Monday, March 4, 2002
U.S. furthers fraud of Japanese reform

Special to The Japan Times

WASHINGTON -- Why should Goldman Sachs and U.S. President George W. Bush expect Japan to reconcile its financial accounts and nonperforming loans when it is clear that Japan's political architecture inhibits accountability on any front, particularly in matters of Japan's historical memory?

Official Japan cannot bring itself to apologize to the "comfort women" forced to act as sex slaves for Japan's soldiers; it cannot overcome by leadership or regulation the fundamental involvement of the yakuza and corruption-ridden political machines that have devastated the health of Japan's economy; and it cannot apologize to the American prisoners of war that Mitsui and Mitsubishi used as slave labor.

One key reason why Japan does not reconcile its past with the present, either in finance or in historical matters, is that the United States has at various times turned a blind eye to, permitted, encouraged and even designed this system of structural fraud and unaccountability.

In many ways, Japan is Enron, and Bush is Arthur Andersen. When Bush, during his recent trip to Tokyo, stated that he had looked Koizumi in the eye and saw a bold reformer, and that the U.S. government had full faith and confidence in Koizumi to pull off a set of Herculean and probably impossible economic and financial reforms, Bush was merely furthering the fraud.

Similarly, the U.S. State Department has for years blocked the release of certain papers related to deals cut among nations on the eve of the 1951 San Francisco Treaty. Because of pending lawsuits in both the California and federal court system brought by POWs seeking damages and apologies from Japanese firms that enslaved them, these old materials -- some of which remain classified -- have a fundamental bearing on contemporary issues. Using as an excuse a "fear of biasing pending legal cases," the State Department has refused to comply with the U.S. government's own instructions, through the so-called Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, to fully disclose American archives on the San Francisco Treaty.

The law requires the State Department to declassify this material, yet it is failing to do so. The evidence should be the evidence, and courts should be the arena where challenger and defender come to a legally binding solution.

In September 2001, Congress, by votes of 395-33 in the House and 58-34 in the Senate, ordered the State Department to stop interfering in the POWs' efforts to obtain relief through the judicial process. But the White House intervened to subvert this congressional action at the level of the joint House-Senate conference to reconcile the different versions of the spending bill to which these instructions were amended. Only five times in U.S. congressional history since 1789 has a provision that was debated, voted on and passed in both house of Congress disappeared in the conference process of reconciling House and Senate versions of a bill.

The Bush administration engineered an insertion into the conference report that reads this "provision would be an impediment to America's effort to build a broad coalition against terror." The staffers of the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Committee, who worry about funding and not U.S.-Japan affairs, were unwilling to argue with White House and State Department emissaries. They were led to believe that Japan would not cooperate with America in the war against terror if the provision was not dropped. One staffer stated that they were told by high-level authorities that there was a "quid pro quo" involved and that Japan had threatened to withhold cooperation in the antiterror effort if the POW provision was not dropped.

The problem is that Japan could never have made such a threat because it is ludicrous. The Japanese government and public understand that Japan's contributions to the antiterror war are politically important but substantively trivial. It is worth recalling that Japan actually contributed $13 billion to help pay for the Persian Gulf War. It was the only nation on the planet to tax its public to support that effort. But the current U.S. administration regards this as a less significant contribution than passage of Japan's proposed antiterror legislation, which is mostly cosmetic in substance.

It seems clear that the State Department and White House National Security Council staff actually invented the quid pro quo excuse in order to prevent exposure of the long-term manipulation by the U.S. of the historical record. Even though I would have disagreed with the result, simply stating in the conference report that "this provision is not in the American national interest" would have been more honorable and accurate.

Regrettably, the POWs and those struggling to get Japan to face its past and to adopt some mechanism by which it can be more mature and honest about these historical issues have no choice but to take on their own government. U.S. policies are the root cause of Japan's intransigence over issues of war memory and just compensation. Economic and historical reform in Japan must start in America.

Steven C. Clemons is executive vice president of the New America Foundation, a centrist public policy institution in Washington, D.C.

The Japan Times: March 4, 2002
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