Standing before parliament, President Clinton hailed U.S.-Japanese security ties today as the cornerstone of stability in Asia. He warned that an American pullback from the region “could spark a costly arms race that could destabilize Northeast Asia.”
The president said there are people in both the United States and Japan who believe America should withdraw from its global leadership role in the aftermath of the Cold War.
“I believe those views are wrong,” he declared.
Clinton was only the second American president ever to address the Japanese Diet; Ronald Reagan was the first in 1983. Japanese lawmakers gave the president a warm welcome and applauded heartily at the conclusion of his remarks.
The address, which stressed security and economic themes, wrapped up a three-day state visit to Japan. Later in the day, the president was flying to Russia for a four-day stay.
Clinton noted that the United States and Japan still have sharp trade friction - aggravated by Tokyo’s $59 billion trade surplus with Washington.
“But the important part is that after years of frustration on both sides, for the first time we have actually established a way to work through our differences and to resolve them,” the president said.
Highlighting close post-World War II ties with Tokyo, the president said, “Our generation has the sacred duty to make the next 50 years even better for all of our people.”
“I am absolutely confident we will succeed if we continue to lead and work together as allies, as partners and as friends,” he said.
On the security front, Clinton said Japan’s hospitality to American troops “was put to a terrible test in Okinawa” by the rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen, later convicted and imprisoned for the crime.
He said Americans “profoundly regret the horrible violence” and “our hearts go out to her, to her family and her loved ones and to the entire Okinawan community. We are gratified that justice has been done.”
As a result of outrage over the rape, the United States agreed to give back 20 percent of the land the U.S. military uses on Okinawa. Clinton said this was done without diminishing the military’s effectiveness.
The streamlining was “something we probably should have done some time ago,” he said.
But the president emphasized that the United States must remain a Pacific power, saying that both Japan and the United States recognize that “peace has its price.”
“Consider what might happen if the United States withdrew entirely from the region,” he said. “It could spark a costly arms race that could destabilize Northeast Asia. It could hinder our ability to work with you to maintain security in a part of the world that has suffered enough in the 20th century through world war and regional conflict.
“It would weaken our power to deter states like North Korea that may still threaten the peace, and to take on urgent problems like terrorism, international organized crime and drug trafficking.”
He said some people in America “believe our security alliance is basically a favor to Japan” while some in Japan believe it is a favor to the United States. In truth, he said, “this alliance is our commitment to your freedom and to your future.”
By all accounts, Clinton hit it off well with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the fifth Japanese leader during Clinton’s three-year administration.