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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

US-Japan relations in turmoil? A European perspective

April 5, 2000 / 18.30

Bernhard May (German Society for Foreign Affairs, Berlin)

A decade ago, Japan seemed poised to become the leading economy of the 21st century. Americans in the 1980s envied Japan for its strong economic growth, low inflation, low unemployment and its companies that were global leaders in their industries. Since these were related to fundamentals such as a strong family system, education, work ethic, political stability and high savings, Japan’s position seemed secure. But the nation has squandered its chances and now faces a troubled future. Optimists are hoping for a strong Japan finally re-emerging. But over the next several decades Japan will have to face a couple of critical problems: stimulating the economy, restructuring its industrial system, solving the debt and banking crisis, dealing with the demographic change, reforming the political system, and defining Japan’s role in Asia as well as in world politics. The translation of those tasks into action will lead to serious problems in US-Japan relations. It will create serious economic and especially trade problems. The overcoming of serious political and security challenges and a repositioning of Japan’s role in world politics in terms of burden and responsibility sharing will demand priority on the agenda.

Dr. May is Senior Research Fellow at the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Berlin, lecturer in international relations at the Free University of Berlin, and Secretary General of the German group of the Trilateral Commission. Dr. May has published widely on European integration, American foreign policy, Japan’s foreign policy, and world trade issues. His most recent books are Japan in der Krise [Japan in Crisis]; Asia, Europe and the Challenges of Globalization (tog. with J. Krause and U. Niemann).