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

A Good Opportunity to Review Japan's Foreign Policy Strategy
FUKUHARA Koichi  / Former Chief Editorial Writer of the Kyodo News Agency

October 13, 2005
The Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the general election held on September 11, 2005. As a consequence, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's prestige rose to a much higher level than ever before, because it was the Prime Minister himself who had decided to dissolve the House of Representatives and eventually led his party under his strong personal leadership to the electoral victory. It stands to reason that this has made him more confident in promoting further "wider structural reforms." On the other hand, there is a good deal of expectation that Japanese diplomacy, which seems to be in stagnation, should at this juncture be reviewed thoroughly. Is the Prime Minister ready to respond to this expectation?

The cause for Prime Minister Koizumi's great victory can be found in the fact that he forced his opponents into a snap election without allowing them much time and chose the privatization of the postal services as the main election issue. Koizumi made thorough use of the prerogatives of the prime minister and LDP president to the extent that nobody else had ever thought of; he thus produced a garishly "theatrical" election in a confrontational mood even putting rival "assasin" candidates forward against his own party members who had voted against the postal reform bills. This campaign tactic created much public frenzy.

It is often said that the Prime Minister "relies on his own political sensibility, adheres to his beliefs to the last and he is not afraid of acting on his own discretion." This time his political endowments blossomed and scored maximum gains.

In the meantime, his outstanding endowments have not yet demonstrated any tangible results in the field of diplomacy. The Koizumi diplomacy over the past four years stumbled at the outset over the appointment of Makiko Tanaka as the foreign minister and failed to follow-up the good rapport with President George Bush, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and the Pyongyang Declaration with Kim Jong-Il of North Korea. Although his rare personality and sensibility have left strong impressions, it is difficult to recognize that he upheld Japan's national prestige. True he helped the rise of nationalism in Japan, but he lacked efforts to promote mutual understanding and trust with neighboring countries. He was found wanting in consistency and stability in his diplomatic strategy.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations this autumn, Japan exerted all its diplomatic efforts to become a new permanent member of the Security Council in vain, failing to secure enough support from Asian and African nations, not to mention the failure to overcome opposition by both China and the United States. This demonstrates most clearly the severe and difficult reality surrounding the Koizumi administration in international politics.

The great victory in the election, however, has enhanced the authority of Prime Minister Koizumi and solidified his political power base, which may now offer him a good opportunity to restore his reputation in the field of diplomacy. Comments at home and abroad on the outcome of the election invariably referred to the difficult problems the Koizumi administration must tackle from now on, including the adjustment of relations with Asian countries as well as the United States. Among them, quite a few people maintained that now that Koizumi had obtained a good amount of authority, the Prime Minister would suffer little political setback, even if he reneged on his promise of Yasukuni visits, and, on the contrary, would be applauded as having shown good leadership in diplomacy.

During the period when Japan was deeply involved in general elections, various developments in the world seemed to expect and urge Japan to make a step forward toward a more positive foreign policy for Asia.

At the 6000-men meeting commemorating "the 60th anniversary of the Chinese people's victory in the war against Japan and the world war against fascism" held September 3, 2005, Chinese President Hu Jintao emphasized that Sino-Japanese relations in the 21 century would be furthered by dissolving various problems through dialogue and cooperation between China and Japan. The fact confirmed that China has decided to review its policy towards Japan following the anti-Japanese demonstrations that broke out in April.

In the meanwhile, President Bush, in his speech at the special summit meeting in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, told the world that he would attach more importance to international cooperation, reflecting the severe Iraqi situation and criticism of the American people against the government measures to deal with hurricane disasters. In the Sino-American summit talks held on the previous day, it was revealed that both countries were hoping for the stabilization of the relations between them.

On September 19 at the fourth six-party conference held in Beijing, a joint statement was adopted for the first time, in which North Korea confirmed that it would abandon its nuclear development plan including weapons and the United States also made it clear that it had no intention of attacking the DPRK. It was also announced that Japan and North Korea would resolve pending questions and take measures to normalize relations between the two countries in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration. The following day, the agreement to reopen negotiations between the two governments was made public.

On September 15, Prime Minister Koizumi attended the UN summit conference, where he emphatically reiterated Japan's intention to seek its permanent seat on the Security Council, but he could not strike a fresh note to appeal to general expectations of the world community that was closely watching his diplomatic performance after the great electoral win. For the prime minister, what is of paramount importance at the moment is the settlement of domestic issues such as the reformation of the postal services and he seems to be under no imminent pressure to shift his ground that "Sino-Japanese relations will not necessarily be improved if I change my mind and stop going to Yasukuni" and that "Japan's intention will eventually be comprehended." Contrary to an observation that Prime Minister Koizumi is in a position to be able to "pitch another inning if he wants to," he denied the possibility and kept saying that he would step down in one year. This may be because he seems to want to leave it to his successor if it should be necessary for Japan to reorient its foreign policy course.

Self-righteousness is not wise in foreign policy, where conflicting interests among nations with different historical and cultural backgrounds should ever be adjusted. In diplomacy it is important both to maintain patient negotiations and make timely bold judgments when good opportunities present themselves. It is hoped, therefore, that Prime Minister Koizumi will aggressively attempt to leave greater achievements in diplomacy than in domestic politics. He is not allowed to waste valuable time now that he has just consolidated his position at home.

The writer is 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

2005年 10月 13日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > A Good Opportunity to Review Japan's Foreign Policy Strategy