Country Report: Japan (February 2016)

Editorial Staff

The mood in Japan was unexpectedly hopeful as 2015 drew to an end and a new year began. Nervousness prevalent through much of 2015 had dissipated. Confident leadership, improved bilateral relations with the countries that matter most, and a hopeful mood of expectation were widely present in newspaper and journal articles. Yet, some controversies were exposed as commentators differed in their points of view. In Yomiuri Shimbun, we find the mainstream position closest to Abe’s thinking. In Sankei Shimbun, there is optimism tinged with more warnings, while in several progressive papers one finds a rise in idealism laced with doubts about Abe.

 

After playing a prominent role in the national security law and the seventieth anniversary statement, Kitaoka Shinichi became the head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in October. A November 7 piece in Yomiuri Shimbun found him linking his activities, explaining that he will continue to contribute to a “proactive contribution to peace,” for which non-military activities and development assistance are Japan’s central role. The fact that in February 2015 the Self-Defense Forces were given the green light to join in non-military activities means that Japan will be able to step up its international contribution, showcasing how its military is educated in a peace-loving country, Kitaoka adds. The revised official development assistance (ODA) guidelines also emphasize universal values, including support for the rule of law and human rights. Japanese assistance will be provided through a philosophy of “self-help,” he explains. Noting China’s success in the competition with Japan for building a high-speed railroad in Indonesia, he casts doubt on the long-term stability of its approach, while also urging Japan to boost its ODA budget, which keeps falling.

 

Two diplomatic surprises at year-end led Sankei Shimbun on January 9 to express optimism about the response to China’s military threats. With US encouragement, the Japan-ROK deal will lead to trilateralism versus China and, more so following the North’s nuclear test on January 6, North Korea. China had failed in its use of the “comfort women” issue and historical consciousness to split South Korea and Japan. Moreover, the Modi meeting with Sharif on December 25 was a response to China’s encirclement, as India sought to reduce tensions with Pakistan in order to focus on the danger from China. With US power in Asia diminished due to the Middle East and Ukraine situations, the vacuum is being filled, readers were told, reinforced by new expectations that the regional balance will center on Japan-US-India relations, buttressed by shared values. Affirming this vision of polarization, on that same day it described trilateral discussions to curtail North Korean trade, limiting its ships’ entry into ports as well as financial sanctions, before adding that China and Russia, countries friendly to the North were not on board, taking only a cautious attitude.

 

On January 5, Sankei Shimbun argued why Japan should take a leadership role in 2016, citing its role as host of the G7 and the US election year with Obama’s political influence reduced as China and Russia are boosting their military influence. Though the article is short on specifics, it calls for Japan to assume more responsibility for global stability, beginning with drawing states together in opposition to China’s use of force rather than the rule of law and extending to moves to counter international terrorism, climate change, and the condition of the world economy.

 

Accentuating optimism toward China was Asahi Shimbun’s editorial on January 11, which stressed China’s changes in foreign policy in 2015 and appealed for Japan to change its outlook on China. The article was hopeful about cooperation in facing North Korea. Arguing that China’s diplomacy is seeking balance between forces of cooperation and hardliners, it urged Japan to take a long-term view to forge a new framework of mutual benefit, contrasting this to past Japanese mistakes from 1915.

 

Asian Security

Four years after publishing a book on Asia’s security architecture, Jimbo Ken in the November issue of Toa examined changes in this three-level structure amid Sino-US confrontation. At the first level, he discussed “networkization” of the US bilateral, hub and spokes system, which he sees advancing noticeably over this brief period: citing strengthening ties with allies—Japan, South Korea, and Australia—; pointing to closer partner relationships with countries in Southeast Asia and India; and noting parallel advances in participation with ASEAN and other regional frameworks. Not only are strengthening US bilateral and multilateral ties highlighted, Jimbo mentions also Japan’s expanding security cooperation with Australia and the Philippines, i.e., the spokes are becoming connected. At the second level, he identified the formation of ad hoc cooperative arrangements for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and maritime security, including a mechanism for Japan and China to avoid an accidental clash at sea. Jimbo saw some changes at this level too. Finally, at the third level, he observed some systemization of regional security through the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting (ADMM-Plus) and other steps centered on ASEAN. Summing up the overall change to regional architecture, he examined restraining effects on the impact of China’s rise and tensions at sea. In level one changes, the United States has dispersed its military assets and drawn allies more directly into maritime security. Level two is becoming routinized, filling gaps between the other two levels. The article cited the necessity of working harder to boost level three, warning of dilemmas related to China and North Korea, while noting China’s efforts to forge a security system exclusive to Asians, despite many unclear elements, and warning about stagnation in China’s cooperation with ASEAN. The article stressed China, not North Korea, omitted mention of Russia and even of the Six-Party Talks, and weighed heavily the system of US alliances and partnerships.

 

On November 26, Yomiuri presented Okamoto Yukio’s commentary on China-Japan relations and what the United States should do. In the face of China’s expansionism, he stresses the great importance of Japan joining with Europe, the United States, and other countries in Asia, especially India, where there is alarm about China and the bonds of democracy can be invoked. He notes that Japan has more soft power than China, while advocating more than a military alliance with the United States through deepening all-around relations. Other security issues are set aside. China is the key. A January 1 Yomiuri article was hopeful about recent responses to expansionism by China. Arguing that since China is more eager for Japan’s economic cooperation, a high probability exists that it will apply less pressure on security and history issues. It also finds promise in Park Geun-hye’s shift away from one-sided leaning toward China toward a cooperative line with Japan and the United States. The positive mood as 2016 approached was reflected in this article and across the Japanese press.

 

Japan-Russia Relations

On January 3, Yomiuri Shimbun pointed to two items in its foreign policy outlook for 2016: the Ise Shima summit in May, and, in regard to bilateral relations, diplomacy with Russia over the Northern Territories. On both matters, Japan will display its leadership in international society, particularly as the economies of China and other developing countries are slowing. Readers are told that Japan will use its position as the only Asian member of the G7 to strengthen awareness of its presence. On the one hand, the article points to Japan’s role in heightening consciousness of joint opposition to China’s use of force to change the status quo. On the other, it shifts to Abe’s priority for Russia, omitting mention of his use of force in Ukraine, to the point he met with Suzuki Muneo, who had previously been Japan’s “pipe” to Russia before being vilified for his efforts and imprisoned for the way he was proceeding. The two themes are linked through expectations that, given Russia’s role in the fight against terrorism, Japan can be the bridge at the anti-terror summit between Putin and the leaders of the participating states. This implies that Abe anticipates becoming the ‘go-between” for Obama and Putin to work together despite US suspicions that he will actually serve as the “troublemaker” undermining the unity of the G7 countries.

 

In Bungei Shunju, No. 1, 2016, Ishikawa Ichiyo and Iwata Akiko wrote an expose of the “secret negotiations” of Abe and Putin, covering the period from their meeting at the February 2014 Sochi Olympics to their exchanges in November 2015 about Abe meeting Putin somewhere in Russia and Putin going to Japan later in 2016. They note ups and downs as a special friendship was repeatedly tested, especially due to US pressure on Abe, but give the impression that the relationship is strong enough to overcome a difficult international environment. They argue that what is dividing Abe and Obama is a fundamental difference on geopolitics—Abe viewing China in a more negative light than Obama and obsessed with splitting Russia and China; and Obama viewing Russia in a more negative light and either doubtful about Sino-Russian ties or not thinking it possible to split them apart. The article points to a sustained, sharp gap between allies with no indication that it might narrow in 2016.

 

Instead of discussing a territorial deal that might be reached, the goal is a blueprint for future Japan-Russia relations, given that Putin seeks an overall relationship as the context for resolving the dispute over islands. The article concentrates on Abe’s pursuit of Putin, beginning with the importance he attached to going to the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. Given that it was on February 7—the very day that Japanese call “Northern Territories Day”—, there was strong sentiment within the Japanese government for Abe not to attend, i.e., to go to the closing ceremonies instead. Yet, knowing that Putin’s wish was for him to be there at the opening, Abe decided to go when he would be making a bigger impact. By then, he could only stay in a Soviet-style quiet hotel, but he was willing to do so. Putin’s warm reception was a signal that peace treaty negotiations were poised to go forward with a tête-à-tête as the style for their further dealings. The article purports to explain Abe’s logic: 1) America can no longer fulfill the role of the world’s policeman; therefore, Japan’s national interest demands striving for a power balance through strengthened ties with other powers; 2) the Abe legacy—as seen in his father Shintaro’s pursuit of Gorbachev as foreign minister before he succumbed to cancer and the Abe faction’s later leader Prime Minister Mori’s approach to Putin—is to achieve this breakthrough; 3) Putin really emphasizes Japan and is keen to turn Russia to the East as the only hope for its future; and 4) Putin is intent on balancing China and wants ties with Japan as the only great power in Asia that can serve this objective.

 

Thus, Putin is not just interested in economic gains through Japanese investments in Siberia and the Russian Far East; he is seeking increased security for Russia. Added to this picture is the claim that Japan’s search for autonomy from the time of Abe’s grandfather Kishi and Putin’s quest to make Russia a Eurasian power complement each other. Abe and Putin were narrowing their gap, ready to capitalize on shared interests and complementary identities when, readers are told, Ukraine interfered.

 

Japan imposed sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Crimea, but unlike the other sanctions that were imposed, they were seen as having little impact on the economy. Obama pressed for Japan to act in concert; Japan postponed its foreign minister’s trip to Russia with an eye to Abe’s impending state visit to Washington. Yet, as Abe saw China seize the opportunity to strengthen ties to Russia his sense of danger was deepening. He quietly communicated four principles to Obama: Japan opposes using force to change the status quo and values the unity of the G7 on this; it will not fill the vacuum in the business lost due to sanctions of the European Union and the United States; it will continue dialogue with Russia since the strategic environment of Northeast Asia with China rising is very different from Europe; and he wants to conclude a peace treaty with Russia. Despite attempting to sustain ties with Russia, Abe’s actions led to Putin being offended. One of Putin’s guests at the Sochi luncheon with Abe was on Japan’s no-visa entry list. Abe feared that lack of communications with Putin was a cause for Putin’s concern, as there were no phone calls, just unofficial messages.

 

In July 2014, WikiLeaks revealed that the United States was gathering intelligence on Japan, including its cabinet, leading both Obama and Biden to assure Japan that this is not currently taking place. The issue arose of even Abe-Putin conversations being overheard, complicating use of the telephone. The article proceeds to discuss how in August to September messages were sent and Abe-Putin ties were put back on track after Abe became deeply concerned that Putin’s attitude had cooled. Yet, once Putin was assured that Abe’s desire for him to visit Japan was unchanged (Mori’s visit to Moscow played a role), he also made clear that his attitude was as before, reinforced by a birthday gift to Abe. Again, however, events in Ukraine and G7 unity demands marred plans for intensifying contacts. When Japan on September 24 added new sanctions, Russian diplomats asked what kind of return was this for a birthday present. Again, the article conveys the message that Abe had no choice due to the need to cooperate with the United States, but he was still intent on wooing Putin.

 

Abe and Putin met in Beijing in November and, while it was clear that Putin would not visit Japan in 2014 as expected, the focus turned to the question of Abe coming to Moscow for the May 9 seventieth anniversary of the war’s end. Putin was upset because Toyota was closing its assembly plant in Vladivostok as if it were a political, not an economic, decision, and that, due to the sanctions, Japan had frozen some talks. Yet, the article hints at warmth in their tête-à-tête, and it notes that with the February 2015 Minsk Declaration, Abe saw a chance to boost relations as the Ukraine crisis stopped deepening. The problem was that Abe was nearing a visit to Washington and a speech before a joint session of Congress. If he were to go to Moscow right afterward and appear on the podium of the military parade with Putin, the article indicates, US opinion could turn sharply against him. He chose not to go to Moscow; however, according to the article, Abe vigorously opposed the reasoning of Obama warning him to be careful about inviting Putin to Japan. Rather, he described the danger of China and Russia drawing closer militarily—both are now heightening tensions with Japan—and expressed his determination to have Putin visit Japan by the end of the year and to sign a peace treaty. No understanding was reached.

 

Meanwhile, Russo-Japanese relations were at an impasse, as Russia took a harder line on the islands, insisting that they are part of Russia as a result of WWII, followed by Medvedev visiting Etorofu. Not reacting to such moves as Japan had done in the past, Abe reached out to Putin again, sending Foreign Minister Kishida to Russia on September 22 and then meeting Putin in New York later in the month. The upbeat nature of this meeting with another “tête-à-tête” is conveyed by Putin’s rare move, going outside in front of the meeting place to greet Abe, saying “konnichi wa” and shifting to the familiar “tu” in chatting, while inviting Abe to meet him in a local Russian city. Putin put stress, as he had before, on the level of trade and the need to address economics first. Soon Igor Sechin, identified not only as the head of Russia’s biggest energy company but as one of Putin’s closest confidants, was in Japan going over in great detail maps of places where Japan could invest. As global troubles were mounting, Japan and Russia were seen to be in a fluid environment, which would impact whether the summits Abe and Putin are planning in 2016 will materialize. The article makes clear that the leaders are eager to meet under more favorable circumstances, implying that both of them are intent on a breakthrough.

