Overall, 2011 has been a remarkably positive year for the US-Japan relationship. Beyond progress at the official level on issues like trade and security, Japan’s unprecedented March 11 disasters led to a strengthened US-Japan alliance due to the joint military and governmental response and the commitment of American citizensto Japan’s recovery.
At the person-to-person level however, real diplomatic strides were made. As Suzanne Basalla, senior advisor to the US ambassador to Japan, has explained, through the reconstruction efforts Americans and Japanese “have rediscovered the close bonds between our two nations.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has nurtured this through a joint public private partnership for recovery and increased support for exchanges. In her remarks this past October at the annual conference of the US-Japan Council, she expressed that “together, we want to create a ‘Tomodachi generation’ that is deeply committed to the future of our relationship.” According to recent polls, however, it seems such an era may already be underway.
The annual foreign relations poll issued by Japan’s cabinet office reveals that feelings of friendship among the Japanese people toward the United States reached 84% this year. While the majority of respondents have reported good will toward the US each year since the survey began in 1978, it has never been to this extent. The US ranked significantly higher than Japan’s neighbors, with 62% of Japanese feeling positive towards South Korea, and China and Russia garnering only 26% and 13% respectively. This improvement in Japan’s perceptions of “closeness” with its longtime ally has been attributed to America’s show of support through “Operation Tomodachi” coupled with Japan’s trepidation over China’s economic and military expansion. Nearly three quarters of the respondents feel that the current US-Japan relationship is doing well.
These numbers reflect the findings of the annual Pew Global Attitudes Survey, in which favorable option of the US among Japanese shot up 19 percentage points from last year to a record 85%. This was higher than all other countries surveyed, including among Americans themselves (79% of whom viewed the US positively). Japanese positive opinion of the American people was even higher at 89%. The Pew survey was conducted in the Spring, within a few months of the disasters, which likely resulted in the improved American image. Of the Japanese polled, 81% felt the US contributed significantly to Japan’s recovery, while only around 50% of respondents felt the UN or China helped Japan during the crisis.
This favorable view goes both ways. In the “2011 US Image of Japan” opinion poll, commissioned by Japan’s foreign ministry earlier this year, a record 84% of American respondents considered Japan to be a dependable ally and friend. This poll has been conducted nearly every year since 1960 and surveys both the general population and a group of “opinion leaders” consisting of 200 people in leading positions in government, business, and academia on their view of Japan and the US-Japan relationship. After a dramatic dip just three years ago, support for the US-Japan alliance is at an all time high; nearly 92% of both groups believe it should be maintained. This year 77% of the general public and 87% of the opinion leaders felt that the present level of US-Japan cooperation is favorable.
The foreign ministry’s poll was conducted from February to March 2011, so the effect of March 11 on the responses is not known. Indeed, economic considerations seemed paramount for the American respondents. Looking to the future, the poll asked in which areas relations between the two countries can be improved. The majority of those surveyed felt that the best way lies in improving economic and trade relations. In a way, this shows the depth and breadth of US-Japan cooperation. Whether reflecting the nascent “Tomodachi Generation” or not, the numbers show that in the minds of Americans and Japanese, Japan Matters for America and America Matters for Japan.