Japan is one of America's most important allies. Japan PM Prefers Bush, Could Cope with Kerry Mon Oct 4, 2004 10:11 PM ET By Linda Sieg http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=6411080&src=rss%2fworldNews§ion=news TOKYO (Reuters) - If Junichiro Koizumi could vote in the November U.S. presidential election, the Japanese prime minister would almost certainly cast his ballot for his diplomatic soul mate, President Bush. Koizumi has closely linked his security policy to the Republican president, spending considerable political capital to back the war in Iraq and send troops there on a risky non-combat mission -- despite opposition from Japan's own voters. "Koizumi feels that he did certain things to support Bush in Iraq and believes that Bush owes him one," said Glen Fukushima, a former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. "If (Democratic challenger John) Kerry comes in, he may not feel he owes Koizumi anything." Positive personal chemistry between the two leaders and Bush's stress on the U.S.-Japan security alliance have smoothed two-way relations, often rocked in the past by trade friction. "The two leaders have a relationship of trust," said Yoshimasa Hayashi, a lawmaker in Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. "There is no guarantee that there would be the same level of trust with Bush's successor." That said, it is unlikely that a Kerry victory would prompt a replay of the fractious days of Democrat Bill Clinton's first administration, when U.S.-Japan trade friction flared and some on both sides questioned the relevance of the security link. "I think he (Kerry) understands the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance," said Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the United States. "As for security issues, I don't see so much difference between Republicans and Democrats." CHINA SYNDROME Some in Japan do fear that a Kerry victory would mean an unwelcome shift of White House attention away from Japan and toward its Asian neighbor and rival, China. "Looking at U.S. relations with China as critical doesn't mean they would stop dealing with Japan as an ally, but the difference is that Bush conceives of China as a strategic competitor and Japan as an ally," said Yoshihide Soeya, who teaches international relations at Keio University in Tokyo. A possible uptick in trade friction is also a bit of a concern if Kerry wins, some experts say. "Bush and Koizumi have cooperated in a friendly fashion on many issues and economic problems have not been so big, so it would be good to continue that," said Yoshio Nakamura, senior managing director at business lobby Keidanren. "The most worrisome thing about Kerry is that he is supported by labor unions, so there is some concern that that support would have a strong impact (on his policies)," he added. But few expect an outbreak of bitter trade battles. "The structure of Japan's economy has changed and China has become more important," Nakamura said. "So economic friction has shifted to that between the United States and China, and Japan and China." Some Japanese foreign policy makers are also nervous about a possible shift in Washington's stance toward North Korea. Kerry says he would pursue bilateral talks to persuade the secretive communist state to abandon its nuclear arms programs, while Bush is sticking to a six-way format that includes both Koreas, Japan, China and Russia as well as the United States. "We would have to deal with a new U.S. approach, and it is an open question whether that would be better or worse," Soeya said. So are Koizumi and his policy aides losing sleep over the outcome of the U.S. poll? Probably not. "No matter which party wins, policies will not change drastically. That is the strength of America's two-party system," Keidanren's Nakamura said. "The basics don't change that much."