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By Gilbert Rozman

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Public opinion in Japan was divided, but increasingly it found the leaders of other countries at fault. Cabinet choices gave voice to those with more negative views on Asian neighbors. Koizumi may well be leaving a legacy of mutual distrust in Northeast Asia, not a strategic foundation for reviving Japan’s pursuit of partners in the area, not to mention the achievement of its long-term goal of reentering Asia to enhance its strategic calculus. At the end of 2005 there was little prospect for an upturn in Japan’s ties with any state in Northeast Asia before the end of Koizumi’s term in office in September 2006.

Japan had reason to become a major force in shaping the process, but it was slow to figure out how to respond. The search for a voice through talks with North Korea would not yield results until well after Koizumi’s selection as prime minister. Notwithstanding China’s widely acclaimed policy to maintain the value of the yuan in the face of the Asian financial crisis in 1997–98, efforts by Japan resulted in a total of $80 billion in assistance together with some imaginative schemes for cooperation (the Asian Monetary Fund (AMF) that failed and the Chiang Mai Initiative, which was successfully launched cannot be viewed as insignificant).

In place of the guilt earlier felt toward Asia and the optimism that time would heal historical wounds there was no guiding framework for reconceptualizing Japan’s historic place in Asia. No consensus exists, but in the tilt toward greater nationalism, it might well be tempting for a leader to gain temporary advantage from nationalist responses. A second set of explanations directs our attention to the international environment facing Japan. Strategic thinking toward Asia cannot be divorced from strategy toward the United States.

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