By AUDREY FISCHER
Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki is so “excited and jubilant” about working with the Obama Administration that he decided to focus his Dec. 2 lecture at the Library on the relationship of Japan with the United States under “the new team.”
“Your election is historic,” said Fujisaki. “It gives hope to minorities and young people. The U.S. has proved that it is still a role model for democracy all over the world. I couldn’t say that a month ago, but now I can.”
And the world is watching, according to a Pew Research Center poll cited by the ambassador. More than 50 percent of those polled in Germany and the United Kingdom said they were interested in the U.S. presidential election. No less than 83 percent of those polled in Japan agreed. By comparison, 80 percent of those polled in the United States reported interest in the election.
Fujisaki also reported that 79 percent of Japanese respondents were happy with the results of the election and 60 percent thought the new administration would make the world better.
The ambassador discussed several reasons for this optimism, quoting statements made by President-elect Obama and Secretary of State-designee Hilary Clinton.
“President Bush merits some credit for good U.S./Japan relations but it can be even better,” said Fujisaki.
He cited the “shared interest” of both countries in matters of security and the rule of law; a similar stance on foreign policy, particularly the “high priority” of preventing terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation in North Korea; and concern for climate change.
Acknowledging that Japan had not been a model of environmental concerns through the 1970s but citing low levels of carbon-dioxide emissions in recent years, the ambassador said the Obama administration’s position on climate change is “the same as ours. … It’s ambitious but practical. The U.S. and Japan can work together on this.”
Protecting the environment “cannot wait,” according to Fujisaka, who has seen firsthand a significant reduction in the size of the glaciers in the Swiss Alps. He believes it will take “political will” to address the problem of climate change.
Although the ambassador expressed optimism about working with the new administration on the environment and other issues, he did mention “concerns” that have surfaced in the Japanese press about future relations with the United States. (“I’m a big believer in freedom of the press,” he said, acknowledging the presence of some members of the press in the audience. “It’s the best litmus test of freedom ringing. But sometimes the bells are out of tune.”)
Some possible areas of Japanese concern are U.S. focus on China, U.S. policies toward North Korea and protectionism (an economic policy of restraining trade between nations through government regulations).
Fujisaki spoke to allay each fear.
“There is a concern that Japan cannot fulfill its commitments quickly, while China can act more quickly,” he said. “Democracy is the essence, and a concern for human rights. Due process takes time.”
He noted proudly that, at the global economic summit held Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C., Japan was the only country to come up with a proposal to provide monetary assistance to the International Monetary Fund. “We demonstrated that we can act in times of real need,” he said.
The ambassador said he is confident that the rule of law will be upheld when it comes to international trade agreements and that problems will be resolved in the World Trade Organization’s courts rather than by unilateral action.
He said he believes the United States and Japan share “common goals and strategy” when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. “President-Elect Obama has said that we need to dramatically increase our coordination with allies and impose economic sanctions,” he said.
To demonstrate other similarities between Japan and the United States, Ambassador Fujisaki presented a series of charts and graphs that showed Japan to be second only to the United States in GDP (gross domestic product), number of patent applications, support for Iraq reconstruction and contributions to the United Nations.
When asked by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington what he would most like people to know about Japan, he cited the data on those graphs.
“Many of you think you knew all this, but I don’t believe you,” quipped Fujisaki, who keeps the charts in his pocket to show to anyone who might be interested.
To sum up how Japan and the United States can assure good relations in the future, the ambassador cited “three nos”: “No politicizing of issues, no surprises and no taking one another for granted. Just like a married couple, we must be considerate.”