Washington-based Sankei Shimbun veteran Yoshihisa Komori’s blog has gained some attention since its inception for two major incidents:
- A column of his lashing out at a government-funded research institute that was producing “anti-Japan” scholarship, which eventually led to its closure. The move was documented and condemned by Washington Japan policy wonk Steve Clemons in a Washington Post Op-ed calling Komori a member of Japan’s emerging right-wing “thought police.”
- Komori’s criticism of pro-China left-wing Japanologist Gregory Clark of Akita International University sparked a flame war between Clark and Komori’s readers. In response, Clark complained in the Japan Times of ideological harassment.
It may be true that Komori has used his position to put pressure on the left, but the claims made by Clemons that he is “not unaware that his words frequently animate [violent right-wing extremists],” however, seem to carry little water (at least based on the one example of Komori’s involvement in the aforementioned incident). At any rate, regardless of where you stand on Komori, it cannot be denied that the man is an experienced journalist with deep knowledge and insight, especially on issues of US-Japan relations.
It is with that in mind that I recommend his recent article (an excerpt from an article in December issue of monthly magazine SAPIO) from Jan 16 on the changes the new Congress will have in store in terms of individual members’/party stances toward Japan. Essentially, he rebukes the idea popular among some Japanese watchers of the US-Japan relationship that a Democratic Congress would suddenly turn hostile to Japan. No, he argues, the US Congress’ attitude toward Japan is far more complicated:
First of all, dividing American Congress members as “pro-Japan” or “anti-Japan” invites some misunderstanding. The word “anti-Japan” implies a perception that is somewhat removed from the reality of American politics. To put it bluntly, pro-Japan people do not exist in the US Congress and administration. To be pro-Japan means to have positive feelings for Japan or to like Japan.
The idea of a pro-Japan Congressperson would make one think of a politician who makes political statements and actions based on his affection or positive feelings toward Japan. Unfortunately, however, there are no such Congresspeople in the US Congress. It would disqualify them as US Congresspeople to change their legislative activities just because they like Japan.
[There are also people who are pro-Japan on the surface only because they think that the US-Japan alliance is in the US national interest. At the same time, there are “Japan experts” or those who have either lived, studied abroad in, or studied about Japan. These people have deep knowledge and understanding of Japan, but just because they know about Japan it doesn’t mean they are pro-Japan]
While emphasizing the above points, I have noticed that the biggest reason it seems like the “pro-Japan faction” in the new US Congress has declined is because Dennis Hastert (R, Ohio), former Speaker of the House since 1998, has stepped down. Hastert has experience living and teaching English in Osaka in the 1970s, and ever since he has often shown his closeness with Japan. For example, in 2003 when the “Families Association” including Sakie Yokota whose kin was kidnapped by North Korea visited Washington, it is well-known that Speaker Hastert greeted them in Japanese, saying “Yoku irasshaimashita” (Welcome!)
It is a fact that Hastert placed emphasis on Japan as Speaker in the process of holding deliberations on bills and hearings, and maintained a stance of firmly maintaining the alliance with Japan. For Hastert to go from Speaker to a regular representative perhaps means a loss in the power to place emphasis on Japan.
However, there are quite a few Congresspeople who value the relationship with Japan in both chambers. The reason there are so many in the Republican Party is probably because the Republican Bush Administration has taken the policy of emphasizing Japan. Rep. Senator Sam Brownback, too, has expressed sympathy and understanding of Japan for year, particularly with regard to the abduction issue. He has taken the utmost consideration of Japan’s humanitarian anguish with his efforts in holding hearings and press conferences. Brownback emphasizes all aspects of the US-Japan relationship and always speaks of Japan using positive expressions. He has shown interest in running in the 2008 presidential election.
Conservative Republican politicians such as Hastert and Brownback all place great importance on the US-Japan alliance. Similarly, another man who has made clear his stance to value Japan due to the importance of maintaining the US-Japan alliance is Rep. Sen. John McCain. He is the front-runner candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential election.
The Democracts also have a near consensus in terms of maintaining the US-Japan alliance. One politician who knows Japan well and often talks about Japan is Dem. Sen Jay Rockefeller (WV, [who studied abroad at International Christian University in Tokyo for 3 years]). He often criticized Japan over the bilateral trade problems throughout the 1980s, but he has been consistent in espousing the alliance with Japan in terms of security.
Komori notes at the end that it’s not that simple to read the US Congress in simple pro or anti Japan terms. And anyway, it doesn’t matter that much anymore because the relationship has stabilized. There are no more major trade concerns, and anyway there is no way Japan can get a spot on the agenda with China getting everyone’s attention, not to mention the whole host of other foreign policy issues. While Congresspeople from either party might take an anti-Japan stance when jobs in their home districts are threatened, or the Democrats might go anti-Japan to please labor, these are not life or death concerns in the grand scheme of the relationship. Of course, worsened security situation in Asia or the unlikely prospect of a Nixon Shock-style financial crisis could make the US-Japan issue relevant and sexy again, I wouldn’t count on it.
Komori’s point seems to be one that I heard often when I was in Washington: Japan has little to worry about from losing “Japan hands” in high offices (such as when Mike Green stepped down as NSC adviser on Asian affairs in 2005). Perhaps in the rest of the article he makes this explicit. But I have to wonder about these reassurances: Japan has been relying more on the familiar Washington lobbyists recently as opposed to the traditional “Japan lobby,” but didn’t Hastert’s stance toward Japan come in handy when a Japan-backed lobbyist quelched a resolution condemning Japan’s supposed lack of reflection over WW2 atrocities? And isn’t it easier for people like the Washington-based Komori to do their own lobbying (say, brokering meetings between the Families Association and Hastert or helping hold hearings on an issue that has near-zilch to do with the US national interest) when the lobbied have warm feelings toward Japan already? Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the new Congress is that Japan shouldn’t count on seeing many “pro-Japan” Congresspeople from now on since people just aren’t paying that much attention to Japan issues right now. Whether that’s good or bad for Japan is somewhat besides the point.