from Asia Unbound

Japan Hearing on Capitol Hill

March 19, 2010

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

This week I testified in front of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Environment on the U.S.-Japan relationship.  

Judging by the Japanese press coverage, it was clearly the statements of State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Joseph Donovan and Defense Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs Michael Schiffer who were the main draw. Both administration officials gave comprehensive accounts of the bilateral agenda, and were sophisticated in their assessment of the road ahead. Moreover, they were both calm and composed in the face of some feisty congressional questions.  

The two issues that drew most attention were the current state of play on Futenma relocation and the demand for greater attention to U.S. negotiations with Japan over American children taken to Japan by a Japanese parent. Patience and discretion are clearly the name of the game for the Obama administration when it comes to working with the Hatoyama cabinet on Futenma. Japan’s lack of legal framework for coping with custody issues related to international marriages raises some very painful questions for American spouses who have been denied access to their children residing in Japan. There is much work to be done on both issues, and clearly Congress will be paying attention.

Overall, the hearing was supportive of the relationship and sought to bring greater understanding of the current changes afoot in Japan that affect the bilateral relationship. Chairman Eni F. H. Faleomavaega opened proceedings with a strong endorsement of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and ranking Republican member Donald A. Manzullo followed with an appeal that we not take this vital relationship for granted.    

I was struck by how familiar Japan seemed to the committee members. Almost all could recount warm memories of visits there—Congresswoman Diane E. Watson even lived in Okinawa—as well as examples of the economic ties their constituencies had with the Japanese.    

Given the “Japan bashing” of days gone by, this is clearly a different time in our relationship, and the bipartisan tone of support there now suggests that Congress is a vital and supportive resource for the two governments to draw upon as we develop a new alliance agenda.