Little brother begins to talk back to big brother

TOKYO - Japan regularly pictures itself as the helpless victim of US-bashing, a small Asian nation that has had some economic success but otherwise dare not say boo to its big brother in Washington.

Earlier this week a different face of what some US politicians call 'the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none' was on show.

In the Oval Office in Washington President Bill Clinton was seen looking through a family photograph album together with a Japanese couple.

The album contained pictures of Yoshihiro Hattori, a 16-year-old exchange student who was shot dead by a nervous householder in Louisiana last year when the boy accidentally knocked on the wrong door while searching for a Hallowe'en party.

Mr and Mrs Hattori had brought the album, along with a petition containing a quarter of a million signatures urging stricter gun control in the US.

'In Japan, we live life with no guns. We hope that you too can live life without guns,' said Masaichi Hattori, the father of the dead boy.

The meeting had been set up by the Japanese embassy in the US.

Ostensibly the purpose of the encounter was to help to soothe the sense of loss felt by the Hattori family by giving them an opportunity to present their anti-gun petition to the most powerful man in the world. But the meeting had a deeper significance: slowly, cautiously, Japan is starting to talk back to the United States.

Ever since General Douglas MacArthur occupied Japan after the Second World War and established a new set of institutions to govern the country, the Japanese have always been somewhat in awe of Americans.

But today, although Tokyo is still dependent on the Japan-US security treaty in the military field, the country is becoming more self-confident and prepared to assert itself in other areas.

When the Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, meets President Clinton in Seattle, he will not be sitting down for a one-way lecture on the immorality of Japan's continued trade surpluses (which rose again in October for the 19th consecutive month).

Mr Hosokawa will have a message to deliver himself, on behalf of other Asian countries, urging the US not to push so hard for developing Asian economies to open their markets to imports, particularly US imports.

Japan's new-found desire to be a middle-man between the US and the rest of Asia is not without contradictions, since it means essentially supporting protectionism in developing countries.

And there is also the increasing trade surplus that Japan has with Asia, as Tokyo has not yet shown itself willing to absorb imports from its neighbours that are consequently directed to American and European markets.

But Mr Hosokawa will also be bringing some gifts for the American President.

He will tell Mr Clinton that his government is starting to change some of the long-established structures in Japan which the US claims unfairly limit foreign business access to Japanese markets.

Yesterday Mr Hosokawa finally won a crucial vote on a political reform package in the lower house of the Diet (parliament) which aims to make politics more open and less corrupt.

He will also bring with him to Seattle promises to open Japan's rice market, after a delay of six years, to help the successful conclusion of the Gatt trade talks being held in Geneva.

And he will promise Mr Clinton that the government will reduce income tax by some 5 trillion yen ( pounds 31bn) in an effort to boost consumer spending, which should in turn boost imports.

The US government has been calling on Japan to cut income taxes for some time, which it sees as one way of reducing the Japan-US trade surplus.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert