As Abe stumbled in the fall of 2014, his defenders grew more aggressive. Initiatives to Russia, North Korea, and China faced one sort of problem or another. Even as Abe reactivated his pursuit of Putin, he was put in the awkward position in Brisbane of a G7 warning, which Japan could not avoid joining, against further Russian aggression, as Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine threatened to spark a larger war. The fact that North Korea was stalling on the abductions issue made Abe’s prior decision to lift some sanctions look more problematic. While Abe achieved his long-sought goal of a meeting with Xi Jinping during the APEC summit, Xi’s apparent disdain did not redound to Abe’s credit, as even Japanese sources wondered if the wording in a four-part statement did not signify acknowledgment that a territorial dispute exists. All of this preceded the dire news of renewed recession, even as the Abe-Obama plan to complete TPP negotiations was left in limbo, which outsiders blamed on failure to pursue the “third arrow” of economic reform. Oddly, conservatives focused their ire on South Korea, while also bemoaning lack of international understanding for Japan, i.e. the Obama administration’s mixture of Japan “passing” and renewed “gaiatsu.”
Overshadowing every other theme through the fall was what Sankei shimbun called the “history war.” It was fought against Asahi shimbun, accused of sullying the honor of Japan; against South Korea, seen as using history—notably the “comfort women” issue—for anti-Japan goals; and on the battlefronts of public opinion in the West, where Japanese saw their country opposed by a massive public relations campaign.
On October 12, Yomiuri shimbun carried an article from a member of its editorial board who had traveled to Brussels and Berlin and returned dismayed at European misunderstanding of Japan. Charging that European awareness that 80 percent of world economic development since 2000 had taken place in Asia was unduly focused on China rather than an understanding of Asia more broadly, it faulted the Europeans for: their views of Japan’s history textbooks, including those that did not mention the “comfort women” issue; reliance on information from China and South Korea biased toward Japan; misjudgments on who is at fault in the island dispute between China and Japan, accepting China’s view of the 1972 accord while blaming Japan’s move in 2012 rather than China’s in 1992 and its later maritime advance for altering the status quo; and failure to recognize Chinese expansion, i.e., imperialism. This article finds German media reports too negative on Japan and wrong to blame the confrontations in East Asia on Japan’s drift to the right. Calling on the government to expand its public relations efforts in Europe, especially in Germany, to counter the public relations from its neighbors that have created these misperceptions, Yomiuri confuses revisionist and realist challenges and ignores the deeper causes of Japan’s poor image in a continent steeped in honest reporting about the Second World War.
Although Asahi shimbun was under duress as Sankei and Yomiuri shimbun kept up a barrage of attacks, it was more accurate than the other two in describing the broad reaction, not just in China and South Korea but in Europe and the United States, to what is seen as Japan’s challenge to the postwar international order, starting with war responsibility. Its October 17 editorial warned that official Yasukuni visits are violating the principle of separation of state and religion and that criticism of the Tokyo Tribunal and reconsideration of acceptance of the San Francisco Peace Treaty raise doubts in international society. While Asahi shmbun prioritizes a “peace state” at the expense of a realist foreign policy, the two conservative newspapers conflate a revisionist state with a “normal state” and undermine a realist foreign policy too. Both sides argue that the other’s lack of realism results in the United States, whose cooperation is indispensable, losing trust in Japan. On October 29, Asahi focused on Japan’s handling of South Korea in making the case that it harms US policy to China.
In contrast, an October 12 Yomiuri shimbun article proclaimed that Abe’s foreign policy to the Indo-Pacific region has been a great success. Rather than judge Abe for troubles with China and South Korea, the article argues that since 1998 with East Asia at the center the framework of regional cooperation has expanded, and Abe’s rapid pace of summits throughout the region has grasped what is needed. While Sankei shimbun was more critical of Abe’s policies toward Russia and North Korea, the two conservative newspapers generally lauded Abe’s combination of realism and revisionism without showing serious concern about how one complicated the other. Neither offered much balance in covering the complexities in this region.
