Scandals strain US-Japan
relations By Kosuke Takahashi
TOKYO - A new division is developing in
the Japan-United States relationship after Kevin
Maher, policy chief on Japan affairs at the US
State Department, said it would be bad for the US
if Japan's war-renouncing peaceful constitution
was changed because Japan would not need the
Anti-US sentiments are
particularly flaring up again in Okinawa, Japan's
southernmost island, after Maher, director of the
Office of Japan Affairs at the State Department
and former consul general in Okinawa, described
Okinawan people as "masters of manipulation and
extortion" in their dealings with the
long-standing, thorny issue of the relocation of
the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station on
Maher gave a lecture to American
University students in Washington on December 3,
2010. He was sacked from his
position by the State
Department on March 10, four days after Kyodo News
first reported Maher's statement.
remarks on the constitution surely cast a shadow
on Japan's long-term national security," Ukeru
Magosaki, the former chief of the Japanese Foreign
Ministry's international intelligence bureau, told
Asia Times Online on Friday. "His comments hurt
the Okinawa people's feeling severely. This would
make it further difficult to put the US base
relocation plan into practice."
meanwhile, has its own problems. It took a
stop-gap measure by promoting Takeaki Matsumoto on
Wednesday as foreign minister from his deputy
position at the ministry to succeed Seiji Maehara,
who abruptly resigned on March 6 over a scandal
involving a political donation from a South Korean
resident of Kyoto.
The scandals from both
sides of the US and Japan surfaced at a time when
the significance of closer ties between two
nations cannot be overemphasized to cope with the
rapid rise of the Chinese military, the
warmongering from North Korea against South Korea
and Russia's movement towards the south by
strengthening its military presence on four
disputed islands, known as the Southern Kuril
islands in Russia and the Northern Territories in
Tense incidents Most
recently, two Chinese military planes - a Y-8
surveillance aircraft and a Y-8 anti-submarine
aircraft - on March 2 flew to about 55 kilometers
(34 miles) from the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. This
prompted the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF)
to scramble F-15J fighters.
In addition, a
Chinese State Oceanic Administration helicopter on
Monday flew to just within 70 meters of the
Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)
destroyer Samidare. Military experts said
China tested Japan's reflexes amid Tokyo's
weakening diplomatic power caused by its domestic
According to the
Japanese Defense Ministry's Joint Staff, it was
the first time Chinese military planes had
approached so close to the Senkaku islands.
Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Tuesday
slammed the Chinese helicopter's buzzing of a
Japanese destroyer, saying, "It was an extremely
China's Foreign Ministry
spokesperson Jiang Yu, meanwhile, said that
China's right to claim the islands is
"indisputable" and that its actions were in
accordance with international law.
number of scrambles the JASDF conducted against
Chinese airplanes reached 48 from April to
December of the 2010 fiscal year, which ends on
March 31. This is already the highest in the past
five fiscal years, and it does not yet include the
January to March figures.
Damage-control The US was forced
into damage-control mode by swiftly sacking Maher.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and
Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Maher's superior,
offered an apology during a meeting with new
Japanese Foreign Minister Matsumoto in Tokyo on
Thursday. The US ambassador to Japan, John V Roos,
also flew to Okinawa and apologized in person to
Okinawan governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who is calling
for relocating US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma
out of Okinawa.
Okinawa alone hosts about
half of the 50,000 American military personnel in
"I don't think Article Nine of the
Japanese constitution should change," Maher said.
"If the Japanese constitution was changed the
United States would not be able to use Japanese
land to advance US interests. The high host nation
support the Japanese government currently pays is
beneficial to the US. We've got a very good deal
The two nations last December
agreed that Tokyo will maintain the annual costs
of hosting US bases at the current level of 188.1
billion yen (US$2.3 billion) for a five-year
period from fiscal 2011 starting April.
also said, "Okinawans are too lazy to grow goya."
Goya is the bitter cucumber vegetable and a local
specialty of Okinawa.
Japan and the US
last May agreed that the Futenma base would be
moved from a densely populated district in Ginowan
to a coastal area in the Henoko district of Nago,
but local people are fiercely opposed to the plan
and want the base to be moved outside of Okinawa.
Reconciling the local demand to move the
base with US strategic interests appears
impossible, especially after Maher's controversial
"I was shocked that a diplomat
could say such hurtful things about our allies,"
Tori Miyagi, a 20-year-old American University
student who attended the meeting and who also
helped compile the memo, told Asia Times Online.
"Our alliance with Japan is the foundation of
American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, so I
was amazed Mr Maher would use such strong language
to describe our friends. That type of thinking is
not productive to the Japan-US partnership."
Miyagi, a fourth-generation
Japanese-American whose family came from Okinawa,
also said, "It's unfortunate that Mr Maher has to
"He did not have to be
removed, but the State Department should try to
remove that type of thinking," he said. "I think
the alliance managers do not realize or do not
care about the growing frustration in Japan and
they are the ones to blame and they are the ones
who are preventing a stronger US-Japan alliance.
As Campbell is saying the US and Japan are
partners, so it's time the US starts treating
Japan like a partner and a friend."
Speaking of the memo, Miyagi said, "We did
not have a recorder with us, so the memo is not a
transcript, but it is accurate. Other students
have now come forward and have confirmed what has
Kan's days may be
numbered Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan
on Wednesday promoted Matsumoto, State Secretary
for Foreign Affairs, to succeed Maehara, who
stepped down on the news he had accepted donations
from a South Korean resident in Kyoto in violation
of Japan's campaign-fund laws.
media increasingly have pointed out Kan's days in
office might be numbered, especially after the
Asahi Shimbun reported on Friday that Kan also
accepted donations of 1.04 million yen (US$12,600
) from a South Korean resident in Yokohama City in
violation of Japan's campaign-fund laws.
Opposition parties have demanded that Kan resign.
A major earthquake, which hit Japan on
Friday, may benefit Kan's administration as
opposition parties are forced to stop political
battles amid the governmentís emergency measures.
Matsumoto, 51, is a member of the ruling
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and is close to
former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, Kan's political
rival. Matsumoto supported Ozawa, not Kan, in the
party leadership election in September 2010.
Matsumoto served as a secretary of his
father Juro Matsumoto, who served as Defense
Agency chief from 1989 to 1990. He is a cousin of
Japanese ambassador to the US Ichiro Fujisaki. He
is known as well-versed in issues ranging from
financial affairs to foreign and security
"My policy is to further promote
the deepening of the Japan-US alliance," Matsumoto
said at an inaugural press conference on
Wednesday. "I intend to make efforts toward the
deepening of the Japan-US alliance in a way that
is appropriate in the 21st century."
of his immediate tasks is to make preparations for
Kan's visit to the US scheduled for the first half
of this year.
Matsumoto is due to attend a
two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the
Group of Eight nations from March 14 in Paris and
host two days of trilateral foreign ministerial
talks with China and South Korea from March 19 in
Kosuke Takahashi is a
Tokyo-based journalist. Besides Asia Times Online,
he also works for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo
correspondent. He can be contacted at
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