2001 Japanese Diet Delegation to the US

March 18–22, 2001
Washington DC, Seattle WA

The 2001 Diet delegation visited Washington DC for a series of meetings with top politicians, policymakers, analysts, and journalists, then traveled to Seattle, Washington, to learn about the US aviation and IT industries. The trip included visits with Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Senator Craig Thomas, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Representative Jim Leach, Chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and staff of the National Security Council; and experts on security policy and international economics at Washington think tanks. This was the 23rd delegation of Diet members to visit the United States under JCIE’s US-Japan Parliamentary Exchange program.

Participants

ICHIRO AISAWA, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (House of Representatives)

YUKIO EDANO, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) (House of Representatives)

KAZUHIRO HARAGUCHI, DPJ  (House of Representatives)

TATSUYA ITO, LDP  (House of Representatives)

HAKUBUN SHIMOMURA, LDP  (House of Representatives)

TAIICHI SHIRAHO, New Komeito  (House of Representatives)

TAKUYA TASSO, Liberal Party (House of Representatives)

Observer

ARATA TAKEBE, Assistant to Tsutomu Takebe, Member of House of Representatives, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 

I. Overview

The 23rd Diet delegation, consisting of seven emerging political leaders from four different parties, visited Washington DC, from March 18 to 22, 2001, for a series of meetings with Congressional members, government leaders, experts from major research institutions, journalists, and others. They also visited Seattle, Washington, on March 22-23 for a program at the Boeing Company, which included a tour of its Everett Plant and an exchange of views with the corporate executives, as well as a seminar with the executives of IT industries in the area.

The delegation was organized as part of the US-Japan Parliamentary Exchange Program (PEP), which was established in 1968 to promote a closer working relationship and enhance understanding between members of the US Congress and the Japanese Diet through exchange and dialogue. Over 200 members of the Senate and House have participated in the Program in Japan, while 160 members have visited the United States under the auspices of the Program. The Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE/Japan) in Tokyo and its affiliate in the United States, the Japan Center for International Exchange, Inc. (JCIE/USA), organizes the program in collaboration with policy research institutions in the United States.

The visit of the Diet members this year was particularly timely. First, the visit came just as the new administration was settling in, allowing the delegation to explore the emerging domestic and external policy directions of the new Bush administration just two months after its rise to power. Concomitantly, they could discern the emerging patterns of interaction between the White House and the new Congress. This will be an important issue given the slim Republican majority in the House and equal split of seats in the Senate. Second, the visit of the delegation coincided with a series of visits by Asian leaders to the US capital, including President Kim Dae Jung of Korea, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori of Japan, and Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen of China. This series of visits focused the attention of leaders in Washington on Asia, making it possible for the Japanese politicians to have a significant exchange of views on America’s Asia policy. Third, the visit coincided with a significant rise of concern among leaders of diverse sectors in the United States about the state of the Japanese economy, and perhaps more importantly, about the continued political stalemate that seems to be closely linked to that economic stagnation. This convergence of events added a great deal of substance and intensity to the dialogues conducted during the delegation’s one-week stay in the United States.

The program was very much enriched by the willingness of many individuals in Washington to meet and participate in discussions with the delegation. These included government leaders such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who was a founding member of the US-Japan Parliamentary Exchange Program along with Ambassador Thomas Foley in 1968) and Torkel Patterson, special assistant to the president and senior director for Asian affairs, National Security Council; Congressional leaders such as Senator Craig Thomas (Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs) and Congressman Jim Leach (Chairman, House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific); leading experts on Asian affairs, security, and economic issues; and Congressional staff, corporate executives, journalists, and others. JCIE was fortunate to be able to draw on a number of past participants of other JCIE programs, such as the Congressional Staff Exchange and the exchange of young leaders conducted with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. The significance of the program was further highlighted by a surprise visit of Prime Minister Mori to a dinner meeting of the delegation with Ambassador Foley, following his meeting with President George W. Bush. The Diet delegation members had a unique opportunity to review the issues of the US-Japan relationship for thirty minutes with the participation of the prime minister, the American ambassador to Japan, and the Japanese ambassador to the United States.

The visit of the delegation to Seattle was a significant new element of the program this year. The Japanese Diet members were impressed with the extent of the business and technological cooperation between Boeing and the Seattle-based IT industry on the one hand and Japanese corporations on the other—a fact of which they previously had not been fully aware. Such corporate strategic alliances obviously underscore the broad underpinnings that sustain the US-Japan alliance.

II. Reflections by the Visiting Japanese Politicians

The Japanese Diet members have come away from their one-week visit to the United States with diverse impressions of their extremely substantive and rich exchange of views with many American leaders. Some of the major points of their inquiries and agenda for future exploration can be summarized as follows.

(1) Need for a Clearer Understanding of Political Dynamics

One area in which there was a great deal of inquiry by the Japanese politicians was the overall effectiveness of the Bush administration given the very close presidential election where the new president did not win the popular vote and the equally close Congressional races that resulted in a slim margin of victory in the House and a Senate divided in two. The administration’s effort to pass its tax-cut bill was frequently taken up in this context during the delegation’s visit to Washington. While some pointed out that the president needed to have an early legislative victory to establish his leadership position, others argued that the way the bill was rushed through the House has brought the honeymoon between the White House and the Congress to an early end. It was significant to note that a new element of concern about the state of the US economy has been added to the argument in favor of the tax cut, possibly indicating a greater focus on domestic economic recovery in Washington politics in the months to come. Some predicted, however, that the way the tax bill was passed through the House will harden the Democratic members in both houses and that a more contentious atmosphere will prevail on many important legislative fronts. Some of the critical issues that are likely to be debated intensely in US politics in the coming months, many explained, include a shift in military strategy, a greater role for the federal government as opposed to the state and local governments on educational issues, a reexamination of environmental policy, and a review of social security issues with a view to reducing entitlements. Some of these legislative initiatives reflect the philosophical base of President Bush or the Republican Party—or a Republican strategy to capture more centrist ground to consolidate its place in US politics. Many of these issues can have significant implications for the US relationship with Japan, can provide a useful reference point for Japan in tackling similar issues, and might very well predict the future direction of US politics. As a result, the political dynamics that present themselves in the coming months clearly require the close attention of Japanese politicians.