 

On January 14 Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the visit of Takamura Masahiko, vice-president of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), to Moscow, meeting Lavrov, Naryshkin, and Putin. As the prime minister’s envoy, carrying Abe’s letter, he was preparing for Abe to meet Putin in Russia and pressing for more wide-ranging diplomatic, parliamentary, and party-to-party exchanges, with Naryshkin expected to lead a State Duma delegation to Japan in June. The article indicated that in place of Putin going to Japan, Abe is going to Russia. It quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga’s statement that Takamura’s visit has great significance as the first high-level visit to Russia of the year. However, given Russia’s poor economy and no sign of any flexibility on the territorial question, the article does not manage to overcome an overall grim forecast for the year ahead.

 

Japan-South Korea Relations

On December 31, Yomiuri Shimbun reviewed a remarkable year in managing history issues, culminating in the December 28 “comfort women” agreement with Seoul. If on December 22 a proposal was tabled to revisit the Tokyo Tribunal, putting history in the spotlight again, Abe drew a clear line against it, explaining that his 70-year statement put a period on historical consciousness for his generation, and the topic should be left to the next generation. The Abe statement is explained in the article as a response to concern about worsening relations not only with China and South Korea, but also with the United States, and to the insistence of the Komeito within the ruling coalition. It is credited with depriving China and South Korea of use of the “history card,” since Abe cited “keywords” from prior statements, while ending the need to apologize in the future. That Abe and Park met in November is treated as a mark of its success, as was the restrained response in August in Beijing and Seoul.
The contents are viewed as uniting right and left within Japan, achieving a certain degree of common consciousness. The article concludes by quoting Foreign Minister Kishida on the “comfort women” deal that now the generation alive has fulfilled its responsibility, but it also notes fierce dissatisfaction in South Korea and raises doubt that the “history card,” in fact, will not be drawn against Japan in the future.

 

The December 28 agreement came amid a flurry of articles on the state of bilateral relations and their wider impact. Asahi Shimbun optimistically looked to what could be accomplished. Sankei Shimbun skeptically warned of what could go wrong. Most importantly, Yomiuri Shimbun perceived a turning point with different implications from those Asahi stressed. Assessments covered bilateral relations in all dimensions, internal developments in both Seoul and Tokyo, and relations with both Washington and Beijing. A kind of national catharsis was reached in reflecting on this agreement.

 

Sankei Shimbun on December 26 argued that Park had lost support due to her anti-Japan posture, although she might be tempted to revive it as South Korea’s economy slips. Touting joint performances of the Tokyo and Seoul philharmonic orchestras in Seoul on December 22 and Tokyo on December 26 in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic normalization as a highlight, Sankei also expressed dismay that in the DongA Ilbo list of the ten most important events of the year seventh is the avoidance in the Abe statement of responsibility for colonial control. Looking ahead, it expected Abe to invite Park as his guest to the Ise shima G7 summit in May, as the deal held.

 

While some on the right foresaw more trouble between Tokyo and Seoul, Asahi Shimbun on December 25 looked ahead to more cooperation between firms in the two countries in their operations abroad. Acknowledging that the past 50 years had witnessed a transition from South Korea striving to catch up and using USD 500 million in the 1965 economic settlement with Japan to build the foundation of the “Miracle on the Han,” e.g., in making steel and building high-speed highways, to competition between two economies that resemble each other, the article points to cooperation in Indonesia in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production. It notes that Japan imports 36 percent of global LNG and South Korea imports 15 percent, both having a stake in stable supplies. Notice is also given to close ties for production for the Chinese market. The article concludes that given shared demographic and resource problems, the two countries, even as competition persists, should step up their cooperation. The fact that mention is made of lots of cultural commonalities between them may impress readers, but they are reminded of a recent decline in bilateral trade and asked to look to industries of the future, where cooperation could be beneficial to both countries. Following the December 28 agreement, Asahi had far more reason to anticipate such cooperation.

