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The U.S. has a new ambassador in Japan and that ambassador has a new Japanese government to contend with. Japan's Democratic Party, which won Sunday's election in a landslide, has never held power before. The U.S. ambassador gave his first interview to NPR's Louisa Lim. And she has this report on the new challenges for U.S-Japan relations.
LOUISA LIM: Of the many unknowns about Japan's new leadership, one of the biggest is how it will deal with the U.S. The traditional stance of the Democratic Party of Japan has been combative, calling for a less subservient relationship and criticizing the presence of U.S. troops in Japan. But as the possibility of power approached, the rhetoric has been toned down substantially. Now the calls are for a more equal relationship. Will that mean a change from the status quo? I asked Shinkun Haku, who is deputy foreign minister in the DPJ shadow cabinet.
Mr. SHINKUN HAKU (Deputy Foreign Minister, Japan): (Through Translator) There may be some changes. Before, the Japanese government agreed with whatever the U.S. said. In that sense, Japan played the role of a yes man in the U.S.-Japan alliance. But why can't we hold talks together and come up with new proposals together?
LIM: Haku says that the Japan-U.S. relationship is still the cornerstone of East Asian security. On that point, all sides are in absolute agreement. But on the details, opinions differ.
Mr. JOHN ROOS (U.S. Ambassador, Japan): No, I actually don't believe there is going to be a new type of relationship with the Japanese government.
LIM: That's Washington's new man in Tokyo, Silicon Valley lawyer John Roos. Having already spoken by phone to the incoming prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, he's unconcerned about any lack of clarity in the DPJ's stance towards the U.S.
Mr. ROOS: I will tell you that the deep commitment of the relationship between the United States and Japan is there on behalf of the DPJ. And just within the last 24 hours, it's been reconfirmed to me. So I really don't have the concern. The proof will be as our relations continue to deepen, and we continue to work together on a whole series of bilateral issues going forward.
LIM: One major bilateral issue concerns the 47,000 American troops in Japan. The election manifesto of the DPJ calls for a review of the Status Of Forces Agreement governing those troops. But John Roos says although issues of implementation can be addressed, the Status of Forces Agreement itself will not be changed.
Mr. ROOS: Just to make it abundantly clear, both the United States and Japan at the government-to-government level have made it absolutely clear that these agreements have been signed, agreed to and are going forward.
LIM: The appointment of ambassador Roos itself has not been without controversy here in Tokyo. He had never been to Japan before he got the job. And Jeff Kingston from Temple University says that lack of experience plays into Japanese insecurities about their place in Washington's pecking order.
Professor JEFF KINGSTON (Temple University): So I think that there was a collective sense of disappointment with the appointment of someone nobody knew anything about. I mean, below low profile � no profile. And so I think in Japan there's a sense of Japan passing and China rising, and this does give way to, you know, anxieties.
LIM: There may be anxiety in Washington, too, about exactly what its new Asian partner stands for. Three days before the election, Yukio Hatoyama had an op-ed piece in The New York Times. In it, he slammed U.S.-style capitalism and talked about a possible end to the era of U.S. unilateralism. Hatoyama has since claimed his words were taken out of context. But the Stanford-educated engineer has had to publicly stress he's not anti-American. Tsuneo Watanabe, a foreign policy expert from the Tokyo Foundation, believes the op-ed debacle underlines the DPJ's weaknesses.
Mr. TSUNEO WATANBE (Foreign Policy Expert, Tokyo Foundation): That is a one weak point of DPJ because DPJ never experienced real diplomacy. Of course, some people have feared, oh, that probably they may be immature.
LIM: Hatoyama has a steep learning curve ahead and time is very tight. In late September, he's expected to visit the U.S., just a week after taking office. He'll attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Tokyo.