Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

U.S.-Japan relations expected to survive fallout from tragedy

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Local Asia-Pacific experts said the collision of the USS Greeneville with a Japanese training vessel is unlikely to harm the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Japan.

The immediate response from the military, expressions of regret and the fact that the accident happened in U.S. waters will lighten the political implications of the collision, said Ralph Cassa, executive director of the Pacific Forum, a private, nonprofit think tank in Honolulu.

"I think that most people will view it for what it is: a tragic accident," Cassa said. "I don’t expect there will be any legitimate political fallout."

If the submarine had left the area instead of staying to help with the search and rescue, or if the accident had happened elsewhere, the reaction would be much different, he said.

"Had this happened off the coast of Japan, it would have been an absolute disaster," Cassa said. "There’s a great concern about the U.S. presence and the way that impacts the life of the average Japanese citizen, particularly those that live near military bases and in Okinawa. It would have been magnified had it happened off the Japanese coast."

The U.S.-Okinawan relationship is strained, with many islanders resentful of the U.S. military presence there. Relations plummeted in 1995 when three U.S. servicemen raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

The aftermath of Friday’s collision has been handled well diplomatically, with response from the Navy, Coast Guard and Pentagon and immediate attempts to contact Japanese officials and family members, said Lee Endress, director of the college of security studies at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies.

"It will be viewed as a very unfortunate thing," Endress said. "It certainly will not be portrayed as an intentional or deliberate act. On the other side, it certainly doesn’t help in terms of very sensitive issues like military presence in Okinawa and other things like that."

Endress, a former Navy submariner, said it is hard to understand how the accident could have occurred.

"I’m glad it’s being investigated and pursued and looked into at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the U.S. military," he said. "There’s no question the Navy will look into this thoroughly."

Still, Endress said, relations should not be harmed. American and Japanese submariners regularly train together and have a long history of doing so. "I don’t think this will have any long-term implication or an impact on the security," he said.

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