On October 18 Sankei shimbun gave a detailed portrait of how the “Vladimir-Shinzo” relationship had blossomed again after an eight-month interruption since they had last met. First, in September, Abe sent former prime minister Mori Yoshiro to meet Putin and hand him a personal letter. Then birthday diplomacy for Abe on September 21 and Putin on October 7 led to telephone calls of congratulations as well as fishing gear as a present to Putin. On October 4, Abe’s wife attended a judo event between the two countries. On October 17 on the sidelines of the ASEM summit the leaders finally met in person. The article reports that the negotiations over the Northern Territories are back on track, but it concludes that Abe continues to worry about the sensitivity of drawing closer to Russia for the United States, which opposes Russia. On the same day Yomiuri shimbun also noted that Abe and Putin had agreed to hold a longer discussion at the APEC meetings, making it seem that since Putin met with other leaders, including Poroshenko, at ASEM, renewed Abe-Putin ties were normal. Indeed, Yomiuri portrayed Angela Merkel as taking the same soft line as opposed to Obama, who only sought to pressure Putin, and noted that Abe had met Poroshenko and offered Ukraine USD 7 million in assistance for restoring schools and hospitals.
On November 16, Yomiuri shimbun looked more deeply into prospects for the Abe-Putin first-name relationship forged through ten meetings. It noted the unexpected role of judo Olympic gold medalist Yamashita on encountering Putin at a world judo championship in Chelyabinsk in late August in getting his agreement to meet with Mori. Yet, the article casts doubt on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s attitude toward talks on the “Northern Territories,” suggesting that Russia’s motive is to split the G7 camp. Indeed, it concludes that Russia has reassessed the military value of the two northern islands, constructing air and sea facilities, and with Ukraine its territorial ambitions have expanded. The possibility of a soft posture in the talks is low. At the same time, the possibility of pressure from the United States and others over Putin’s coming visit to Japan is high, dimming prospects for any Abe-Putin “honeymoon.”
Indeed, on November 11 the word “honeymoon” was applied to Sino-Russian ties in a report on Russia’s increasing economic dependence on China, which was depicted as assistance from China with its much larger GDP and newfound success in getting a sanctioned Russia to use its currency rather than the dollar for transactions. Could Russia have a romance with both China and Japan? On November 11 Yomiuri made clear that this could be possible, welcoming steps to prepare the environment for peace treaty negotiations and calling for a strategic response to Russia in light of its strengthened ties to China, including joint remembrances being planned for the 70th anniversary of the war in 2015. This appeal was combined with warnings to keep supporting cooperation with other members of the G7 and beseeching Russia to play a constructive role in Ukraine. Yomiuri expected Japan to have it both ways.
Sankei shimbun made the case that Putin is a dictator, who sees himself in the mode of Peter the Great and Stalin. Citing a new book by Yokote Shinji on Stalin, an article on November 1 explained that Putin is encouraging a positive view of Stalin not only for World War II but for Stalin’s dictatorship and skillful foreign policy in opposition to the United States in the Cold War. Russia is demonstrating thinking that recalls the Soviet Union, for which many older people take pride in its past glory as a power that divided up the world with the United States. In this context, the forced closing of McDonald’s No. 1 in Pushkin Square, which from the end of the Soviet Union had been a symbol of the West and democracy, is not surprising. The article concludes by insisting that Japan and Russia have totally different political ideals and that Japanese should take heed from this more informed understanding of who Putin is.
A November 12 Sankei editorial acknowledged that talks to return all four islands taken from Japan are necessary, but disagreed with the message being sent about Japan’s attitude toward Russian seizures of land in Ukraine and about the chances of turning Russia back from China’s diplomatic and economic grasp. It was worried about weakening the G7 stance and showing China that Japan does not stick to the principle of opposing seizures of territory. Weakness to Russia will not bring the four islands back, it warned, omitting a possibility of compromise on fewer islands.
Sankei shimbun put the spotlight on Russian belligerence and Sino-Russian alliance-like relations. On November 20 it juxtaposed three articles: 1) the cooling of German relations with Russia over Ukraine; 2) the exposing of a secret 1937 memo calling for exposing Japanese spies in Harbin under the headline of an “unchanging Russia”; and 3) the reporting on Sergei Lavrov’s speech to the State Duma on November 19 in which he expressed the desire for Russia and China to take the initiative together to form a new security system, opposed to US-led military blocs, including the US-Japan alliance, in the Asia-Pacific region. If not a call for a Sino-Russian alliance in a polarized region, it left no doubt that Russia’s previous insistence on multipolarity had lost all relevance. Yet, just a day later, Sankei noted that in early December the long-postponed foreign ministry talks on Japan-Russia relations would be resumed, following Kishida’s postponed April visit and a halt to lower level talks in August. Based on the Abe-Putin November 9 agreement for Putin to visit Japan in 2015, this meeting would make possible an exchange on the “Northern Territories” question.
