ensure a
similar prosperity for others in Asia. Japan has long advocated for an
inclusive regional order, one that ensures a seat at the table of the East
Asian Summit for the United States should Washington want to be a
participant in the regional effort to build confidence and to solve shared
problems. Tokyo has long been an irreplaceable source of support for nations
struggling to sustain their success in a volatile global economy. Tokyo
provides its neighbors with access to currency swaps to stabilize their
volatile financial systems, and invests heavily throughout the Asian region
and beyond to provide capital for the burgeoning new economies. Japan has
funded much of the infrastructure in China that allowed for the market
reforms to take hold, and today it provides up to 25 percent of its overseas
development assistance to India to build the infrastructure it needs to
underpin its economic expansion.
This relationship is important to the United States, and we Americans share
much in terms of goals and aspirations with so many in Japan. Our two
societies compete fiercely--as we saw yet again in the women's soccer match
at the Olympics! But we also look to each other completely in times of need.
Americans and Japanese last year yet again demonstrated the depth of our
friendship in the face of Japan's overwhelming crises. Japan did the same
for us after September 11.
The person who seeks to lead our country should be aware that Tokyo is one
of America's closest friends and allies. If they are not, they will
undermine all that has been done over the past half-century to build one of
our most valued relationships, and they will badly miscalculate our
strategic interests at a time of considerable economic and political
transformation in the Asia-Pacific.
Please sit down, Mr. Romney, and take the time to learn about Asia and
especially about the value of our allies there. Learn about the tremendous
resilience and strength of the Japanese people before
you count them -- and our alliance with Japan -- out.
This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an
Atlantic partner site.
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