 

On December 29, Asahi took up the responses of the remaining “comfort women,” a sign it wanted to keep alive the message that Japan had more to do to counter Abe’s historical revisionism and the “hate Korea” emotions unleashed under him. A battle for Japanese national identity still had to be fought, it implied, citing Korean worries that Abe would wound their feelings again on historical matters. It also cited Korean media’s close attention to what Japanese critics of the agreement were saying, while directly reporting some such remarks. Yet, Asahi was hopeful about 2016: the resumption of Japan-ROK shuttle diplomacy; Japan’s role as host to the China-Japan-Korea (CJK) meeting; increased cooperation regarding China and North Korea; a March trilateral summit with Obama in the shadow of the nuclear security summit in the United States; and a May G7 where Japan would raise its profile with a better reputation in international society. Above all, Asahi looked ahead to a new era in bilateral ties with citizens playing a leading role, as it emphasized the “irreversibility” of this agreement. It found of interest that the offspring of Kishi, who, it said, contributed a lot to normalization, and Park Chung-hee, who oversaw it, were the ones to narrow the gap in the year of its fiftieth anniversary. Warning that this agreement is only a starting point given the doubts about Japan’s sincerity in South Korea, it stressed shared problems that the two sides can address together and called on its own side to be serious about not letting the divide widen again. Asahi (p. 3) pointed to the costs of poor relations, noting a drop in trade from 2011 to 2014 from USD 108 to USD 86 billion; a psychology hindering investment; problems in defense cooperation in case of a need on the Korean Peninsula; distrust of Park’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) entry and September visit to China; and a sense in Japan that Seoul keeps moving the “goal posts.” Agreeing that this deal is “final” and “irreversible” reassured it finally that a new relationship is ahead.

 

In Asahi that day Okonogi Masao reinforced the theme that civic dialogue is needed, arguing that the deal was possible because both countries were in the same boat—criticized by international society with leaders distrustful of each other as the media aroused more emotions and unable to cooperate in addressing shared challenges.

 

The coverage of Sankei Shimbun of Japan-ROK relations revealed some differences. It was more critical of South Korea, stressing the negative reaction there to moving the “comfort women” statue near the Japanese embassy, as Park promised she would strive to do. Moreover, it anticipated renewed strengthening of anti-Japan feelings, linked to attitudes about Yasukuni and Takeshima. The drop-off in tourists from Japan has been swift, and investment and trade have fallen a lot, noted the article. Indeed, it described a sense of crisis in Seoul and of urgency to improve ties. Not only is Japanese public opinion aroused, readers are told, domestic opinion has turned more negative to Park over her nationalization of textbooks and inequality.

 

On December 29, Sankei credited US pressure on Park too with leading to this deal, due to defense concerns related to North Korea and China, and it anticipated that missile defense versus North Korea would now be strengthened. Listing events in Japan in the coming months that could test South Korean attitudes—Takeshima Day on February 22 and the spring visits to the Yasukuni Shrine—as well as potential for Koreans to be aroused on March 1 and in April elections, Sankei implied that Park is backing down to avoid the negative impact, while Japan has no reason to back down. Calling the agreement an epoch-making achievement as a result of criticisms from international society that puts an end to Japan’s apologies, Sankei was gloating. On December 31, the themes of Park yielding to US pressure and the need for trilateral security in the face of North Korea were showcased, but on that same page stress was put on demonstrations in Seoul against the deal and on the need for the Korean-American community to stop its anti-Japan actions, i.e., placing “comfort women” statues in US cities and inserting this issue into the state curriculum in California. If Asahi looks ahead optimistically, Sankei dwells on a still incomplete victory.

 

North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Japanese articles viewed the test through the prism of triangular relations, i.e., the Japan-US-ROK triangle, the Sino-ROK-North Korea triangle, and the Japan-ROK-China triangle. The test was seen as a defeat for Park’s “trustpolitik” and diplomacy relying on China. On January 9, Tokyo Shimbun saw her decision to prioritize China over Japan and attend the September 3 parade as failures. Not only had China not stopped the North from testing, its response at the UN Security Council will lead to be a watershed moment for its foreign policy. This means approving Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) against the wishes of China and turning to trilateralism after reaching a deal with Japan.

