Japan’s prime minister today insisted ties with the United States would not change if Democratic candidate John Kerry won the presidential election, despite Tokyo’s close relationship with President George Bush.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been a vocal supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq, and he said last week he hoped the Republican president would “do well” in the November 2 contest with Kerry.
Koizumi defended his comments today under questioning in Parliament from opposition lawmakers, who have accused him of interfering in the US election and possibly damaging relations with Washington should Kerry win.
“I don’t see what the problem is. I made clear that I wasn’t interfering in another country’s election,” Koizumi said. “I see no change in Japan-US elections under Bush, or under Kerry.”
Koizumi and Bush have strengthened the US-Japan alliance in the past three years, and Tokyo has deployed some 550 troops to southern Iraq on a humanitarian mission, despite strong public opposition in Japan.
Some in Japan are worried that a victory by Kerry, who has vowed to review international trade agreements for “fairness”, could lead to increased trade friction with Tokyo.
But Japan’s ambassador to the United States, Ryozo Kato, said a Kerry win would not trigger a trade row with Japan.
“Given the growing importance of Japan as a country that shares many values and interests with the US, I think he would choose to construct a co-operative economic relationship with us,” Kato said.
Kerry has made an issue of the trade and foreign-exchange policies of Japan and other Asian export powerhouses, saying unfair practices have cost US jobs.
Some analysts say the Democrat might push Japan to accept import quotas on cars and car parts from the United States, reminiscent of trade rows in the 1980s and ’90s over cars and semiconductors.
Japan’s imports of US cars declined last year, and about 60% of the US trade deficit with Japan is in the auto sector, analysts note.