Wichita The military and diplomatic relationship between the United States and Japan is a keystone to the stability not only of the Pacific region, but to the civilized world, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker said Monday.
Speaking to an audience of about 300 at the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association, Baker said Japan and the United States are in the "vanguard of development of security protection" for the next decade and beyond.
Baker said in a later interview that the two countries both technologically advanced are working on research and development of a missile defense system.
"The greatest of the strategic relations of the United States and Japan is still before us," Baker said.
His comments come a month before President Bush is scheduled to visit Japan. Baker declined to discuss the president's specific agenda for the visit but said it was important that the President make an early visit to Japan.
Economic and diplomatic opportunities between the two countries are unrivaled, Baker said, and that the job of ambassador to Japan was the only post he had been willing to accept because of the importance of those relations.
"We are unique in our relationship. In the span of just 50 years, the United States and Japan have turned from fierce enmity, from arch military enemies, to closest friends," Baker said.
The three-day meeting is the first time Kansas has been host to the conference. Japan is the state's leading export market, buying more than $1 billion in goods and services each year. Japanese-based companies own 23 businesses in Kansas, employing 1,400 people.
Baker and his Japanese counterpart, Shunji Yanai, were among the attendees. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, the ambassador's wife and a former U.S. senator from Kansas, is the chairwoman of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Assn.
"Our time of greatest prosperity, both for us and Japan, is still before us," Baker said. "We have not yet seen our golden era in this country, in Japan and the rest of the world."
Japanese Ambassador Shunji Yanai said the relationship between the two countries has never been better, and he credited the business community for that. That is something he said he would not have been able to say in the mid-1990s, at the height of the trade friction over automobiles and semiconductors.
He said Japanese are eager for change and are more interested in things such as "no-nonsense pricing" than bowing sales clerks.
"The greatest benefit of U.S. investment in Japan is not just economic but reform ... infusing new energy and a new outlook," Yanai said.
About 1,700 Japanese companies now employ some 210,000 workers in the Midwest.
The conference comes at a time when both economies of both countries have slowed.
Kansas City Federal Reserve President Thomas Hoenig told attendees he expects the U.S. trade deficit to decrease because of Japan's slowing economy.