by Suvendrini Kakuchi
(IPS) TOKYO --
that a U.S. submarine which rammed a Japanese fishing boat last month was at sea only because it was taking 16 civilians on a tour are likely to lead to more anti-American sentiment from an already upset Japanese public.
Indeed, tensions are still high between Japan and the United States weeks after the Feb. 10 incident, which led to the sinking of the Ehime Maru fishing boat. Nine of the 35 Japanese aboard, including high school students and teachers, are still missing and are presumed dead.
Both Japanese and U.S. officials have been scrambling to patch up bilateral relations, but indications are that the Japanese people themselves will not be easily appeased.
"The Japanese are very angry about the incident," says Aoyama University Professor Tomihasa Sakanaka, who is an international relations expert. "The outpouring of sympathy in the public reflects an ugly mood that stems from the fact that innocent people have been killed."
"But what I am worried about is that some people could use the United States for releasing their frustration with the domestic situation," he says, since the current tension is coming at a time when Japan is facing both economic and political upheaval.
Other analysts agree with activists that the apparent Japanese hurt has deeper roots.
In many ways, the animosity after the accident reflects what some call a lack of understanding between U.S. and Japan despite the fact their bilateral ties are often described as the fulcrum of security in East Asia.
According to observers, cultural differences, including the way the military is viewed, have much to do with how many Japanese are reacting to what is only the latest in a string of "U.S. wrongs" against Japan.
Peace activist Hiromichi Umebayashi, for instance, says the strong reaction from the Japanese side regarding the sinking of the Ehime Maru can be traced to pent-up emotions against the U.S. military presence in Japan.
"The Japanese, who have experienced the horrors of World War II as a result of their country's participation, reject a military so as never to repeat the past," he argues. "But they have had to bear the presence of U.S. military bases at home because of government policy. They are fed up now."
"The U.S.-Japan Security Pact is facing a renewed crisis," Umebayashi even predicts, referring to the agreement that stipulates continued U.S. military presence in Japan as part of maintaining regional security.
say it does not matter that the Feb. 10 incident took place in Hawaii. What has stuck in the minds of the Japanese public is that the tragedy involved the U.S. military and that Japanese civilians were again the victims.
To many, it only fit a pattern of U.S. military arrogance toward the Japanese, especially those in the southernmost island of Okinawa.
Okinawa hosts roughly 26,000 of the 48,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, and about 25 percent of all U.S. military facilities in the country. Its residents have never welcomed the presence of U.S. military presence there, and relations between Okinawans and members of the U.S. forces have not been very friendly.
Just last month, a high-ranking U.S. military official stationed in Okinawa had to apologize after an e-mail message in which he called local leaders "wimps" was leaked to the public.
In 1998, residents also filed suits against both the Japanese government and the United States for the alleged "noise pollution" created by one of the bases.
But the worst episode so far in Okinawa has been the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old local schoolgirl by three U.S. marines.
Meanwhile, it has not escaped notice here that Commodore Scott Waddle, the captain of the submarine USS Greenville that struck the Ehime Maru, is seeking to limit his testimony before the court of inquiry convened last week in Hawaii.
On March 5, the Yomiuri Shimbun, the country's largest daily, commented that "in Japan, the person responsible for such an accident would be bound to personally apologize for their actions and accept full responsibility."
The newspaper, which also noted that Waddle's lawyer is well- known for getting his clients non-guilty verdicts, then went on to warn of more bitterness from the Japanese public as the formal inquiry progresses.
So far, the apologies for the incident have been extended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who telephoned Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono a few days after Ehime Maru sank, and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Fley, who personally visited the families of those who had on board the Japanese ship.
President George W. Bush has also apologized for the accident.
The U.S. Navy expressed regret for the loss of civilian lives, but maintains that until a full inquiry is completed, it stands by the veracity of initial reports that the crew of the USS Greenville had checked the surface carefully before rising, and had not seen the Japanese ship.
The Japanese media, however, have not stopped in calling for a "sincere" apology from both Washington and Waddle.
Umebayashi, for his part, acknowledges that the United States has taken the unusual step of apologizing profusely to Japan this time. But he stresses that this does not necessarily reflect "sincere regret."
"The U.S. knows Japan is paying for its troops stationed in Japan, which is why an apology is required," he says. "This situation does not apply to other countries that have experienced a U.S. military presence -- a clear case of double standards."
March 12, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.