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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 16:58 GMT
Japanese unimpressed by Bush
rush hour in tokyo
Ordinary Japanese are cynical of American intentions
test hello test

Charles Scanlon
Tokyo correspondent
line

American presidential visits used to be events of enormous significance for the Japanese. Crushed in war, Japan was dependent on the benevolence of its former enemy.

The relationship was close and often emotional. President Eisenhower was forced to cancel a visit because of mass demonstrations against the security treaty between the two countries.

President George Bush
Mr Bush suffers from an image problem in Japan
Times have changed. The arrival of President Bush arouses little excitement. Indifference, though, is laced with concern and even contempt at what is seen as Bush's "cowboy diplomacy".

The young mother picking up her child from kindergarten was surprised to be asked for her views on international diplomacy. But pressed for a comment, she said, "I think Bush likes war".

It is a view shared by many in a country where pacifist sentiments run deep.

Reckless

There is much unease about the Japanese navy's support role for the American fleet in the Afghan campaign - even though the Japanese vessels are forbidden from going anywhere near a combat zone.

President Bush may be riding a wave of popularity at home, but he has an image problem in Japan.

His unilateral flouting of the Kyoto treaty on global warming won him few friends in the country that fathered the agreement.

North Korean soldier
The inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil" has an impact on Japan
But it was the military campaign in Afghanistan and what is seen as Mr Bush's reckless use of language that raises most alarm bells.

Mr Bush's inclusion of North Korea in his now famous "axis of evil" has a direct impact on Japan. There is concern at the consequences of stirring up such a dangerous and unpredictable neighbour.

Internal scandals

The Koizumi administration has been taking a tougher line with North Korea. But it now faces the prospect of a rapid escalation of tension that could leave Japan very much in the firing line.

But that is all in the future. Japanese public opinion is much influenced by the content of the 'wide-shows', tabloid television on the commercial networks that present racy coverage of the big issues.

Tokyo trader
Japan has been suffering ten years of recession
President Bush is barely featuring as a topic. The shows are still relentlessly pursuing scandals in the foreign ministry and the abrupt dismissal of the fiery foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka.

Japan these days is utterly preoccupied with an internal crisis of confidence.

More than 10 years of recession have destroyed faith in the political system and the once-respected bureaucracy.

Historically, the US has been an overwhelming force for change at times of crisis in Japan.

President Bush will encourage Japan to get to grips with its economic malaise and resume its responsibilities as the world's second largest economy.

In public, the words will be polite. The Japanese Government will put on a show for the Americans - pledging to take the hard economic decisions it has avoided for a decade.

But the Japanese public will not be taken in.

They are used to the games of their politicians and are deeply cynical about American intentions.

It is ironic that President Bush came to office promising to make Japan a cornerstone of his foreign policy. He would not berate and patronise the Japanese the way Clinton administration did.

Well, the Japanese have not been impressed by what they have seen so far. And the Bush administration has started to lecture in a way that's distinctly reminiscent of its predecessor.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan rejects Bush emission proposals
30 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
US and Japan paper over cracks
09 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Japan
10 Feb 02 | Business
Japan acts to end recession
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