OCTOBER 1983 - VOLUME 4 - NUMBER 10
A Questionable Alliance
In 1960, Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke was forced to persuade U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to cancel a state visit to Tokyo. Fearing that massive demonstrations aimed at blocking the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty could erupt into violence, Kishi was placed in the embarrassing position of admitting that Japan was unable to guarantee the security of a U.S. president.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, another Republican president is preparing for a November trip to Japan and four other East Asian countries. But this time the atmosphere in Tokyo will be far different. Mike Mansfield, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, has called the U.S.-Japan alliance "the most important bilateral relationship on earth, bar none." The government of Nakasone Yasuhiro - the most conservative prime minister of the postwar period - has openly allied itself with the hardline antiSoviet policies of the Reagan administration, and is completing a five year military procurement plan that will give Japan the capability to defend its sea lanes as far south as Singapore and participate in wartime actions off the coast of the Soviet Union and in Korea. Throughout the Third World, Japan is providing key loans and guarantees that are supplying a vital cushion for the western financial system.
And though Reagan will be met by demonstrations and protest actions, their size will barely approach the hundreds of thousands of students and workers who fought police in 1960 and forced Eisenhower's press secretary to flee downtown Tokyo in a helicopter.
What has happened in the last twenty years to bring the two countries so close together? How has Japan managed to quiet its proud and angry left that was so powerful between 1945 and the early 1960s?
Part of the answer to these questions lies in the social impact of the unbelievable pace of economic development in Japan. From the mid-1950s to 1973, Japanese corporations built massive industrial complexes throughout the country, expanded their manufacturing and mining operations into South Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, and sustained an export push that still leaves Americans dazzled.
As the economy grew, incomes went up, consumer goods multiplied-and political consciousness dropped. The labor movement; nearly broken by bitter struggles in the automobile, mining, and electric power industries, ended up as a sideshow, dominated by company unions whose only goal was high wages. Today, labor's only real strength lies in the public employee unions-and their power is now threatened by government budget cutbacks.
Though pollution disasters spawned the growth of a highly conscious environmental and consumer movement, Japanese companies were able to diffuse the protest by relocating their polluting plants to other countries in Asia. Today, a large number of Japanese oppose the country's growing nuclear power program and the export of pollution, but the movement has been unable to mobilize on the scale of the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 1960s.
The prosperity brought by Japanese economic growth of the past two decades has been costly in terms of peace and stability in the Pacific region and in Japan itself. The inducements to multinationals offered by Asian countries-cheap labor, access to agricultural land and raw materials, for example-have been guaranteed through harsh measures of control. These include forced evictions of peasants from their lands, arrest of labor leaders, students, journalists, and church workers and, in countries such as South Korea and the Philippines, systematic use of torture and violence. In this manner, the spread of Japanese, European, and American multinationals in Asia has led to increased militarization in the area.
Most of the weaponry and training in these countries is provided by the U.S. But the U.S. role in militarizing the region goes further. It is linked directly to the most important military relationship in the area: the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. In the last five years, this relationship has increasingly taken on the character of a military alliance and become a vehicle for Japan's rearmament in the 1980s.
For many Asian people, this alliance is viewed not as a guarantor of security but as the cause of poverty, repression, and increased military tensions. The purpose of the treaty, they believe, is to maintain Asia as a profitable site for investment and loans from banks and corporations from both countries. In the Philippines and South Korea, where resistance to the American and Japanese corporations that benefit from dictatorial rule is growing, the movements have taken on strong anti-American, antiJapanese coloring. And for many Japanese the military alliance with the U.S. is aggravating tensions with the Soviet Union and making the area a possible zone for nuclear confrontation. The recent shooting down of a Korean airliner by the Soviets and the assassination of Benigno Aquino are the worst realizations of these fears. Thus the big difference between 1960s and 1983 is that the U.S. and Japan are now seen as twin dangers to peace and equitable development. Now, with military tensions in the region at an all-time high, it is a good time for Americans concerned about peace and economic justice to look carefully at this relationship. For as long as the U.S.-Japan military alliance is alive, the Pacific will continue to be a playground for multinational corporations, banks, and the U.S. military, and a danger to the peace and security of the people of the region. -T. S.
About this issue
In this issue of MM we go behind the distorted and confusing images of Japan portrayed in the American mass media. Largely based on a July trip to Japan by editor Tim Shorrock, the issue focuses on Japanese multinationals and trading companies, and explores the working of the influential business lobbies.