Saturday, February 20, 1999

Japanese resentment
of American neglect

THE lone reference to Japan in President Clinton's last State of the Union address was a critical remark about increased Japanese exports of steel to the United States. According to Yukio Matsuyama, a veteran journalist and academician who spoke here this week, this evident lack of appreciation for Japan's cooperation on security issues produced annoyance in Tokyo. Matsuyama also noted Japanese resentment of the United States' habit of making major decisions without consulting Tokyo, such as extending diplomatic recognition to Beijing and launching the Gulf War.

Last year Clinton, having canceled a previously scheduled visit, slighted Japan by failing to visit that country either en route to or on his return from China -- a decision reportedly made at the insistence of his Chinese hosts. That left the Japanese wondering whether Beijing had supplanted Tokyo as the United States' most valued partner in Asia.

The neglect of Japan by American diplomats continues. As Edward Neilan noted in a column on this page yesterday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has omitted Japan from her itinerary in a trip to Asia scheduled for later this month. She will visit China, Thailand and Indonesia. Fortunately, as Neilan pointed out, Defense Secretary William Cohen is a frequent visitor in Tokyo. But the military is only one part of the U.S. relationship with Japan.

When a prosperous Japan was buying up conspicuous chunks of American real estate and swamping the American markets with exports of cars and appliances, "Japan-bashing" became the vogue. Now that the Japanese economy is floundering, American officials are gratingly insistent in their demands for reform -- although the substance of their recommendations is probably correct -- while Clinton threatens retaliation for Japan's increased steel exports at bargain-basement prices.

Matsuyama pointed out that criticism of the United States in Japan used to come from the left. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, conservatives lost a target and are now tending to direct their nationalistic ire against Washington. Relations with Japan present distinctive problems but Washington should do a better job of dealing with this very important country and longtime ally.


Consumer prices

IT'S virtually unheard of -- consumer prices in Honolulu falling over the course of an entire year. That's good news if your income has remained steady or increased. But it's also a sign of economic weakness -- people losing jobs or otherwise experiencing declining incomes. Because more consumers can't afford to buy, prices come down.

The Consumer Price Index for Honolulu dropped 0.5 percent in the last six months after falling 0.1 percent in the first six months. It's the first time this has happened since the government started monitoring prices here in 1963. Economist David Ramsour said such a decline probably hasn't occurred since the 1930s Depression. That comparison is significant. Prices for a wide range of products usually don't fall unless the economy is weak.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Hawaii prices fell in almost all categories. Housing continued its downward trend, falling 0.7 percent compared with a year earlier. Food and beverages dropped 0.5 percent, apparel 5.9 percent, gasoline 3.3 percent and household furnishings 3.9 percent. Among the few categories showing increases were alcoholic beverages, 2.4 percent, and medical care, 4.9 percent.

During the gubernatorial election campaign, Ben Cayetano claimed the economy had started to recover as a result of his efforts in his first term. The numbers on consumer prices don't reflect any improvement -- quite the opposite. Ramsour said the decline is "extremely significant" and not in a positive sense. If these figures had been available before the election, the results might have been different.


Hawaii’s environment

ONE of the major responsibilities of state government is environmental protection. This is particularly important in a state that is highly dependent on tourism, because Hawaii's natural beauty and recreational resources are a prime attraction for visitors. But a bill that would require the state to spend as much on environmental protection as on tourism promotion has it all wrong.

The assumption seems to be that money spent on tourism promotion is simply designed to help the visitor industry. In fact, it's an investment intended to reap financial returns for the state. Tax revenues generated by the tourism industry, the largest sector of the economy, enable the state to fund many programs.

Moreover, the money spent on tourism promotion comes from the hotel room tax -- a tax on tourism. The industry, through the tax, is financing tourism promotion -- not the average taxpayer.

Advocates make a strong case that the state isn't spending nearly enough on the environment, from maintaining parks and harbors to protecting endangered species. Tim Johns, the new director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said, "An alarmingly small amount is invested each year to protect our natural capital base, despite the value our natural resources have to our economy."

We agree. But with money tight, it's a struggle to compete against other programs requiring funding.

Tourism promotion is in a different category. It's funded by the visitor industry and is directly tied to tourism. Boosting tourism promotion can help generate larger tax revenues to finance important but neglected programs such as environmental protection.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin