Daily Israel Report

Tokyo Seeks Upgrade In Military And Economic Ties With The US

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is banking on the Trans Pacific Partnership to help contain China and please the Japanese consumer.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 11/12/2012, 5:54 AM

Yoshihiko Noda
Yoshihiko Noda
Reuters

It is no secret that Japan is severely worried about the rise of Chinese power. The most visible sign is the dispute over the Senkaku Islands and the naval standoff that is taking place between China and Japan in that vicinity.

Another aspect of the dispute is the Chinese effort to pressure Japan economically, by unofficially boycotting Japanese products. In the recent period of tension, Japanese car sales in China plummeted while the big winner was the Korean firm of Hyundai that boosted its sales in China.

In the military realm, Japan is looking for allies and new military relationships that can help counterbalance China. Japan is expanding its military ties to India, implicitly widening the range of Japanese military activity.

The same may be now in store for US Japanese defense ties. Japanese defense minister Satoshi Morimoto told the Japanese lower house that the 15-year-old guidelines on bilateral defense relations needed updating. The United States has long desired that Japan take a more active role in the regional security balance, but up to now Japan has been hesitant both due to the economic costs and because it did not want to appear provocative to China.

On the economic front, Japanese Prime Minister Noda plans to cement ties, bolster the Japanese economy and perhaps improve his party's prospects in the coming elections by joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership a trade pact that will liberalize trade between Australia, Canada and the United States as well as other Southeast Asian countries. The goal of the trade pact is to eliminate tariffs, as well as establish ground rules for corporate expansion into other member states.

Japan has a powerful agricultural lobby due to the number of rural electoral districts, but an inefficient agricultural sector. This is a product of Japanese geography rather than a lack of initiative on the part of Japanese farmers. Even such a staple of Japanese diet as rice is grown far more efficiently and cheaply in the United States than in Japan.

If tariffs on agricultural imports were abolished, the food bill for the Japanese consumer would drop and this might be a vote winner in urban areas and in the Japanese trade unions.

This would represent a strategic decision to alienate the farm vote, but the strength of the Democratic Party of Japan has been the cities. By forcing political parties to show their cards on the trade pact, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party will also be forced to make a choice between the cities and the farmers. The treaty is also popular with Japanese industrialists, who figure that it would improve Japan's trade position in the United States and Canada.