 

A January 8 Yomiuri Shimbun article discussed new sanctions on North Korea, noting government discussion of restricting the reentry of Zainichi officers. When North Korea failed to deliver on an agreement to report on a new investigation of the abductees, Japan restored the unilateral sanctions it had imposed in 2006 on travel, trade, and money transfers. Today’s discussion finds some Japanese officials concerned that tighter sanctions would freeze the abductee issue since Japan still seeks a continued investigation. The possibility that after having been disappointed so many times, Abe would allow Pyongyang to dangle this prize again in a manner that would limit sanctions may be puzzling to readers focused on a sharp response. After all, on the same day the newspaper wrote about the greater threat from the North and the importance of closer cooperation with South Korea (including the GSOMIA intelligence sharing agreement that after failing once was partially put in place in December 2014 by sharing only through the United States, despite the vital need for every precious second when missiles may be en route). Expecting Seoul to reconsider earlier reservations, the article assumed Tokyo would stand tough. The day before Yomiuri had carried a three-way exchange on what to do. One response is to focus on trilateralism since it is an illusion to think that international containment will happen given China’s refusal. Another is to see China at a crossroads with a very difficult decision and wait. The third stance is, while working in parallel with the United States and South Korea, to talk to North Korea to see if abductee progress is possible. The same day the editorial put the blame on China for sustaining the North and argued that the key to solving the problem is pressure from China. Capitalizing on the “comfort women” agreement with South Korea by tightening relations along with US coordination was urged, but left unsaid was what to do if China disagrees.

 

In the month of January it was becoming increasingly clear that China would not be amenable to tough sanctions on North Korea and the United States as well as South Korea were taking a tougher line on China as a result. This served as a critical test. Would those who had opposed “collective self-defense” only months earlier find a response? Would a new sense of hope for relations with South Korea influence the response? On January 9, Asahi Shimbun editorialized that not only should China be disposed to toughen sanctions, the Obama administration, which it sees as partly responsible for the three nuclear tests on its watch, should change its course and satisfy the North’s greatest desire for a peace agreement. South Korea’s interests are left out of the picture, as idealism suggests that good intentions trump deterrence. In contrast, the conservative press applauded US toughness toward China (although at times worrying that Obama might change course) and cast China’s response as more reason to oppose it. Sankei Shimbun on January 8 went further, questioning whether Russia is now preparing to draw closer to North Korea despite its initial criticism of the nuclear test. It noted that as Sino-DPRK relations have worsened, high officials of Russia have met often with North Koreans, and cited the contrast between North Korean media mentioning Xi Jinping only ten times last year while Putin received 150 mentions. Given Russia’s international isolation, its ties to North Korea give it a presence in Northeast Asia, the article added, noting its economic interests as well.

 

A January 15 Yomiuri Shimbun article stressed differences between Obama and Putin on the Security Council’s response to North Korea’s nuclear test. Putin told Obama that the problem needed to be resolved through dialogue and asked that the United States not act in a manner to heighten military tensions. An adjacent piece reported on another telephone conversation, in which Lavrov told Yun Byung-se that tensions should not be exacerbated. One more article was no less clear on China’s reservations about joining the US-Japan-ROK call for tougher sanctions. At least, Yomiuri saw triangularity building. Sankei doubted Seoul; on January 13, it wrote of the South Korean risk due to anti-Japan and pro-China attitudes. It was not conceding that the Japan-ROK agreement and the nuclear test were game-changers.

 

China and Others

Kawashima Shin in Toa, No. 1 asked how should Japan respond to China after two and a half years of stagnation in relations when political and security ties were in limbo. He reports that in the spring of 2014 Chinese began to send messages that they sought an improvement in relations and that the Senkaku (Diaoyu) issue was not the main thing. Exchanges revived, including visits to China by LDP vice-president Kawamura and former Prime Minister Fukuda, leading to the summit late in the year at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). By not going to Yasukuni another time, Abe made it easier to navigate the seventieth anniversary year in 2015. Including the four key words, which Huanqiu shibao said were the test for Abe’s statement passing the threshold, led to China not making a big protest. Meanwhile, Sino-US relations changed drastically, added Kawashima, over the South China Sea, but he concluded that, unlike Japan, which has a two-dimensional view of engagement or containment, the US position can be a mixture of the two, even on this sea. In this context, ASEAN views toward China hardened somewhat, as Singapore and Indonesia raised their voices more, as there was now a greater sense of danger and awareness that ASEAN had to respond together. Even as China outwardly accepted continued ASEAN centrality, its specialists are saying that ASEAN is too weak and too small. Kawashima sees Xi Jinping as changing China’s foreign policy: whereas Hu Jintao even after China’s policies hardened paid lip service to “taoguang yanghui,” under Xi the term is not used; before, economics had the central role, and under Xi, security and sovereignty are equally important with no sign of any flexibility, notably on the South China and East China seas; and there has been a shift from “neighborhood diplomacy” to “One Belt, One Road” with more emphasis on “marching West” and Eurasian diplomacy. He concludes that summits are essential between Japan and China, that even as Japanese do not regard China as friendly they recognize that it is Japan’s number one trading partner and is important, and that Japan cannot just oppose China in security but must strive in exchanges or ways to improve mutual perceptions while viewing China in multiple contexts.

