NEWSMAKER: WALTER MONDALE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN
JANUARY 10, 1996
If all goes according to script, the Japanese Parliament, will elect Ryutaro Hashimoto as prime minister on Tuesday, January 2. The change in government comes at a time when many Japanese are demanding a different military relationship with the United States. After a brief backgrounder, Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the current state of Japanese American relations with U.S. Ambassador, Walter Mondale.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In Japan, the U.S. military presence has come under attack in the months since three U.S. servicemen were indicted for raping a Japanese schoolgirl last September, all this just as Japan is getting a new prime minister with a reputation for talking tough and straight to Americans.
Tomorrow, if all goes according to script, the Japanese Diet, or Parliament, will elect Ryutaro Hashimoto as prime minister. He has been Japan's chief trade negotiator and developed a reputation for blunt talk across the bargaining table during meetings with the U.S. over auto exports. At age 58, Hashimoto also represents a new generation of politicians. He replaces Tomiichi Murayama, age 71, a Socialist who abandoned the anti-U.S. and pacifist platform of his party when he came to office a year and a half ago in a coalition of opposites with the long-ruling liberal Democrats.
The change in government comes at a time when many Japanese are demanding a different military security relationship with the United States. Thousands have mobilized in demonstrations, calling for removal of U.S. bases and military forces. Since World War II, the U.S. has assumed a major role in the defense of Japan as part of a strategy for maintaining a military balance in Asia. Japan's forces are limited to self-defense of the home islands by the U.S-imposed post-war constitution.
Some 47,000 American military personnel are stationed at 10 bases on the islands, with the largest concentration of troops in Okinawa. Provoking the recent uproar over this presence was the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, allegedly by three American servicemen last September. The three are now on trial in a Japanese court. American officials, from Amb. Walter Mondale to Defense Sec. William Perry, have apologized.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: (November 1, 1995) On behalf of all members of the armed forces, I want to express my deep sorrow and anger for this terrible act- deep sorrow for the little girl who was the tragic victim and for her family and anger at the perpetrators whose actions not only caused a tragedy for the victims but also unfairly reflected on the many fine American military personnel in Japan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The controversy reached a peak towards the end of November, just as President Clinton was scheduled to make a state visit to Japan as part of the Asia Pacific Economic Summit, but the President had to cancel that visit because of the budget battle in Washington.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: (November 16, 1996) It is well known that the relationship the United States has with Japan is the cornerstone of our entire Asia policy. I've already had a chance to express to the foreign minister my regret at the fact that President Clinton was required by domestic circumstances to cancel his trip to Japan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Vice President Gore took the President's place at the APEC meeting, and Mr. Clinton is scheduled to go this Spring. Today, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Washington expects continued cooperating with the Énew Japanese prime minister.
MIKE McCURRY, White House Press Secretary: We've heard from a variety of people, including Mr. Hashimoto, that our close working relationship would continue, and we continue to enjoy cooperation, whether it comes to economic discussions, political matters that affect our work together across the globe, or in the security area so vital to the national security of both the United States and Japan.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now to get some perspective on all this we turn to the United States Ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale. He joins us from St. Paul, Minnesota. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
WALTER MONDALE, U.S. Ambassador, Japan: (St. Paul) Pleased to be here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The new prime minister-designate, Mr. Hashimoto, has a reputation for being a tough guy. One wire reporter called him a political bruiser. Is that an overstatement?
AMB. MONDALE: Well, I've worked with Mr. Hashimoto practically daily since I've been ambassador. He is tough. He speaks up for Japan, but he's also a strong friend of the U.S. relationship, and once you make a bargain, he keeps it. I think we'll be able to work with him very well. He- one of his strongest statements the last few days has reaffirmed his view that the U.S./Japan relationship is crucial and that the U.S.- American security relationship is crucial for Japan, so I think what we'll see is continuity under a strong prime minister, and I believe we are going to be able to work with him very well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does he represent a generational change in that he's quite a bit younger than recent prime ministers?
