Exclusive Interview with Professor Yamazaki Ryuichiro

Beijing taking the place of Tokyo as a centre of American Asia Pacific strategy is, in part, mass media sensationalism.

Professor YAMAZAKI Ryuichiro


Visiting Professor, APU

Ambassador & Deputy Permanent Representative to United Nations (1999)

Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry and of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (2000)

Ambassador to Vietnam (2001)

Ambassador & Chief Negotiator for WTO (02)

Ambassador to Philippines (04-07)

1. What is the main agenda of Obama’s visit?

President Obama was attending APEC Summit in Singapore on 14th November, and it was quite obvious that he would visit Japan, Korea and China on this trip because these three countries are the key regional players. The main agenda in Tokyo was to discuss several bilateral issues as well as to address global issues of mutual concern such as the world economy and climate change.

1. Unlike Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, why did President choose Japan as his  first destination in Asia?

Japan is a long-standing ally of the US, sharing many political and economic values, and our bilateral relations are under-pinned by the Japan-US security alliance. While in Tokyo, President Obama delivered a major Asia policy speech. His schedule in Tokyo manifests the importance that President Obama and his Administration place upon the crucial relations with Japan. Even in the present age of globalization, Japan still is the gateway to Asia for the US..

2. Just last month, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates shut the door of negotiation on relocating US military base in Okinawa. But during his recent visit, Obama seemed to have reopened that door. Why has the change come so suddenly?

Okinawa base issue was not the main topic of President Obama’s visit. The two leaders did agree to continue discussions on this issue at Ministerial level.

3. Prime Minister Hatoyama has been talking a lot about ‘equal partnership’. What does he specifically mean by that?

Actually, ‘Equal Partnership’ is not a new concept, and President Obama himself has endorsed such relationship since taking office. The word “Partnership” itself indicates a relationship between equals. And it is clear that US and Japan, being the first and second largest economies in the world, equal partnership is a dynamic concept that not only benefits both countries, but also benefits  the rest of Asia and ultimately the world.

4. Why is Premier Hatoyama calling for a greater East Asia Community? Does that not strain its relationship with US?

PM Hatoyama wants to bring out every potential of Japan, China and Korea to help solve the present global economic crisis, and especially in Asia by tapping the potentiality of the other dynamic economies in Asia-Pacific. An open institution in the form of an “East Asia Community” would serve such purpose. This kind of institution building would not pose any problems to Japan’s relationship with US because the results of such efforts would also benefit the US. In fact, by creating an East Asia Community sometime in the future, I think the region would ultimately open up itself more to the rest of the world, especially to the US.

5. Lastly, with China’s rise as a major economic and military power, do you think that China is more important for US today than Japan?

China has always been an important neighbor for Japan, and comparing Japan and China  vis-à-vis American importance is not a constructive approach. The notion of Beijing taking the place of Tokyo as the centre of American Asia Pacific strategy is, in part, mass media’s sensationalism.

The fact is that China is important to both US and Japan, while Japan is also important to both US and China., The overall relationship among our three countries is already so deep and interconnected, in this age of globalization, that there are plenty of opportunities to make it a win-win situation for all three, while being careful to take into consideration the benefits of 

countries other than these three, especially in the Asian region.

*By Iqra Anugrah, published in The APU Times, 3 December 2009