[Outlook]Winning over Obama

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[Outlook]Winning over Obama

The election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States surprised the world to the extent that it is not just considered a change of administration, but a change in the course of history. After his inauguration, President Obama is displaying dedication to unity and understanding to a degree that far exceeds our expectations, embracing his foes and his friends at the same time.

The same may be said of the new administration’s foreign policy. Unlike his predecessor, Obama values international cooperation above all else, on a foundation of responsible sovereignty and smart power. In this regard, there is a high possibility that the United States will seek more burden sharing from its allies, such as Korea and Japan.

The Japanese government has long been afraid of diplomatic shock waves passing through Washington. What Tokyo fears most is a sudden dramatic improvement in Sino-American relations.

The “Nixon shock” in 1972 and the “Clinton shock” in 1998, with American presidents suddenly announcing visits to China, are prime examples.

As such, the Japanese government seems to now be fidgeting, fearing that the new American administration may bring an “Obama shock.”

But such a shock seems to be less of a possibility if we take a closer look at the main characteristics of Obama’s choices of diplomatic personnel, as well as his administration’s foreign policy towards Japan.

Influential figures with a deep knowledge of Japan have been called on to fill the top East Asia foreign policy jobs on Obama’s diplomatic team.

Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor and former assistant defense secretary, was designated as the next ambassador to Japan, and Kurt Campbell, a policy expert and distinguished authority on Japan, was appointed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific. Nye played a pivotal role in redefining and strengthening the U.S.?Japan alliance by releasing the Nye Report in the ’90s and the Armitage Report in the 2000s. He is also an advocate of smart power, insisting that the U.S.?Japan alliance should not depend on military strength, but should use economics and culture for diplomatic means. U.S.?Japan relations are united in a willingness to draw on smart power.

America has clarified its position that it will place a high value on its alliance with Japan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S.?Japan alliance will provide a foundation that can contribute to peace and stability in the Asia?Pacific region.

The tasks facing America are enormous: economic recovery, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prevention of terrorism and weapons proliferation, and putting a stop to global warming. The global economic behemoth that is Japan is an indispensable ally in achieving these goals.

However, as the supremacy of the United States is rapidly weakening, there may be perpetual friction between the two nations. The Obama administration will call on Japan to strengthen its role in official development assistance and peacekeeping operations. In particular, Washington is looking for an increased Japanese contribution to the war in Afghanistan.

If Japan takes a passive stance toward America’s demands, it will naturally lead to a regression in the relationship between the two countries.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds the key. Following the short-lived Abe and Fukuda administrations, the current Aso cabinet is also on the verge of collapse.

The Liberal Democratic Party faces a growing likelihood that it will lose the coming election, and the opposition Democratic Party led by Ichiro Ozawa will most probably win.

However, regardless of a switchover of political regimes, the U.S.?Japan alliance will remain unchanged in Japanese diplomacy. We need to pay attention to the fact that an Ozawa Democratic Party alliance would also fall within the field of Obama’s vision for implementing smart power diplomacy in East Asia.

The Obama administration has clearly declared that Japan is an ally in the same class as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Meanwhile, it only sees Korea as a “partner.”

Under the Obama administration which sets a higher value on Japan and China, U.S.?Korea relations may be demoted to a lower rank.

To prevent this, we should strive to foster closer ties with the United States to ensure that our strategic alliance with the United States will be elevated to a security and value-oriented alliance that guarantees peace and prosperity in East Asia.

*The writer is a professor of diplomacy at the Pusan University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Son Ki-sup
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