U.S. friendship is unchanged, Albright assures Japan Clinton's trip to China leaves Tokyo insecure


TOKYO -- Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright dropped by today on her way back from China to give Japan a reassuring hug and emphasize that the United States values its ties with Tokyo as much as ever.

But Albright, in addition to comments about the "unshakable friendship" between Japan and the United States, also prodded Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to take further steps to bolster the Japanese economy.

The mood in Japan is so doleful and insecure these days that many Japanese were hurt by President Clinton's decision to spend nine days in China without even a brief visit to Japan.

So Clinton sent Albright to Tokyo to brief Japanese officials on the China summit meeting, to reassure Japan of America's continuing affections and to poke Hashimoto to ensure that he fulfills his promise to tackle Japan's economic mess.

"The alliance between our two nations is the embodiment of an unshakable friendship," Albright said at a news conference yesterday afternoon. "It is the foundation for stability in the Asia-Pacific. It is the cornerstone of our strategic policy in Asia."

Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, standing beside Albright, looked slightly mollified, even if Albright did omit the other cliche that used to be commonplace: that the U.S.-Japanese relationship "is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none."

Japanese scholars have often noted that historically the United States has tilted either toward Japan or toward China but has had difficulty being friendly simultaneously with both.

In addition, Japanese officials who used to complain about "Japan bashing" now fret about "Japan passing" -- a phrase referring to the lack of attention paid to Japan at all. The one thing worse than being insulted, it seems to people in Tokyo, is being ignored.

Albright went out of her way to make a point that some Japanese officials also make, at least in their more self-confident moments: that "the improvement in U.S.-Chinese relations is very much in Japan's interest as well."

"It is a 'win-win-win' outcome for the people of the United States, Japan and China," she said.

The United States had invited Hashimoto to Washington for a state visit this month, as another consolation prize for not getting a presidential visit. One purpose of the state visit will be to badger Hashimoto into taking bolder steps to boost Japan's economy.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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