The Japan That Can Say "No" (1989)
"Hammering Away, Bit by Bit"
Over the past decade or so, beginning with the textile trade negotiations, whenever a trade imbalance problem emerges, America calls on Japan for “dramatic and drastic” measures. Japan’s response to that, depending on how you look at it, was extremely dramatic. Over many years, the door to Japan was slowly opened resulting in dramatic changes. However, because the changes took place bit by bit over time, it didn’t look that dramatic. If the curtain had been lifted suddenly, in one go, instead of slowly, it would have had a more dramatic effect.
I recently met Clayton Leith Yeutter at an international conference in the United States. He used to be a U.S. Trade Representative and at that time had been a vehement critic of Japan. However, now, as Minister for Agriculture, he told me how amazed he was that Prime Minister Takeshita had liberalized the 12 agricultural commodities and that compared to Japan, Europe was wasn’t doing much at all.
The European Union was at that meeting too and Mr. Yeutter gave his evaluation of Japan and PM Takeshita before them. However, it took a long time for Japan to make those changes. If Japan had implemented those liberties in one go, many years ago, America would have been more appreciative, but the make up of Japanese society is such that we can’t do things in a “dramatic and drastic” way. This may be a downside to being a democracy, but there are advantages too.
If Japan was an autocratic country then an order for more open trade would be unquestioned, but not being able to do that is one of the merits of a democracy.
However, to America that is calling for “dramatic and drastic” action, Japan’s attitude is one of “too little too late”.
From America’s perspective, to make Japan move, you have to hammer on at her. If you don’t she won’t move. For example, during negotiations over car phones, they would say that Japan was initially opposed but after persistent hammering their demands were met.
A Japanese politician summed up Japan’s position by saying, ‘if you say “no” you stick to your position, but despite that, while saying “no”, you can subtly negotiate and in the end reach a political solution with some concessions.
America thinks that you have to push Japan and that normal negotiations will not open the door. This feeling has grown increasingly stronger.
(Continued in Volume 14)
( Extract from"Nijuisseki e" (Towards the 21st Century), published by WAC)