Rising Shun

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Given that Japan’s economy is sinking further into recession each day and the world’s top economists are clamoring for a rescue, and given that American officials, after long criticizing the Japanese government’s inaction, have lately been trying to be conciliatory and quietly helpful, you might have thought that last weekend’s bank-rescue agreement between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and the opposition would immediately encourage better relations with Washington. Wrong. Ever since an unproductive meeting between Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Japanese finance minister Kiichi Miyazawa in San Francisco on Sept. 5, Miyazawa’s office has dodged attempts to set further discussions with U.S. officials. And last Friday, on the eve of Obuchi’s summit with Bill Clinton, his chief cabinet secretary abruptly canceled a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley in Tokyo. The cancellation may have been partly in response to what Tokyo sees as a rather flaccid American response to North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan two weeks ago.

For their part, U.S. officials fear that Japan’s stonewalling may be a reflection of real disarray in the Obuchi government. If the trend continues, then Japan cannot expect Washington’s spirit of camaraderie to last for long.