In the November 14 Sankei shimbun, Hakamada Shigeki lumped Russia and China together as serious threats to the world along with the extremism of the Islamic State. Their policies are to change the international order by force—a throwback to 19th-20th century geopolitics. Blaming “grotesque optimism” prevailing in Europe, the United States, and Japan for leading states to drop their guard and slash funds for defense as well as the decision to “reset” relations with Russia only a year after it attacked Georgia—thus, inviting it to annex Crimea—, Hakamada criticized officials and analysts guided by misleading theories for not responding to Russia and China as they have rapidly boosted their military budgets. He equates what Russia is doing in Ukraine to what China is doing in the East China Sea and calls for a wide-ranging response combining hard power and soft power with emphasis on a propaganda war, a psychological war, and a cyber war. Wooing Putin is not the right response.
In contrast, Ono Masami in the November 18 Asahi shimbun points to the Abe-Putin decision to reopen stalled talks as an opportunity for an energy deal. Reporting that Russians are discovering that China’s conditions for financing the recently approved pipelines are onerous and that Russia is refusing them, he finds that Japan can help Russia to finance an LNG plant in Vladivostok, which it has recently been forced to reconsider due to a shortage of funds. Given alarm over becoming totally dependent on China, Russia has its eyes on Japan, he insists. Although Putin is reported to have lost hope, Ono says that it is necessary to change his attitude through negotiations. Stopping Russia’s turn to China is not only possible, but promising, given the energy export situation. This focus on the economic case for invigorated bilateral talks was the exception, as most advocates fixated on a possible breakthrough on the islands.
An Asahi shimbun article on October 4 quoted a Vietnamese official as saying that it was insufficient to rely heavily on Russia for arms, when its position was close to that of China. Instead, Vietnam is turning to the United States and Japan, which in August agreed to transfer six used ships to it. The headline points to a weakening in Russia’s position in Vietnam. Russia’s wider role in Asia is drawing Japan’s attention.
Often grouping North Korea’s outreach to Japan and Russia as a response to China’s cold shoulder to Kim Jong-un, refusing to allow him to dictate China’s foreign policy, Japanese articles have been slow to recognize the huge difference between what is transpiring in these two bilateral relationships. On October 29 when the North made clear its stalling tactics toward Japan, Yomiuri shimbun reported on an agreement a week earlier for Russia to spend USD 2.5 billion to repair the railway network of North Korea. It further cited one diplomat as stating that a quick visit by Kim Jong-un to Russia as well as a visit by Putin to North Korea were now possible. It noted a long North Korean article on October 11 that relations with Russia were drawing close. A month later signs of further improvement in Russo-North Korean relations drew more commentaries that failed to notice the threat to Japan from boosting the North.
Articles reported that a Japanese government delegation returned from Pyongyang with news that North Korea claimed to be in the process of conducting an objective, scientific investigation, which emphasizes witnesses and evidence, regarding those who had been abducted. While this did not satisfy the families of the abductees, the process was continuing. After expecting results in late summer or early fall, further postponement led to warnings that if the schedule to have a report by year’s end was not met, the process could be abandoned. Sankei shimbun suggested that the North Korean side was just using this process for propaganda, doubting progress and indicating that the relaxed sanctions could be re-imposed, but Abe gave North Korea more time. Asahi shimbun on October 30 calculated that North Korea invited a high-level Japanese delegation and made a big show of its sincerity and exceptional treatment in order to sway Japanese public opinion, even as it displayed Pyongyang in a favorable light with its construction boom, new car traffic, and cellphone usage. Sankei shimbun on November 1 called it a performance intended for propaganda. In contrast, Yomiuri shimbun favored giving the North and Abe more time to proceed.