 

The resumption of CJK meetings after a three-and-a-half-year interruption was attributed to the economic troubles facing China and South Korea in Yomiuri Shimbun on November 2. Blame for the delay is put on China, starting before Park took office and the need to resume the meetings also came from China, seeking more investment, while the business community and public opinion in Korea added a boost. The article stresses, however, that Park’s reception to Li Keqiang was much warmer than that to Abe.

 

A December 22 Yomiuri article bewailed the manners of Chinese tourists, noting that the number visiting Japan has been climbing fast—in 2000, tourism centered on South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, but Chinese numbers climbed in 2014 by 83 percent and in the first ten months of 2015 by 112 percent more. They are faulted for being disorderly and noisy in public places, for taking free samples as gifts for back home, and even of walking off with TV sets if not chained. While the article acknowledges that after Japan allowed foreign travel in large numbers in 1964, its citizens also had a poor image, and that Japan has strongly encouraged the Chinese to come since 2012—through public relations, a cheap yen, and relaxed visa restrictions—, it asserts the need to improve the manners of Chinese. Nishimoto Shino in Toa, No. 1 also looked at the Chinese tourist boom. Noting that in the 1990s total on flights between the two countries Japanese predominated and Chinese comprised fewer than 10 percent, she describes a boom in travel to Hokkaido (fed by movies showing the island) to the point that PRC residents have overtaken Taiwan residents as first at this site. The total number of Chinese visitors to Japan for 2015 may top five million. Explaining the boom in travel to Japan, she argues that it was slowed earlier by both the Fukushima disaster and the Senkaku island clash. Another factor was the shift of travel from Hong Kong, where a “hate China” mood has spread, and South Korea due to the MERS epidemic. Also mentioned is Chinese shoppers looking for more high quality goods and the appeal of a devalued yen, causing travelers to come with lists of items to buy for friends and relatives. Pointing to puzzled Japanese who think Chinese dislike Japan and that China’s economy is stumbling, the article attributes the influx of visitors to: 1) the split between politics and society; 2) the force of marketing via the Internet and phones; and 3) the fact that if China’s big cities are as developed as Japan, they are weak in “soft” dimensions, whereas Japan excels and can be trusted. It concludes that at the grassroots level the notions of Japan as a good country and the Japanese people as good have lately been spreading. While the government is anti-Japan, the people are rapidly becoming pro-Japan, it adds.

 

The January issue of Toa carried an article by Maeda Hiroko on a “new type of major power relations” and Chinese foreign policy. Arguing that Obama chose to prioritize Sino-US relations and has little time left to change, although the United States has rejected Xi”s pet concept for the relationship, she wonders how China will respond to the possibility of intensified criticism in the US political campaign. Maeda lists the “new type of major power relations” with the “China Dream,” a “new Asian security concept,” and “One Road, One Belt,” as among Xi’s guiding ideas. Yet, Xi failed to get Obama to accept China’s “core interests” and respect for each other’s sphere of influence with Obama conceding Asia to Xi in return for acceptance of US spheres elsewhere. Explaining the deterioration in Sino-US relations, she finds opinions split over whether it is due to US responses to various Chinese actions (the main US view, focusing on assertive actions, human rights abuses, and slow economic reform), or to US distraction to other hot spots, failing to do enough to counter assertive moves. Maeda also notes the Chinese habit of blaming worse relations on US containment.

 

In any case, China still uses the label Xi introduced for this relationship, while it is now completely rejected in the United States. If China claimed to be for mutual respect of core interests, Maeda found that it showed little interest in those of America. With the failure of China’s approach, it is now readjusting its foreign policy and improving relations with neighboring countries, including Japan. Yet, many in China really think China seeks, despite the label “one superpower, many great powers,” a framework of “two superpowers, many great powers,” concludes Maeda.

#Japan #National security #Non-military activity #Shuttle diplomacy