March 19, 1999

               Japan Warns U.S. to Back Off or Face Revival of Nationalism


               In a surprisingly blunt speech, Japan's outgoing ambassador to
               the U.S. warned Washington to cease criticizing Japan, lest the
               criticism spark a revival in Japan of the militant nationalism of
               60 years ago. This frank use of the specter of World War II is a
               reversal for Japan, which has tried to downplay its history, and
               will likely color Japanese foreign relations for some time.


               In a surprisingly blunt speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club
               of Japan on March 16, outgoing Japanese Ambassador to the United
               States Kunihiko Saito warned the U.S. to reduce its criticism of
               Japan, or risk reviving militant nationalist sentiment in Japan.
               Saito said that Japan appreciates the frank advice that the U.S.
               has offered, and is carrying out many of the reforms that
               Washington has advocated. However, Saito insisted that the U.S.
               frankness, and particularly the public manner in which U.S. views
               are expressed, "may cause some unintended emotional reactions."
               "We naturally resent such criticism, even when the content of
               such criticism is totally justified," he said.

               And while he said continued U.S. pressure could hurt the Japanese
               economy and Japanese-U.S. relations, Saito warned that the
               biggest threat may be the revival of Japanese nationalism.
               "Memories of the 1930s and 40s are still fresh in our minds. We
               should always be careful about the revival of nationalism," said
               Saito. "I'm not worried about a problem yet, but I don't think we
               should forget that only 50 or 60 years ago we made some big
               mistakes, and one of the reasons, in my view, was excessive
               nationalism," he added.

               Saito singled out the U.S. Trade Representative's Office as a
               major source of the unwelcome criticism. He also warned of rising
               protectionist sentiment among U.S. companies and in Congress.
               "Tensions surrounding trade between our two countries have...
               increased in recent months," he said. "Our trade surplus with the
               United States has been increasing rather sharply and has become a
               political issue, at least in Washington," said Saito. He added,
               "If the United States economy starts to have problems, the issue
               of trade imbalance will surely become a very serious political
               issue between our two countries." Saito said Japanese officials
               hope to quell the growing trade dispute between Japan and the
               U.S. before Prime Minister Obuchi visits the U.S. in May.

               How Saito set about to quell the dispute is what is so striking,
               and thus reflects the magnitude of the crisis in U.S.-Japanese
               relations. Japan has long sought to put the legacy of World War
               II behind it. Every Japanese foreign endeavor since 1945 has been
               overshadowed by the memory of Japan's biggest foreign endeavor,
               and Tokyo has been very sensitive about making the memory any
               fresher than necessary. Raising the specter of Japanese militant
               nationalism to induce - more precisely to threaten - the U.S.
               into being more diplomatic in its criticism goes completely
               against this policy. Moreover, while made in the context of U.S.-
               Japanese economic relations, Saito's comments feed into several
               other heated policy debates as well.

               The most prominent debate, and the one that has, understandably,
               been the most affected by Japan's wartime legacy, is over the
               role of Japan's military. Japan's Diet is scheduled to address
               new legislation in its upcoming session that is required to
               enable the revised U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines to take effect.
               Central to this debate is the planned expansion of the roles
               Japan's "Self Defense Forces" can play and the geographic reach
               of Japanese military operations. Under proposed laws, armed
               Japanese troops would be allowed to deploy abroad for the
               evacuation of Japanese and other foreign nationals from trouble
               spots, and to return fire in self defense if fired upon.
               Additionally, while still vaguely defined, the area in which
               Japan can operate in support of U.S. forces will apparently be
               extended to cover Taiwan, something China vehemently opposes.

               On March 16, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi warned
               that, "Japan should take concrete steps... to limit its defense
               to its own territory and adjacent waters, and not embark on the
               road of becoming a military power." China has also criticized
               Japan's planned participation in a U.S.-led theater missile
               defense system development program, as well as the potential
               extension of that system to include Taiwan. Japan is immediately
               concerned about North Korea's missile program and, adopting the
               policy that the best defense is a good offense, has reserved the
               right to take preemptive strikes against North Korean launchers
               in self defense if it perceives a threat. But as in Taiwan, a
               Japanese missile defense system is clearly aimed at the existing
               missile threat from China.

               Saito's warning of growing Japanese nationalism is not merely a
               negotiating ploy. The country's economic troubles have been
               scarcely addressed and are far from over. As a result, relations
               with the U.S. can only be expected to deteriorate. Japan is
               locked in a high-profile dispute with Russia over sovereignty
               over the Kuriles. The country is in the midst of a fundamental
               reevaluation of the Japanese military's roles. And in the midst
               of this, Tokyo is facing calls from Southeast Asia for it to take
               a leadership role in Asia. Sovereignty, leadership, defense,
               foreign economic pressure - all push nationalism to the core of
               Japan's domestic political debate.

               Evidence of this can be seen in the dispute over official
               recognition of Japan's Hinomaru (rising sun) flag and Kimigayo
               (His Majesty's Reign) national anthem. While widely used, the
               flag and anthem are not officially recognized in Japan, as they
               are considered to be linked to Japan's military and imperial
               past. The suicide in February of a high school principal in
               Hiroshima, due to a dispute over the use of the symbols at a
               graduation, has pushed the question of official recognition of
               the flag and anthem to the top of the Diet's agenda for the
               upcoming session.

               That Saito would raise the specter of revived nationalism,
               considering the sensitivity of the subject and its potential
               impact on a range of foreign and domestic policies, not only
               demonstrates the dire state to which U.S.-Japan relations are
               sinking, but also the very reality of Saito's threat. However,
               with Japan still slow to alter its export dependent recovery
               plan, there is little to suggest that the U.S. will quiet its
               criticism of Japan any time soon. The question is, with Japan no
               longer shy about depositing the nationalism threat smack in the
               middle of the negotiating table, and the U.S. likely to be
               unresponsive, has Japan set off on an irreversible course?