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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

Emma Chanlett-Avery, Coordinator
Specialist in Asian Affairs

William H. Cooper
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The post-World War II U.S.-Japan alliance has long been an anchor of the U.S. security role in East Asia. The alliance facilitates the forward deployment of about 36,000 U.S. troops and other U.S. military assets in the Asia-Pacific, thereby undergirding U.S. national security strategy in the region. For Japan, the alliance and the U.S. nuclear umbrella provides maneuvering room in dealing with its neighbors, particularly China and North Korea. 

U.S.-Japan relations have been adjusting to the Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) landslide victory in the August 30, 2009 elections for the Lower House of Japan's legislature. The victory gave the DPJ, under party president Yukio Hatoyama, control of the government. While most members of the left-of-center DPJ are broadly supportive of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the general thrust of Japanese foreign policy, in the past the party has questioned and/or voted against several features of the alliance, including base realignment and Japan's financial payments for U.S. forces stationed in Japan. The Party has put forward a foreign policy vision that envisions greater "equality" in Japan's relations with the United States, in part through deeper engagement with Asia and a more United Nations-oriented diplomacy. The DPJ's victory appears to mark the end of an era in Japan; it was the first time Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was voted out of office. The LDP had ruled Japan virtually uninterrupted since 1955. 

Since the DPJ victory, bilateral tensions have arisen over the desire of some Hatoyama government members to alter a 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to relocate the controversial Futenma Marine Air Station to a less densely populated location in Okinawa. The move is to be the first part of a planned realignment of U.S. forces in Asia, designed in part to reduce the footprint of U.S. forces on Okinawa by redeploying 8,000 U.S. Marines and their dependents to new facilities in Guam. The Hatoyama government withdrew Japan's naval deployment in the Indian Ocean that had been providing non-combat support to U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. Instead, Tokyo announced a new, five-year, $5 billion aid package for Afghanistan. 

Japan is one of the United States' most important economic partners. Outside of North America, it is the United States' second-largest export market and second-largest source of imports. Japanese firms are the United States' second-largest source of foreign direct investment, and Japanese investors are the second-largest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries, helping to finance the U.S. deficit and reduce upward pressure on U.S. interest rates. Bilateral trade friction has decreased in recent years, partly because U.S. concern about the trade deficit with Japan has been replaced by concern about a much larger deficit with China. One exception was U.S. criticism over Japan's decision in 2003 to ban imports of U.S. beef, which have since resumed. 

However, the economic problems in Japan and the United States associated with the credit crisis and the related economic recession and how the two countries deal with those problems will likely dominate their bilateral economic agenda for the foreseeable future. Japan has been hit particularly hard by the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) declined 0.7% in 2008 and is estimated to have declined by 5.5% in 2009, with a modest rebound expected in 2010. At the same time, the United States is showing some signs of recovery, at least according to some indicators. 

Date of Report: February 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL33436
Price: $29.95

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