AMB. MONDALE: In one sense, yes, true, but in another sense, he's an old hand. He's been in the Diet, the parliament, now for 33 years. He was elected as a young man, so while he's part of the new generation, he's also part of a generation of political leaders who've been around for a long time; so younger and also more experienced at the same time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Last year, the Clinton administration and Japan negotiated essentially- correct me if I'm wrong- a reaffirmation of the current military arrangement in Japan, an agreement that would have been signed by President Clinton last year but will be in the Spring. But the platform of the coalition that Mr. Hashimoto heads says something a bit different. It calls for "the realignment and reduction of American military bases in Okinawa." How will these two be reconciled?
AMB. MONDALE: Well, we have agreed to review through what we call a special action committee the- several matters surrounding our bases in Okinawa. This was triggered by the horrible rape that you've mentioned, and we are meeting now with Japanese officials to see how we can reduce irritants such as noise and the rest and how we can reduce the- what we call the footprint, the, the size of our presence there, all of it, however, consistent with our ability to do what we have to do under the treaty.
Our bases in Okinawa are very important, and over this next year, we're going to see what we can do to make certain that we're as good a neighbor as we can possibly be in Okinawa, and yet be able to do what we must do. I think we're going to be able to get that done, and I hope the people of Okinawa will see the sincerity of our efforts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does that mean that there might be some changes in Okinawa, but the overall number- forty-five to forty-seven thousand troops in Japan-
AMB. MONDALE: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH:-would stay the same?
AMB. MONDALE: That is correct.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They just might be moved somewhere else.
AMB. MONDALE: Well, that's not clear. Where our troops are to be located in Japan is a question for the government of Japan to decide. And so if they want to move some of them elsewhere and provide other facilities, that would be fine by us, but I, I frankly don't anticipate much of that. So what we really must do in Okinawa is to see how we can readjust the forces, reduce irritants, as I mentioned before, and try to be less intrusive than the current structure. And I think we're going to be able to take some useful steps there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The rape, the fact that the U.S. military did not turn over the men until they'd been indicted, which I guess is part of our agreement with the Japanese, and then the statements by the U.S. Pacific Commander, Admiral Mackey, who said, "The rape was stupid because the men could have hired a prostitute," led to some really hot and hard and angry feelings in Japan. Does that continue, or has that changed?
AMB. MONDALE: Well, let me just say one thing about the rape. It was horrible. There is no justification for it. To do this to a 12-year-old girl was just beyond belief, and I agree with what Sec. Perry said. It was not only dreadful for that young girl and for her family and the rest, but it also defames unfairly the public reputation of our many fine service men and women in that area.
Secondly, when this happened, we immediately investigated, found the suspects, placed them under arrest, and began complete and vigorous cooperation with the Japanese authorities, who have told us they were thoroughly satisfied. Under our then rules, however, we could not turn these suspects over to Japanese authorities until an indictment Éhad been issued, but it was understand- understood at all times during this proceeding that they would be turned over, and, in fact, they were.
Following that, we reviewed the rules to make it possible to turn suspects over who are charged with heinous crimes more quickly than is now the case, but I think a fair assessment of how that was handled on our part would show that we did everything we could to cooperate with Japanese authorities.
Now, the statement by the admiral, who happens to a friend of mine, was very unfortunate, and it, it required him to resign. I'm sorry that that happened, but I thought there was no other alternative.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And how do you assess the situation now? Has some of the sting gone out of the situation, or are the demonstrations continuing?
AMB. MONDALE: Somewhat, but this matter needs careful attention, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're meeting almost continuously with Japanese authorities from the Secretary of Defense on down. We've been working to make these changes in Okinawa that would help reduce the public concern about our presence there. I think we're going to be able to do quite a bit. This committee that I referred to must complete its work within a year. I'm sure we will do so, and I hope that that will be seen as satisfactory to many of the citizens of Okinawa.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It seems that the rape brought to a boil the simmering resentment or some- a resentment among some over the U.S. presence. What is your answer to the question, why do we need 47,000 troops, U.S. troops, in Japan in this post Cold War period?
