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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:02 03/09/2007
September 2000

On U.S.-Japan Relations in the 21st Century

Jiro USHIO (Chairman and CEO, Ushio, Inc.)


As we are entering the 21st century, it is important for Japan to look to the past and renew our commitment to a friendly relationship with the United States.

In the first half of the 20th century, almost everyone in the world was short-sighted; hardly anyone looked at the "big picture." Japan was especially unaccustomed to looking at the bigger picture and its bird's eye view tended to be unreliable. In fact, Japan made a mistake in contemplating itself as a master of the world and tried to create a regional order in the wrong way.

Right after the war, MacArthur came to Japan and we accomplished what he set us out to do beautifully. At that time, the Japanese were diligent students compared to other countries. In the postwar period, we did not make mistakes when all we were required to do was to see the world through the glasses of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. After the Cold War, everyone began to look at the world in their own ways, acting independently of others.

At the same time we have succeeded economically, so no country is giving us a menu to follow. There is not a clear strategy, which is why we are trying to come up with a vision, but we are unable to create a large vision. This is a dangerous phase for Japan. We could repeat our mistake by choosing the wrong way.

There are many blueprints of world strategy. How we choose which one to pursue is the key, and I do not think we need to create our own from scratch. Look at what happened to those countries that chose the Soviet model of socialism instead of the American model half a century ago. They made the wrong choice, and 50 years later the difference is so vast. The issue is how we make the choice. I think Japan should be concentrating on the kinds of strategy we choose to adopt.


In this context, it is vital for Japan to know its own virtues and shortcomings in its relation with the outside world. As already pointed out, our weakness is in the area of creating a large vision and looking at a big picture for a new world order. This is partly due to our lack of military power.

On the other hand, Japan has been building up its strength over the years in assisting other countries economically throughout the post-war period. Japan's methods of assisting other countries are "invisible," and are not designed to achieve instant gratification, but they seem sincere for that reason. Japan is not too smart and does not know how to steal the spotlight even it is dispensing aid. We are so diligent and polite with our neighbors and clients.

For instance, when everyone was withdrawing capital from Asia during the 1997 financial crisis, Japan withdrew the least. Even when factory operation output was down to 20 percent, we remained in the region. Japan also is probably the only country that has succeeded in transfer of advanced technology to the region.

I cannot help but wonder where this kind of diligence comes from, but I suspect that the state's lack of power is behind the private sector's restained behavior. Japan has no military backing, so private corporations have to be very courteous when going overseas. This kind of outside environment as well as our national trait can explain the diligent and restrained behavior on the part of most Japanese corporations overseas.


In this sense, Americans seem just the opposite to the Japanese. They sometimes appear to lack diligence and restraint. But they are strong in the area of creating a large vision and looking at a big picture for a new world order. Needless to say, this has to with their overwhelming military power in the world. For that reason, the United States must have its own blueprint of world strategy.

In fact, Japan and the United States have been developing this kind of complementary relationship throughout the postwar period. It is time to renew our commitment to this long-term relationship between the two nations.

Given our stable and friendly relations with the United States, we can work with our neighbors in Asia as a leader in assisting them without repeating a past mistake. Our good relationship with the United States is a prerequisite for our good relationship with Asian countries. We need to reconfirm this principle in order to maintain peace and prosperity for the region and the world in the coming century.

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