In their first meeting, President Obama and Prime Minister Kan set a positive tone for the US-Japan alliance. Coming off of a difficult interlude in the bilateral relationship, there is reason for all of us to be reassured as to the commitment of our two countries' leaders to working together. Yet we should also guard against making light of the work ahead if we are to recast the foundation upon which to build the alliance's future.
Adapting this relationship so that it can address contemporary and future challenges is the goal, and in the current celebratory mood, it is easy to forget that it will take more than a good meeting to make this happen. To be sure, one of the most difficult legacies of our recent bilateral disconnect is that relations at the highest level of government became deeply strained. Thus, in the weeks and months ahead, the US and Japanese governments must find a way to build trust between the new ruling party of Japan and the Obama Administration. But the more pressing need will be to build trust among the people of Japan and their leaders on how to proceed with this task of adapting to change.
Thus, a second--and perhaps more difficult task--is to build a common agenda for cooperation that can produce visible results. That agenda must have bipartisan (in the US) or multiparty (in Japan) support if it is to be sustainable. As we learned over the past 10 months, political change can be a challenge to even the best of high level intentions for the US-Japan alliance. As much as he is criticized now, Prime Minister Hatoyama intended to improve the US-Japan alliance, and President Obama from the earliest days of his presidency advocated the importance of the US-Japan alliance. Yet, confusion reigned between our two governments, and fostered deep skepticism about the alliance's effectiveness.
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