In the November issue of Toa advice was offered on how to deal with North after the setback at the end of September in bilateral talks. Recognizing that the abductions issue is the most important for Japan and for North Korea is something to minimize, the author suggests focusing instead on the roughly 7,000 spouses and children who in 1959-1984 accompanied their family to North Korea. This issue could be pursued simultaneously instead of being overlooked, as has been the case, in the obsession with the abductees. Yet, the article leaves no doubt that North Korea is seeking the lifting of additional sanctions, especially the resumption of regular boat traffic and trade that could help to revive the North Korean economy. Japanese preoccupation with the breakthrough within reach through these talks has only exposed them to the cynical manner in which Pyongyang is dangling a prize while upping the costs.
Debate ensued in Japan over the impact of the UN human rights criticism of North Korea on the resolution of the abductees issue. Sankei reporter Komori Yoshihisa suggested the reason the North had invited a Japanese government delegation to Pyongyang had been its effort to prevent the UN action. Its isolation has deepened. Yet, Yomiuri shimbun gave Abe the benefit of doubt in pursuing this initiative. The wider strategic implications of diplomacy over North Korea were scarcely explored.
The massive outpouring of articles in Sankei and Yomiuri shimbun attacking Asahi shimbun for its coverage of the “comfort women” issue often asserted that they had had a big impact on South Korea. The implication is that rather than Japan’s rightists with their revisionist outlook on history harming this relationship it was Japanese progressives who had aroused unjust criticism. Such one-sided thinking about South Korea also could be found in articles, such as one in Yomiuri on October 29 that kept repeating the claim that South Korea and China were enjoying a “honeymoon” in their relations. Instead of taking comfort in China’s cooler stance toward North Korea and fewer contacts with it, articles raised alarm about Sino-South Korean ties.
An October 16 Sankei shimbun article noted that Japan’s public relations strategy on historical consciousness saw a doubling of this year’s budget with another doubling planned for next year, according to Suga Yoshihide, chief cabinet secretary. Citing as the main object dispelling factual distortions on the “comfort women” issue, it traces a rise from 850 to 5,220 million yen. The targets are mainly Europe and the United States, which emphasize human rights, and the intent is to restore Japan’s honor. In doing this, the attack on Asahi shimbun for spreading misinformation appears to be a prelude to an international battle with South Korea for defaming Japan. It is hard to imagine that Japan’s campaign will be successful in the West or anywhere or that it is compatible with the high priority national interest of better ties to South Korea.
The November issue of Toa discussed the outburst of fury against South Korea due to the house arrest of the Sankei reporter accused of libel. Doubts that South Korea shares the same values—especially freedom of reporting—were presented, as was disappointment that South Korea is not concerned about bilateral relations. What little forward-looking momentum had been achieved was dissipated, and Japanese, citing criticisms of Park in international society, could blame it on her stubbornness.
Sankei and Yomiuri shimbun reacted to the certainty that there would be no summit between Abe and Park when they would be together at the November meetings with renewed accusations. Citing the case of charges of libel against its reporter, Sankei asserted on October 11 in the midst of its venomous attacks against Asahi shimbun that a healthy democracy must protect freedom of expression, i.e., bilateral history tensions are entirely due to the Korean side, where values are now distorted. On the same day Sankei reported deep concern in the US State Department and even inside South Korea over the damage being done to Japan-South Korean relations. A chance to shift the blame for defying international opinion was not missed by those usually on the receiving end. Even Asahi shimbun on October 10 took a principled position in support of freedom of expression, but it was careful to point to moderates in the Korean government concerned about the matter and troubled by the damage to the image of “global Korea” popular in international society. This paper was not part of the intense campaign to discredit Korean society as emotional to the point of failing to see things objectively, blinded by “hate Japan” and unwilling to see China as it is.
Writings on South Korea demonstrated the ascension of revisionism over realism in Japan. Nishihara Mashashi in Sankei shimbun on October 3 portrayed Park’s “scold diplomacy” toward Japan, putting “comfort women” in the forefront, as at a dead-end, while Abe’s diplomacy had succeeded, making the Japan-US alliance the axis of regional stability and power balancing in Northeast Asia. While insisting, as others also did, that it was not Japan that used forced sex but South Korea in the Vietnam War, and that John Kerry in his February meeting with Park was very unhappy that she only wanted to talk about “comfort women,” Nishihara concluded that Park’s anti-Japan attacks only end up putting South Korea under China’s influence. Even in South Korea there is alarm that the country could end up as a satellite of China. He adds that Washington is now distrustful of sharing intelligence with it because this could be leaked to China. Whereas other countries welcome Japan’s participation in collective self-defense as contributing to peace, South Korea and China are all alone in opposing it to no effect. Nishihara concludes that Seoul risks losing US support and must agree to a triangular alliance correcting its course toward Japan for the sake of stability in East Asia. This article distorts the US position, South Korea’s ties to China, the line between revisionism and realism in Japan and its impact, and the complexity of dealing with North Korea, while overstating Abe’s record of success.
