Last week, Kato Ryozo, Japan’s ambassador to the US, warned, “This resolution, which is not grounded in objectivity, is not good for US-Japan relations.”
Now Mainichi reports that in New York on Monday, on the eve of the scheduled passage of the resolution in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, a group of Japanese-American leaders expressed their concerns about the resolution. Irene Hirano, head of the Japanese American National Museum, is quoted as saying, “When relations between the two countries worsen, the first to feel its effects are Japanese-Americans.”
Both reports strike me as drastically out of proportion to reality. How exactly will relations worsen? What will be the practical impact of this resolution? Will the US somehow be less reluctant to cooperate with Japan on security? Will the US somehow be less inclined to engage in trade negotiations with Japan? No, the problem does not seem to be on the American side, which seems to recognize that allies can disagree without undermining an otherwise close relationship. In fact, MOFA conducted a poll of the American public and American elites in February and March this year, measuring the extent to which each group thought US-Japan relations were good. The survey found that 67% of respondents from the population at large thought US-Japan relations were good, while 86% of elite respondents answered in the affirmative. This was, of course, around the time that the comfort women issue blew up. And yet an overwhelming majority of elites surveyed still felt confident in the health of the US-Japan relationship.
Hence my question in the title. When Ambassador Kato talks of the resolution worsening US-Japan relations — in the face of overwhelming US contentment with the state of the relationship — is he making a threat, hinting at a more combative turn in Japan’s stance in the relationship? Or is he making a prophecy as to how his compatriots will react to their government’s being criticized by the US Congress? It seems to me that instead of assuming that the resolution will worsen relations, it is appropriate to ask whether Congress’s passage of the resolution will worsen US-Japan relations, and if so, how and why. And if relations are to worsen as a result of Japanese defensiveness, then it is appropriate to consider how Japan can become less susceptible to overreacting in the face of relatively insignificant turbulence like the comfort women resolution.