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

Prime Minister Suga, Beware of the Pitfalls of Diplomacy with China and South Korea
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

October 27, 2020
Japan’s new Prime Minister, Mr. Yoshihide Suga’s diplomacy started with phone diplomacy.
It began with the Australian Prime Minister Morrison, followed by US President Trump. Since he made the calls to our “friends” first, the very first summit “meetings” went successfully, making Prime Minister Suga “feel a very good response”. There have been requests from other countries as well and it seems that he is willing to take this opportunity to hold telephone meetings with the heads of states and governments around the world.

It is rather fortunate for Prime Minister Suga, who is somber and quiet, and has come into his own by working hard behind the scenes, that the circumstances under the Covid-19 crisis did not allow him to go out immediately on a tour. As the phone is less intimidating than a face-to-face meeting, his lack of experience in diplomacy can be made up for by meticulous preparation.

Without rushing to score points by saying, “we’d like you to understand Japan’s position and hope to deepen our cooperation”, it would be sufficient for a first step as long as he could make a good impression as Suga Who.

Even though he would like to succeed the Abe administration in terms of policy, he cannot inherit Mr. Abe’s personal disposition. Besides, Mr. Suga does not have the natural aura, or diplomatic flair that the former prime minister had. Both have their own characteristics and no one can blame them for their differences. Asking for the moon or just imitating would be pointless.

In any case, this writer, a born-worrier, feels relieved that it was really good for Japan that the new administration had not started suddenly with big stages such as the UN General Assembly or G7 summits.

The initial telephone meetings are like congratulatory gifts. Following the American example where it is said that a new President’s honeymoon lasts for 100 days, this celebration will be over around the end of this year or the beginning of 2021. But the term of the President of the Liberal Democratic Party will expire in September next year. There are lots of issues to be dealt with in a short span of time.

Though the Abe administration was highly regarded in its diplomacy, it left behind a host of challenging tasks, such as worsening Japan-South Korea relations, not to mention the two major issues regarding the return of Japan’s Northern Territories and the return to Japan of abductees by North Korea.

Indeed, the Japan-US Alliance has been further stepped up thanks to the close relationship between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump, and the Vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, rooted in Abe’s diplomacy, is now being fleshed out.

On the other hand, however, during the 7 years and 8 months of Abe’s tenure, the security environment in East Asia has become extremely difficult for Japan, as China has deepened its dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies and challenged the post-war international order. North Korea has proceeded to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, and South Korea has escalated its anti-Japanese sentiment. This scenario is not easy to handle no matter who becomes prime minister.

The axis of diplomacy is believed to have shifted from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Foreign Ministry. This is not a bad thing. If the Foreign Ministry supports Prime Minister Suga and works on diplomacy with utmost efforts, it will be much better than the Prime Minister’s Office-led-diplomacy, which seemed to be improvised by a hastily assembled team of a handful of brains.

Suga’s diplomacy with China and Korea gives us cause for concern; the former, because Mr. Nikai who seems to have become more heavyweight after retaining the post of Secretary General of the LDP in the Suga administration is pro-China as “those in the know, know only too well”. Also, China, desperately wanting a friend now, will surely try to cajole Mr. Suga.

It is important for Prime Minister Suga to keep Secretary General Nikai’s influence within the boundaries of the party and take control of diplomacy himself in this instance. Although it was said that Mr. Abe improved the Japan-China relations, it was in fact a very risky tightrope-walking. An old proverb teaches us that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Prime minister Suga could use his inexperience in diplomacy as his strength and adopt a new way of thinking to conduct his China policy. Without being overly concerned about the motives, ulterior or otherwise, of others, he can conduct a dignified, straight-forward diplomacy with China, based on the universal values of liberty, democracy, and rule of law that are accepted by the international community in dealing with the Senkaku Islands, Hong Kong, and Taiwan issues.

The difficulty of diplomacy with South Korea is different. The problem is that it is not only a matter of dealing with South Korea. Given the need for unity among Japan, the US, and South Korea in countering China and North Korea, the US may increase the pressure on Japan to improve its relations with South Korea. Some such signs are already visible.

The US is not ignorant of the anti-Americanism and hatred toward the US within South Korea. No matter how many times spurned by the North, South Korea does not give up on reconciliation with the North. It does not join the Indo-Pacific Vision, out of consideration for China. But Northeast Asia cannot afford to allow the US-South Korea Alliance to break up. Nor can the US allow South Korea to go over to the other side.

Japan’s basic position is that we cannot begin to improve the relations between our two countries so long as the Moon Jae-in administration continues its inaction on the issues of wartime laborers and the scrapping of the agreement on the wartime comfort women. This is close to a national consensus in Japan. Having said that, however, history indicates that there are times when we have to accept treaties however unfair they may seem. What should we do if it came to this and what can we do to prevent that from happening? Prime Minister Suga is said to have worked hard to reach the agreement on the wartime comfort when he was Chief Cabinet Secretary, and this may turn out to be his first challenge as a prime minister. If he makes a mistake and falls into a pit, he will suffer a great deal. Please be extra careful…

Chino Keiko is a freelance journalist and a Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 10月 27日



「日本の立ち位置を理解してもらい、お互いに連携を深めていきたい」(菅首相)などと功を焦らずとも、Suga Whoを上手に印象付けられれば、第1歩としては十分だ。













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 Suga, Beware of the Pitfalls of Diplomacy with China and South Korea