An Asahi shimbun article on November 11 focused on the crisis of South Koreans “leaving Japan.” Japanese, in effect, became an elective in high school rather than the compulsory second language from 2011, meaning it was no longer necessary in the college entrance exams. The result was a sharp drop in students studying Japanese. In turn, Japan’s image has deteriorated rapidly with the Dokdo (Takeshima) dispute, the birth of the Abe regime, and anti-Korean demonstrations. With the reversal of economic fortunes of China and Japan, focusing on Japan lost any merit in finding a job. While the article noted joint proposals to overcome these trends, the message lingers that Korean society has already stopped caring about learning from Japan.
On October 20 Asahi shimbun took seriously China’s efforts to forge a new currency order, splitting the Western camp with South Korea the prime target. It described a flood of Chinese tourists to Jeju Island under the new “no-visa” regime, reaching 1.8 million in 2013 and rising by 50 percent this year to about 80 percent of all foreign tourists. The pressure has been mounting for South Korea to join China’s initiative for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which poses a challenge to the international economic cooperation system and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) led by Japan. Asahi argues that the significance of the AIIB is greater politically than economically.
The November 17 Sankei shimbun compared the responses of three foreign papers to the Abe-Xi summit. The Washington Post welcomed the meeting as a step toward relaxing regional tensions, crediting Abe with the success. Renmin ribao saw it as a sign that Japan had shown the right attitude, repeatedly requesting a meeting until China agreed, but it did not express much optimism. Finally, JoongAng Ilbo saw this as a failure of South Korean diplomacy. It had missed its chance. Instead of gaining the role of mediator in the Sino-Japanese dispute, it had allowed China to become the intermediary in Japan-South Korean relations. Xi had broken the “historical alliance,” gaining the upper hand, Sankei reported, implying that South Korea now is isolated in the region and must yield to Japan after failing in its hardline stance.
A November 7 Yomiuri shimbun article described the last-minute trip on November 6 of Yachi Shotaro to meet Yang Jiechi when the tug-of-war over the two demands of China—no visit to Yasukuni and acknowledgment of the territorial dispute—had yet to be resolved. It added that Chinese poaching of coral near the Ogasawara islands had emerged as a third stumbling block. The article recalled Yachi’s role as a pipe to China in 2005-2008 as vice minister for foreign affairs, especially in 2006 when he was the one who made possible Abe’s trip to China. It also described a picture of fierce below the surface fighting: Japan wanting to make Yachi’s visit public in advance but had to wait due to China’s request. Controversy over the 25-minute meeting of Xi and Abe continued in its aftermath, reflected in the sharply divergent coverage of it.
In 2006-2007 the upbeat language in Sino-Japanese relations under Abe was seasonal: breaking the ice, thawing, and turning from winter to spring. In November 2014 all that could be managed was a “first step” toward business-like ties. Stressing the importance of trusting relations, On November 6 Yachi Shotaro and Yang Jiechi issued a four-point agreement, which paved the way for the leaders to meet four days later. Mainichi shimbun on November 11 described the meeting as still far from building relations of trust, as China sought more Japanese investment and Japan was conscious of the views of international society (the United States), nervous about the danger of a miscalculation at sea. Thus, the meeting was significant for the wider audience. It notes that Japanese FDI had peaked at USD 7.3 billion in 2012, but was only USD 2.4 billion in the first half of 2014. Whereas China had pressed two conditions for this meeting, the November 7 statement fell short, leaving China suspicious, the article reported, Huanqiu shibao wrote that Japan had conceded on the islands but not on the shrine. The impression was left with Chinese audiences that Abe had yielded to Xi Jinping. This may have been reinforced by the absence of the Japanese flag at the meeting, a slight that Japanese, as in Gendai Business on November 24, called rude. It likewise observed that Chinese central television and Xinhua news service both treated the visit of Abe as a complete capitulation, adding that Xi’s aim is to revive a closed tribute system regional order. The past order Japan had been able to resist due to the sea between it and China, while India was protected by mountains. These barriers no longer work as well. Now China is trying to force Abe to kowtow, as a dependent king subordinate to China’s emperor, readers are told.
