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

Prime Minister Abe Makes Head Start With Diplomacy
FUKUHARA Koichi / Journalist

December 11, 2006
On October 8, Japan's Prime Minister Abe Shinzo held talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing and issued a joint communiqué declaring that "both sides shared the view that the two countries would strive to build a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests." On the next day, Abe was in Seoul for an exchange of views with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on North Korea's nuclear tests. Subsequent to these visits, Japan worked with the United States for a United Nations resolution to impose sanctions against North Korea, succeeding in attaining a unanimous vote including China on October 14.

Abe dashed off to a head start by visiting China and South Korea, and in one grand stroke not only broke Japan's diplomatic impasse in Asia – the most troubling legacy inherited from the administration of predecessor Koizumi Jun'ichiro - but managed to stabilize the foundation of his new government as well.

Emphasizing his youth as the country's "first prime minister from the postwar generation and the youngest in the postwar era," and eagerly presenting himself as a "fighter politician," Abe nevertheless demonstrated a sturdy flexibility when it came to diplomacy.

Establishing himself as a protégé of former Prime Minister Koizumi during the five and a half years of his leadership, Abe rapidly solidified his political base and rose steadily to the seat of power backed by the influential Koizumi camp. As such, he would normally be expected to fully uphold the policies of the outgoing administration. However, owing to widespread recognition both at home and abroad that Koizumi's Asian diplomacy was a failure, Abe managed to break from Koizumi's stubborn political commitment of visiting Yasukuni Shrine and adopt a tactic of ambiguity, making no public comment with regard to his own visit to the shrine.

Meanwhile, there was growing recognition on the Chinese part that it was not to its advantage to continuously raise the Yasukuni issue as a reason for refusing a meeting between the heads of state and thus leave relations with Japan to deteriorate. Former president Jiang Zemin repeatedly criticized Japan's historical perception during his visit in 1998 and had tended towards fueling anti-Japanese sentiment. In contrast, Hu Jintao had apparently been contemplating an improvement in China's relationship with Japan from the time he took office as President in 2003. However, while his government advocated the building of a "Harmonious Society" in response to mounting domestic problems including widening disparities, government corruption and a worsening environment, and emphasized the importance of Good-Neighbor Diplomacy as a precondition, it had yet to establish the authority to make a serious effort towards resolving the nation’s deeply-rooted distrust against Japan.

Anti-Japanese demonstrations that spread throughout China last spring demonstrated the danger of mass dissatisfaction with domestic issues such as corruption erupting in the form of anti-Japanese activity. The dismissal of a top member of the Communist Party organization in Shanghai - Jiang Zemin's power base - in late September, and the adoption of the "Decision on Significant Issues Regarding the Construction of a Harmonious Society" by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which assembled on the very day of the Japan-China meeting, symbolically demonstrated that Hu Jintao's policies have begun to take root, and form an important backdrop to improving the bilateral relationship.

Once convinced that Abe would not pay a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Hu accepted Abe's visit without seeking further "assurances." The communiqué announced at the joint press conference following the meeting included a positive assessment of Japan's postwar progress as a peaceful nation, clearly identified energy, environmental protection, finance, information technology, protection of intellectual property and other areas as priority issues of mutual cooperation between Japan and China, expressed "deep concern" against North Korea's nuclear tests and declared bilateral cooperation towards realizing a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace and stability in northeast Asia. It was a straightforward expression of Hu Jintao's expectations towards the Japan-China relationship.

North Korea's nuclear tests highlighted the seriousness of the situation in northeast Asia and added a dramatic accent to the Japan-China meeting. China, which had been committed to its position of defending North Korea, openly criticized the country for the first time and voted for the U.N. sanctions. North Korea does not hide its desire to possess nuclear arms nor its dissatisfaction with China. This poses a continuing challenge for China's "Good-Neighbor Diplomacy."

While Japan and China have agreed to cooperate in dealing with the situation, their interests in North Korea and sentiments toward this neighbor remain wide apart. Prime Minister Abe has focused on the abduction issue from an early stage, forming a special taskforce within the Cabinet. Seeking ways for Japan to move in step with China, which must respond to the North Korean issue from a broader, more complex perspective, will present a major test for the renewed relationship between Japan and China.

The writer is former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Agency
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原亨一 / ジャーナリスト

2006年 12月 11日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Prime Minister Abe Makes Head Start With Diplomacy