Discussions on US domestic politics also addressed the new administration’s involvement in international organizations and international cooperation. In particular, questions were raised about Congressional approval on negotiating authority of the president in the World Trade Organization, the Congressional position on China’s accession to the WTO, and the new administration’s position on international cooperation on the global environment. It was acknowledged in the discussion that the domestic political dynamics affect the ability of advanced nations to cooperate in the international arena, and it was felt that politicians in both the United States and Japan should jointly address questions of how to cooperate more effectively on these issues.

(2) Responding to the Renewed American Interest in Japan

The visiting Diet delegation was taken by surprise by a sudden rise in interest in Japan among American leaders and the public. This seemed to be a stark contrast to the self-disparaging perception held by many Japanese in recent years of American disinterest in Japan—so-called Japan passing—at the expense of growing attention to other parts of Asia, notably China. This may be somewhat related to a seeming de-emphasis of China in the Bush foreign policy, but it was obvious to the Japanese politicians that it was more closely related to recent American concerns about the continued economic malaise that had been afflicting Japan for a decade. Such concerns have been exacerbated in recent months, the visitors were told, because of a growing feeling that the Japanese failure to recover its economy can have a negative impact on the US economy.

It was also clear that the American misgivings about Japan have gone beyond its economic recession and have become more focused on the fundamental issue of the governance of Japanese society. Moreover, the concern about Japan’s economic recovery seemed to go beyond its desired impact on the American economy but to be closely linked to American security and strategic interests. In this connection, the Japanese politicians were impressed by the extent of the frustrations held by many American leaders about the current political disarray in Japan and the failure to come up with stronger political leadership that can undertake the fundamental structural reforms needed for Japan’s economic recovery. The emerging political leaders participating in this year’s exchange visit, while sharing similar concerns, acknowledged the difficulties of reorienting a society that became accustomed to fast economic growth under heavy governmental protection and guidance. They argued that the growing sense of crisis in Japan might provide an environment more conducive to the types of reforms that younger political leaders across the party lines have been strongly supporting. The Diet delegation was impressed with the close interconnectedness between the domestic political and economic situation and Japan’s external relationships, including US-Japan ties.

(3) Redefining US-Japan Relations in Asia

The new direction of Asia policy under the Bush administration was a focus of discussion of the Japanese politicians during their visit to Washington, partly because this phase of the US-Japan Parliamentary Exchange Program has been focusing on bilateral security relations in Asia, but, more importantly, because of the recent reports of a possible shift in US policy toward China and North Korea. Many American leaders in the government as well as experts in international relations pointed out to the Japanese politicians that it is premature to judge the policy direction of the new administration toward Asia when many important sub-Cabinet positions have not been filled. Nevertheless, the frequent reference to “reassessment” and “reevaluation” of America’s Asia policy seemed to underscore the reported new emphasis on the US-Japan alliance relationship and a more cautious approach to China and North Korea. In fact, it was indicated in some of the discussions with the visiting Japanese politicians that the strengthening of the alliance relationship between the United States and Japan would reduce the military options available to China and that stronger Japanese support for US policy on National Missile Defense would encourage China to start dialogues with the United States and its allies on nuclear nonproliferation issues and to improve their transparency on military affairs. Frequent reference was made to the so-called Armitage Report, the report of a bipartisan study group headed by the newly appointed deputy secretary of state, in discussions on the US views of the US-Japan alliance. While the American interlocutors pointed out that the report was primarily aimed at encouraging domestic debate on the subject in the United States, the report has stimulated debate in Japan as well on Japan’s international role and Japan’s alliance relationship with United States. The fact that the chairman and key members of this study group have entered the new administration has given many in Japan the strong impression that its contents are indicative of the policy direction of the Bush administration toward Japan and Asia.

The Japanese politicians acknowledged the important role they should play in stimulating greater domestic debate in Japan on Japan’s international role and its contribution to the US-Japan alliance relationship as laid out in the Armitage Report, particularly because it raises critical issues such as Japan’s participation in collective security arrangements and greater cooperation on peacekeeping and peacemaking. At the same time, some of the delegates expressed concern that possible shifts in America’s China policy might suggest a zero-sum approach in the trilateral relationship among Japan, China, and the United States. Others also raised the concern that frequent incidents involving American soldiers based in Okinawa might jeopardize the alliance.

The possible evolution of America’s Asia policy may in fact represent continuity rather than a major departure from past policy, as pointed out by some American leaders. Nevertheless, the Japanese politicians who participated in this year’s exchange came away from their visit with the distinct impression that greater efforts should be made on their part to articulate Japan’s own policy toward Asia and Japan’s international role in general. Without such efforts, it will not be possible for Japan to engage in a “strategic dialogue” with the new administration, which may indeed be reexamining its policy toward Japan and Asia.

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