AMB. MONDALE: Well, first of all, if you look at North Korea, they have a million military personnel on the border of South Korea as we talk tonight. We hope that they will never use those forces, but a little over a year ago, we were very concerned that they might do something foolish there.
If that were to occur, we would need our forces in Japan, our forces in South Korea, and perhaps other forces to deal with what could be a very serious risk. Secondly, the American forces in Japan play a crucial stabilizing role throughout the Asian Pacific region. In my lifetime, there have been three wars, all of them started there.
This time we're trying to do it differently, and the essence of our strategy involves the U.S./Japan security relationship and the presence of American forces in Japan that are permitted not only to help defend Japan but also to be deployed forward in case of need. And I think that every Asian country- I don't know of any exception, perhaps North Korea, is very glad for the U.S. presence there, and I think we should be too.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Turning to trade, how much has the U.S.- the aggressive stance on trade- led to a somewhat position in Japan about other issues? What's the tie there?
AMB. MONDALE: I don't- I think that's greatly exaggerated. You know, we have trade disputes with Europe, with Canada, and so on. It doesn't affect NATO. We have been very careful to keep trade issues separate from security issues. They are not related, and they shouldn't be related. I think we've made a good deal of progress on trade. American exports are rising. The current account deficit is coming down, partly as a result of the strong yen, but also because we've made progress in these trade talks, and I think by helping to solve this problem, as we are, this will help strengthen the relationship. Those negotiations were tough; there may be difficulties in the future, but I think it's very important that we try to keep the two separate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, in your experience, is Japan, does Japan see its future increasingly with the rest of Asia, and especially Southeast Asia, where it's gotten very involved with Vietnam, for example, rather than so much across the Pacific?
AMB. MONDALE: Oh, I think the Japanese leaders would consider that a false choice. Of course, they've got to be active in Asia. They are very involved there in economic trade and so on, and diplomatically, and by and large, I think we favor that. It, it helps all of us. But they also need a strong relationship with the United States and with the rest of the world, with Europe and so on. And I think they are very clear about that.
The Asian Pacific Economic Conference, which is something they've helped bring about, has a Pacific-wide focus to it. They're involved in all the international organizations. Yesterday, Hashimoto, for example, said that the U.S./Japan relationship is the linchpin of Japanese foreign policy and security policy. I think they see a choice of picking Asia or the United States or Asia and Europe as a false choice.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Last year saw a long line of difficult events in Japan, beginning with the earthquake in Kobe, the gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the yen surging to a new high on the dollar, and the collapse of five financial institutions. What kind of a public mood has all that produced?
AMB. MONDALE: Well, I think it has shaken them some, and I think there's a lot of hope that this new government will be able to deal with some of these matters that are still troubling them in an effective way. They've had four years of very sluggish growth. Unemployment is rising particularly among the young and particularly among young women. They havebeen shaken by these other events that you've described.
A lot of it- some of it's just bad luck, like the Kobe earthquake, but it was dreadful, and I think that, that it has sobered the Japanese and Japanese public opinion, and for that reason, they're looking to their government to start dealing with some of these problems in a more vigorous way.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, Mr. Ambassador, how do the Japanese leaders in your- I know that there's a wide variety here, but if you can generalize- in your experience, how do they see the United States? One reads here about Japanese intellectuals saying that the United States is a declining power.
AMB. MONDALE: I, I think it goes in cycles. Right now, I think that there's a lot of respect for the United States, you know. Our economy now is the most productive in the world. We are the world's only major military superpower. American leadership is seen throughout the world as being indispensable to, to a stable world. I think that our relationship, though we've had the difficulties that you described, is fundamentally sound.
Both leaders, i.e., Hashimoto and Mr. Ozawa, the leader of the main opposition party, are strong friends of a good, solid U.S./Japanese relationship, and although you hear these other voices, as you've mentioned, I think most Japanese feel very strongly that the U.S. relationship is crucial, and I hope that most Americans feel the same way about it, because I think that's the truth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
AMB. MONDALE: Thank you.
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