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Japan and Korea:
"We have no choice but to stay in the closest of contact with the present administration."

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 18, 1998; Page A22

TOKYO – Officials in Japan and South Korea fear that a politically weakened President Clinton will be a less valuable ally on important economic and security issues, especially in dealing with North Korea.

Despite these concerns, Clinton's standing in the two countries has not changed significantly because of the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal. Neither government's policies toward the United States have been officially altered because of the president's political troubles.

In both countries, Clinton is generally liked and respected, and his personal problems have received relatively muted media coverage. Much of the coverage has hinted at the widely held Asian perspective that Clinton's personal life should not be so closely linked with his professional duties.

Despite nagging differences over trade and other issues, South Korea and Japan view the United States as a close ally. They look to Washington for leadership during the current period of global economic and political uncertainty. "The world, replete with troubles old and new, including financial crises sweeping the Asian region and Russia, ethnic and religious conflicts in different regions and even threats of new missile development by North Korea, cannot afford to have a prolonged leadership crisis in the United States," the Korea Herald in Seoul said in an editorial this week.

Although Japan and the United States have differed sharply on Japan's response to its current economic recession, Japan still regards the United States as a key to its economic recovery. Japan also relies almost exclusively on the United States for its security, which was underscored recently when North Korea fired a rocket – believed to be either a ballistic missile or a failed attempt to launch a satellite into orbit – directly over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.

"We have no choice but to stay in the closest of contact with the present administration," one Japanese official said.

The most immediate concern of most Japanese officials is that Clinton's scandal will overshadow Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's trip to New York next week. Obuchi is scheduled to hold his first meeting and joint appearance with Clinton on Tuesday. Officials here fear that Obuchi will be ignored by reporters asking questions about Clinton's sex life.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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