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Japan National Press Club
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Japan National Press Club Building, Tokyo, Japan, Friday, March 17, 2000

Mr. [Mikio] Haruna [Kyodo News], thank you for your kind words. I must say, it is unprecedented for me to walk into a room full of members of the press and receive applause, especially, before I start speaking. But I do appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I want to thank all of you who are in attendance for coming.

I also want to say just a word about my former colleague in the United States Congress. Ambassador [Thomas] Foley and I served together many years ago, in the House of Representatives when I first entered that body in 1972. And, he went on, of course, to become Speaker of the House, and one of our most wise, informed, and enlightened leaders, I must say, in the history of the Congress. So, I am delighted to be here to have a chance to express my appreciation for all that he does on behalf of our country.

Mr. [Yoshimasa] Nabe [Managing Director, Japan National Press Club], members of the press, ladies and gentlemen. I will try to be as brief as I can this morning, but there are several points that I would like to make with as much clarity as possible.

There is an ancient philosopher who once observed that "one cannot step twice in the same river." I think that is perhaps true, especially here in Asia. On this particular trip, I stopped briefly in Hong Kong to meet with the local leadership in Hong Kong. I had occasion to discuss the security interests and the issues for the region. The Hong Kong press corps asked repeatedly about the United States' reaction to tension between Chin and Taiwan. And I made it very clear that the United States has a "one-China" policy that calls for the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan, and I urged both Beijing and Taipei to avoid provocative rhetoric.

After leaving Hong Kong, I proceeded to Vietnam, becoming the first American Secretary of Defense to visit Hanoi. I had occasion to also visit a rice paddy outside Hanoi where U.S. and Vietnamese military personnel are working side by side to account for Americans who are still missing in action from the conflict. And in my meetings with Vietnamese officials, and in an address that I gave to the military leaders at their National Defense Academy, I stressed that our efforts to account for the missing will remain the single highest priority for the United States as we move forward with our relations with that nation. We also, at that time, discussed several modest steps that the United States and Vietnamese militaries can take together, to deal with other issues, such as mine removal, military medical care, flood control and environmental cleanup.

Immediately following this event, I am going to be travelling to visit Seoul where my itinerary is going to basically mirror our dual approach to North Korea: dialogue, as reflected in my discussion with South Korean leaders; deterrence, as reflected in my visits to the U.S. forces who today stand vigilant with our South Korean allies on the peninsula.

This visit of mine to Japan is my fifth as Secretary of Defense, [although] I had many prior visits when I was a Senator and Member of the House of Representatives. I would say that in my meetings with Prime Minister [Keizo] Obuchi, Minister of State for Defense [Tsutomu] Kawara, and Foreign Minister [Yohei] Kono, all have understood the cooperation and candor that define our security alliance.

So, in keeping with that spirit, I would like to take just a couple of moments to address an audience beyond this room: the Japanese people, who are engaged in an increasingly active national discussion regarding this nation’s role on the world scene. I know that there are some voices in this country who have suggested that in aftermath of the Cold War and with the onset of daunting economic challenges that the world’s second largest economic power do less on the global scene. Fortunately, more voices within Japan are calling for this nation to play a more active and complete role, including in security matters.

Understandably, this discussion has also touched on the scope and scale of Japan’s security relationship with the United States as well as on Japan’s regional relations and multilateral initiatives. I think such a discussion is both natural and necessary. It is natural in a democracy, and it's necessary because the strength of our national security policies rest in great measure on public support. So I want to take this occasion to address the Japanese public on how we see our alliance.

There is an American jurist who once said, "A thought is often original, though you have uttered it 100 times." We have uttered this more than a hundred times, but I want to utter this again today, so it doesn't sound original: the U.S.-Japan Alliance is the single most important bilateral relationship in Asia. It will be as important to Asia’s future as it has been to Asia’s past.

In fact, given the astonishing and unpredictable rush of world events today – events such as the Taepo-Dong missile launch two years ago – our alliance may be even more important than ever before. Indeed, in this era of uncertainty, the certainty of the United States-Japan Alliance is the very foundation upon which rests the peace, the prosperity and the stability of the entire region. And that is why the Japan-U.S. security alliance enjoys such a high level of support in both of our countries.

