Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Light and Shade of Koizumi Diplomacy
FUKUHARA Koichi / Former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Agency

August 6, 2004
The latest Upper House elections passed a half-term verdict on Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro, as the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost to the Democratic Party. Thanks to the legacy of LDP's overwhelming victory three years' ago, the governing LDP-Komei Party coalition was able to maintain a safe majority in the Upper House, thus preserving the Koizumi administration. Even so, rather than expressing their hopes for the prime minister's policies, voters expressed a stronger concern over his ability to deliver.

In the area of diplomacy, the stark contrast between the merits and demerits, or light and shade, of Koizumi's flamboyant summit diplomacy has become ever more pronounced, as exemplified by the state of Japan-U.S. relations that the administration boasts as being at its historic best due to the solid friendship between Koizumi and U.S. President George Bush, Koizumi’s meeting with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Il that produced the landmark Pyongyang Declaration, and deterioration in Japan's political relations with China caused by Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Ever since taking office, Koizumi has given full support to foreign policies pursued by President Bush, and has actively sought to dispatch the Self Defense Forces in the Iraq War. Praised by President Bush as a "friend and powerful leader" during the summit meeting of major countries that preceded the Upper House elections, Koizumi was quick to proclaim that Japan's Self Defense Forces will participate in the multi-national force that was to take over from the American-British occupying forces once the United States transferred sovereignty to Iraq.

Koizumi's message to Bush - an important decision that was made without commensurate discussion at home – worked to the LDP's disadvantage in the elections, although the prime minister himself claimed it was the right course of action that deepened U.S. trust and raised Japan's standing. However, as doubts over the U.S. cause for the Iraq War spread throughout the world and Bush's prospects for reelection become uncertain, support for Koizumi's U.S. diplomacy has rapidly waned.

Also prior to the Upper House elections, the Prime Minister paid another visit to Pyongyang to call on Kim Jong-Il to normalize bilateral relations while Koizumi was in office, and reconfirmed the Pyongyang Declaration of 2002 that upheld a one-time resolution of all outstanding issues and normalization of relations. While strongly criticized by his peers within the LDP who retain a deep-rooted distrust of North Korea and by victims of North Korean abductions, some summit participants as well as South Korea and China voiced their approval, and the move had the effect of temporarily boosting the domestic approval rating for the administration.

The six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear program that began in August last year in Beijing, though plagued with difficulties, have made gradual progress, and some point out that it may yet develop into an effective future framework for international discussion for Northeast Asia. Will Koizumi be able to take advantage of this major trend and build a track record towards the ultimate goal of normalizing relations with North Korea? Considering that the Bush administration is apparently unchanged in its mistrust and harsh stance towards North Korea, this issue poses a significant touchstone for Koizumi diplomacy.

Meanwhile, under circumstances in which the rapid growth of the Chinese economy increases the importance of regional cooperation in Asia, the negative effects of Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine are likely to spread, rather than subside. While more than a few Japanese prime ministers have paid their respects to the shrine, Koizumi is the only one who has continued to do so even after Chinese and South Korean protests have made it a diplomatic issue.

While his stance has won considerable support among the Japanese, it is doubtful whether his official comment that he feels no qualms about honoring Class-A war criminals along with other war dead has worked to enhance international understanding and trust towards Japan, or strengthen his hand in Asian diplomacy. Japan accepted the outcome of the War Crime Trials under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the common understanding at the time was that by recognizing the responsibility of Class-A war criminals the Emperor was absolved of responsibility for the war.

Emperor Showa (Hirohito) often paid his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine on ceremonial occasions up to 1975, but stopped doing so after Class-A war criminals were jointly honored at the shrine. Though the reason was never publicly disclosed, consideration towards public opinion abroad must have played a significant part in that decision.

Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro - Koizumi's role model in summit diplomacy – was famous for his close friendship with the late former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, but he was also careful in cultivating good relations with Japan's Asian neighbors. He chose South Korea for his first official visit as prime minister and left an impression by attempting to deliver his greetings in Korean. In 1983 Nakasone gave China's then General Secretary Hu Yaobang a family welcome upon his visit to Japan, and realizing that his official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in 1985 placed the Chinese leader in a difficult spot in domestic politics, gave up doing so the next year, explaining his position through a comment disclosed by his Chief Cabinet Secretary Gotoda Masaharu.

The words of that same Mr. Nakasone, pointing out that the greatest concern with regard to Koizumi diplomacy lies in his East Asian policy, "Japan's most important long-term issue," carries much weight.

The writer is former Professor of Iwate University and former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Agency.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原 亨一 / 元共同通信論説委員長

2004年 8月 6日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Light and Shade of Koizumi Diplomacy