An October 4 Sankei shimbun article by Komori Yoshihisa suggests that China’s weak position in Asia and worsening relations as Obama hardens his stance has led Xi to soften his approach to Abe. Abe had rejected China’s preconditions for a meeting with Xi, and China was relenting. Japan should raise issues such as the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and the arrest of a Uyghur scholar, Komori concludes.
The November 13 Sankei shimbun’s twist on the Abe-Xi summit is that the loser in bad relations had been Xi, not Abe, and China was the side that had been isolated. The majority of ASEAN states had sympathized with Abe’s criticism of China. Xi’s regional diplomacy was at a dead-end. Thus, Xi saw APEC as his biggest chance to change direction. Abe had resisted his conditions for a meeting, driving Xi into a corner. Finally, they reached a four-point agreement, in which the conditions were dropped. The article concludes that Abe is now free to visit Yasukuni, while relations are better on Abe’s terms. The November 15 Yomiuri shimbun agrees that Abe did not yield, but it offers a less optimistic conclusion. With Fukuda’s visit in July Xi had made clear that he would receive Abe. After all, not to do so would cast a shadow on APEC, drawing criticism from the United States and international society. Yet, a minimal response of allowing a meeting offers no guarantee of any lasting outcome.
On November 20 Sankei again concluded that China had failed, applying economic pressure on Japan had backfired, as had trying to isolate Japan. Instead, it is China’s economy that is troubled, China’s policy has failed in Southeast Asia, and China has been unable to split the United States from Japan. The test of splitting the two is the US response to Xi’s “new type of major power relations. At the joint news conference with Obama, Xi invoked the term three times, but Obama did not mention it, unlike in the past when US officials had cited it on various occasions at Japan’s expense.
In the December Chuo koron Kawashima Shin asked what many in Japan had been wondering in the run-up and aftermath of the Abe-Xi meeting at APEC: would Sino-Japanese relations improve? He explained that Japanese expectations were high, as preparatory meetings through the summer indicated that Chinese leaders were now more willing to meet with Abe’s emissaries. Chinese tourism to Japan had increased sharply. Dialogue channels had expanded. Environmental ministers had met. China faced new economic difficulties amid declining investment from Japan over the past two years, which had been turning to Southeast Asia. Although Japanese firms still found China’s market alluring, sustaining investment in retail and financial sectors, manufacturing FDI was hurt by rising wages. Japanese business voices were calling for better relations with China. Indeed, the author finds a shift in Xi Jinping’s focus with an August 22 speech commemorating Deng Xiaoping’ 110th birthday, which turned away from the conservative line of sovereignty and security to a cooperative foreign policy, softer to neighboring countries, beginning with Japan. This became clearer on September 3—the day marking the victory over Japan—, when Xi hinted at improved relations with Japan. Yet, the article added that more than 90 percent of Xi’s speech was critical of Japan over history, and on the strategic dimension there is no notable sign of concessions, as seen in swarming Chinese boats seeking coral in island areas. Now is is a time of wait-and-see with no sign of a “reset” in relations.
Yomiuri shimbun on November 11 noted the expectations of Japanese business for expanded trade along with concern that the Sino-South Korean FTA would not be beneficial for Japan. After all, in the first nine months Japanese FDI in China had fallen by 43 percent from the previous year, creating a sense of crisis, and estimates were that Japan’s exports would drop USD 5.3 billion in favor of Korean exports, while it was possible that Korean exports to China overall would climb USD 27.7 billion. Beyond these challenges, the article warned that the bad atmosphere for firms identified as Japanese in China lingers along with “unseen restrictions.” It called for resuming three-way FTA talks, which have barely been advancing, and seizing the initiative in rule making for the region through TPP. There is no hiding the thirst for economic gains.