Our alliance has never been so critical and our cooperation has never been so close.

When President Clinton and former Prime Minister Hashimoto signed the [Joint] Security Declaration in back in 1996, they reinvigorated the U.S.-Japan relationship for a new century and made a strong alliance even stronger.

Together, we updated the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation to ensure that we are prepared for today’s challenges, from peacekeeping to humanitarian relief to responding to regional crises that affect Japan’s security to the defense of Japan itself. Together, we have recently made notable progress in implementation of the guidelines. Together, we are cooperating on research into ballistic missile defense. Together, we are engaging China, and we are working with South Korea to encourage a more open and peaceful North Korea. Together, we are supporting Indonesia’s critical transition to democracy. In short, when promoting regional peace and stability, there is simply no substitute for the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

I would add that together we have also worked hard on behalf of the people behind our partnership: the Japanese who work in and live around U.S. military bases and installations, and the Americans who live and serve here alongside of you. In recent years, U.S. forces in Japan have renewed our commitment to be a good neighbor. The best example of how well the governments have worked together is the SACO [Special Action Committee on Okinawa] process to address the concerns of the people on Okinawa. Throughout Japan, we have ensured that training missions and operations take into account local concerns while still maintaining the capabilities and readiness of U.S. forces that along with your own Self Defense Forces protect Japan.

We are reaching out anew, and we will continue to reach out, to our Japanese neighbors who host our bases, becoming a part of their communities and inviting them to become part of ours. I must tell you that I am always impressed by reports of the thousands of Japanese who greet our ship visits, and by the wide range of community relations projects that our young Marines, airmen and sailors undertake here during their tours here. And I believe this helps explain why public support for the security alliance remains at the highest level ever.

Just as we are proud of our strong relations with the people of Japan, we are pleased by yesterday’s announcement of steps to protect the health of American forces and families and Japanese workers at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility, which I visited yesterday. We welcome Japan’s commitment to take the necessary measures to eliminate the serious health hazard from the Shinkampo incinerator: the ongoing installation of filters; the resumption of a joint U.S.-Japan monitoring program, and; the construction of a taller smokestack. Let me assure all those who live and work at Atsugi, American and Japanese alike: we intend to insure that this health threat is eliminated.

I think also that the progress on Atsugi reflects a fundamental truth of our partnership: the ultimate success of the alliance rests on the support of the people. Both nations recognize that as sovereign countries we share fundamental strategic interests that are best addressed through our alliance. Neither nation can be secure alone. We need to work together. Each of us brings unique strengths to our alliance. To borrow the words of Ambassador Foley, "We are equal partners who make different but complimentary contributions."

For the United States, this [contribution] includes our global strategic posture, our forward deployed forces in the Asia-Pacific region, payment of the vast majority of expenses associated with those forces, and our fundamental treaty commitment to the defense of Japan. Japan’s contribution includes investments in the Self Defense Forces, the provision of bases and Host Nation Support. Now, Host Nation Support is not a "sympathy budget," as some in Japan have characterized it. It is an integral part of Japan’s security budget, and an important contribution to stability in the Asia-Pacific.

These are the fundamental elements of our alliance and the basis on which we will strengthen our partnership in the years ahead. I think the past 50 years illustrate the resilience of our partnership. But we can’t afford to stand still. We must continually seek to refine our cooperation to meet future challenges. Japan and the United States are countries with different histories and cultures. Yet when historians look back on our alliance, they will see that it rests on shared values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and free markets. These are the values that give purpose to our security alliance.

I would like to close by recalling the visit of another American to Japan. It is a visit by the noted American astronomer Percival Lowell more than a century ago. Reflecting on his travels, Lowell observed that our two people at times view the world somewhat differently. But he added, "when the American and Japanese way of looking at the world are brought together, the two pictures combined will yield results beyond what either could possibly have afforded alone."

For half a century, this picture of a combined Japan and the United States, along with our regional allies and friends, has yielded results beyond what any nation could have afforded alone. Perhaps the greatest tribute to that half-century of shared sacrifice is the picture of peace and stability we see today. To us, Americans and Japanese alike, falls the challenge of sustaining and supporting that tradition to ensure that picture endures tomorrow.

So let me close by thanking you. Domo Arigato.