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MAY 17, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 19

Obuchi's success in Washington can be traced partly to his keen intuitive sense of America. The Japanese Prime Minister is shy, lacking the natural charisma of another recent visitor, China's Zhu Rongji. Yet Obuchi managed to charm Americans with tales of his first visit to the U.S. 36 years ago as a poor student. He told a glittering dinner in his honor at the White House that when he came to Washington in 1963, he paid only $1.50 for his night's stay at a YMCA. Now the deal is even better, he said: "No charge." Obuchi stayed for free at Blair House, an official residence near the White House.

Obuchi's triumph can also be attributed to the prevailing, upbeat mood in Washington. True, the Clinton Administration is preoccupied with the fighting in Kosovo (guests at the state dinner were kept waiting while Clinton met with Russia's special envoy for Kosovo, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who also grabbed the opportunity to meet Obuchi the following day). But war aside, the American economy is soaring, unemployment is at a historic low and Japan is no longer seen as a threat to U.S. jobs. No doubt Americans are annoyed with a lack of access to certain Japanese markets. And Clinton warned Obuchi about "unfair" trade practices, such as dumping steel. Yet the two sides have made a great deal of progress on trade. "It would be counterproductive for the U.S. to slap Japan around at this time when they are hurting and have already taken action to correct many problems," says Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., a former U.S. trade negotiator and now president of Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington think tank. "Besides, Obuchi might just be able to pull off some more reform."

The recent souring of Clinton's flirtation with China doesn't hinder Japan's cause, either. Amid reports of Chinese nuclear spying and fresh human-rights violations, Japan suddenly looks more and more like America's true friend in Asia. Obuchi never missed a chance to remind his audiences that Japan and the U.S. "share the universal values of freedom and democracy." Unsaid, of course, was that these are values China does not particularly embrace. Obuchi was heartened by the smiles he earned from audiences in America. But back in Tokyo he will need pluck and ingenuity to sell his tough-love message of reform and restructuring to a more skeptical audience: the Japanese people themselves.

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This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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