Asahi shimbun on November 13 pointed to calls from businessmen to resume prior relations, as if the first two years of the Abe-Xi relationship could be put aside now that the leaders had met. Bemoaning a situation of “politics cold, economics cold,” it acknowledged that there were economic as well as political causes. Chinese wages had steadily been rising. Intellectual property rights were at risk, causing reluctance to expose advanced technologies to Chinese sites. Yet, China’s quest to overcome slowing growth should lead it to study the experience of Japanese companies and to learn from Japan’s economic policies. Japan is instructive too in combatting an aging population and environmental deterioration. Japanese companies are still attracted to China’s market. Thus, the article is upbeat about reviving cooperative relations.
Mainichi shimbun on November 12 saw the APEC summit as China’s show, repeating Xi’s claim that it marked a new historical stage in Asia-Pacific regional cooperation. Getting the new Indonesian president to join the AIIB, announcing a USD 40 billion Silk Road Fund, establishing an FTA with South Korea, and unveiling Xi’s regional vision as the “Asia-Pacific Dream,” reflected China’s initiatives. In contrast, the United States and Japan failed to announce success in TPP. Moreover, while Obama and Xi reached a number of agreements that strengthened bilateral cooperation, Japan was left on the sidelines, lacking any clear strategy for relations with China beyond just a brief meeting of the two leaders. This situation showcased Xi’s focus on a “new type of major power relations” in the wider Asia-Pacific, while leaving him room to put China at the center of Asian states, as Japanese fretted about their status and US ties.
An October 18 Yomiuri shimbun article on Xi’s “Maritime Silk Road” concept gives a picture of port construction, transportation companies, and coastal industrial belt development linking Europe and Asia. It focuses on Xi’s visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where China is taking credit for projects that have brought development to the area. Plans reach from Southeast China to Southeast and South Asia as well as the Middle East, East Africa and Europe, totaling about twenty countries, mostly developing states. Along with the parallel “Silk Road Economic Belt,” China expects to forge free trade spheres, readers are informed. At the core of Xi’s plans is ASEAN, with which he has called for a doubling of trade by 2020. Beyond, Xi is serious about forming a “necklace of pearls” and reaching as far as the Greek port of Piraeus, Yomiuri notes.
In a November 24 article Gendai Business reported that Prime Minister Najib had completed the switch from Mahathir’s “Look East” policy focused on Japan to full support for China, seeking expanded trade and investment. As the host of ASEAN in 2015, Najib’s stance matters more. Whereas Japanese sources have not frequently stressed China’s economic hard power in discussing the competition for influence in Southeast Asia, this article focuses on one case with possible wider implications. For Sankei shimbun on November 15 the ongoing summits in Myanmar were about China’s effort to use its financial power to wreck ASEAN and the Japanese-US effort to support it, freedom of navigation, and its interest in constraining China.
Asahi shimbun on November 18 was most positive on the agreement to prevent conflicts at sea, remarking that Japan and Russia have had such an agreement since 1993 and Japan and South Korea have one as well. Although talks had been halted in 2012 after five years of attempts to reach an agreement, the hotline, exchanges of information, and other parts of the new mechanism to prevent any escalation show the value of doing everything possible to maintain the route of diplomacy, it stated.
On November 15 following the Abe-Xi summit Kawashima Shin in Asahi shimbun suggested that if Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans knew more about each others’ view of history they could reduce mutual frictions. He traces the use of history as a tool by China, focusing on Japan as a more convenient enemy than Europe or the United States and hardening from the mid-90s as one of two wheels in relations. When the need for Japan’s economy lessened, history was left to distract people dissatisfied with inequality and seeking freedom. Xi is seeking to bolster the position of the Communist Party by attacking Japan. Thus, Kawashima sees limits in new friendship with China, but he proposes that at universities textbooks be used that convey the views of Japan, China, and South Korea as a way to diminish tensions among them.
Obama’s Brisbane speech and the five-country decision in Brisbane to accelerate the establishment of the BRICS bank were juxtaposed in Yomiuri shimbun on November 16. Obama stressed the importance of drawing on the collective power of alliance countries. This was viewed along with TPP as the legacy he would seek in his final two years for getting China on maritime and trade issues to follow the same rules as other countries. In contrast, the five G20 countries in the BRICS agreed on opposing the existing international financial order led by Japan, the United States, and Europe through a bank to assist developing and other countries with infrastructure. This is a picture of rival plans for the regional order, ignoring India’s ambiguous straddling. Japan places itself in the US camp, but it fails to acknowledge the essence of this reality and in relations with each part of Asia distances itself from US thinking.