Optimism in Japan is in short supply. The Foreign Ministry organized an academic group to analyze Asia after 20 years and consider what Japan’s role will be in the Asia-Pacific regional order. On April 26, Asahi Shimbun reported on both the desirable and the undesirable scenarios identified by the group. On the negative side is continuation of the inward-looking tendencies of the United States, China gaining a controlling position, and Japan facing great difficulty. At the same time, South Korea loses faith in its alliance with the United States and strengthens relations with China while belittling the role of Japan-ROK relations. Tensions over North Korea also continue. The positive scenario centers on Japan expanding its support for the international order as rosy outcomes occur around the region. Not only does this seem illusive, but concerns are expressed that Japan needs long-term policies with less turnover of foreign ministers and administrations. The summary of the report is remarkably vague on specific moves Japan should make in order to bring about a rosy scenario.
Sankei Shimbun is endorsing the revival of the influential Fukuzawa doctrine of leaving Asia (datsuaron) as applicable to our time and again not as a matter of looking down on Asia. Rather, in the late nineteenth century it meant recognition that China was mired in an anachronistic and failed order, and Korea was incapable of separating from it and was ideologically opposed to Japan while depending on China. In our century a similar rationale has driven Japan from continental Asia, but it is now, as a maritime state, fundamentally different from the continental ones, forming new linkages in support of an open Asia, beginning with Taiwan, reaching to Myanmar, and extending to India. Praising the book by Nishimura Koyu that develops this argument against China and South Korea, the newspaper both associates Japan today with a doctrine that many think led to its imperialist behavior (as if Japan never looked down on the countries it colonized) and dismisses present-day South Korea as hopelessly stuck in China’s camp (as if its criticisms of Japan are blinding it once more to balanced decisions about foreign policy). Odd, too, is the assumption in this April 26 article that Japan is reorganizing Asia with no discussion of the US role.
Asahi Shimbun on May 3 questioned the sincerity of Abe’s mantra of a “proactive contribution to peace,” as if Japan is becoming a champion of international society. It noted that what that society is seeking from Japan is contributions to the refugee crises that are unfolding, now exceeding five million persons around the world. While Japan is an important donor to assist these people, it refuses to accept them, allowing six persons to enter the country in 2013 and eleven persons in 2014. In response to appeals from the UNHCR, it says, “within the government there is no consensus” or there are religious or cultural differences. These responses show that the real meaning of “proactive contribution to peace” is military integration with the United States or that, under this umbrella, Japan is really seeking to go it alone (ikkokushugi). Progressives continue to doubt Abe, accusing him of hypocritical values as well as of assault on some domestic liberties, despite endorsing more of his foreign policy.
On April 2, Pyongyang notified Tokyo that it was suspending talks on cooperation, accusing Japan of improper conduct and demanding an apology. It pointed to two actions that breached its understanding of proper behavior: Japan’s vote for the UN Human Rights Council resolution on North Korea, and the search of the homes of the leaders of the Chosen Soren organization—the pro-North Korea group in Japan—in connection with the illegal import of matsutake mushrooms. The saga of waiting for an investigation report on the abductees from Japan as well as other Japanese alive or buried in North Korea has ended. On February 28 and March 1 in Dalian, the last of the informal talks between Japanese and North Korean diplomats had taken place with the latter again stonewalling Japan’s demand for the first-stage report on the abductees promised in their July 1, 2014 agreement for the late summer or the early fall of 2014. The Abe administration had decided on March 31 to extend its sanctions on the North, and now the sanctions that had been partially lifted in the agreement on the investigation report would be restored. A promise was broken, the Japanese press agreed. The misplaced optimism about a breakthrough with North Korea was over, and a month later there was much commentary that Kim Jong-un’s decision not to go to Moscow, as planned, indicated greater isolation.
The conclusion that North Korea is in a deeper hole, under greater pressure due to its isolation, was not uniformly accepted. Already on April 21, Asahi Shimbun wrote that China had begun relaxing its pressure on the North early in 2015. It expanded its grain exports, e.g., in the first three months, corn exports nearly exceeded the amount for all of 2014 and restored imports of coal. Jilin province had indicated that by year-end it planned visa-free coming and going from Hunchun on the border with North Korea and Russia. An important currency earner for the North Koreans, smokeless tobacco, is being exported in larger quantities after a sharp drop when China had imposed a 3 percent tax, and now is being transshipped to Taiwan. North Korea’s ambassador to China has changed for the first time in five years, and high-level official contacts have resumed. The explanations offered for China’s change of course are: 1) concern about the poor state of North Korea’s economy, including the occurrence of a second time of troubles after the famine in the mid-90s with troops gathering grain from the villages and leaving the villagers with little; and 2) the fact that Russia is drawing closer to North Korea, having filled some of the gap left by China’s limits on oil and grain exports (ten times the level of its exports in 2013 in 2014). China, readers are told, seeks to sustain its influence. It realizes that Russia is limited in how much it can offer and now can gain the upper hand, while also being in a better position with improved ties to Pyongyang to get it to abandon its nuclear weapons development. China seems to be playing a more nuanced hand than many foreign observers have noticed, at times pressuring and at other times cooperating.
One article in the May 1 Tokyo Shimbun argued that Kim Jong-un did not travel to Russia because the special treatment and the diplomatic and material benefits he had sought were not provided. It added that Kim really is focused on improving ties with China and attending its September 3 anti-Japan victory commemoration. In contrast, Asahi Shimbun on May 1 argued that the burden of his diplomatic debut in front of so many leaders was too much and, after executing 15 high officials this year, the danger of unrest in his absence was too great. Sankei Shimbun argued on May 1 that there was never much chance that he would go to Moscow since North Korea is too isolated. Great uncertainty abounds even as some see the potential for an understanding between Kim and Xi and also do not rule out Putin’s support. In the Yomiuri Shimbun of April 11, there was already an indication that Kim is failing to produce concrete results at home, is urgently in need of breaking through his international isolation before the October 10 seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the party, and has an opportunity with the September 3 gathering in Beijing if he convinces China that he has a forward-looking attitude toward denuclearization.
The focus prior to Abe’s summit with Obama turned to improving security ties with South Korea brokered by Washington. In Yomiuri Shimbun of April 11, an image was conveyed of the United States pressing on this seventieth anniversary year to keep history from interfering and to stress improved relations centered on security. This meant stressing the importance of security dialogue between Seoul and Tokyo and taking advantage of the April 16 first trilateral meeting of the number two officials in the foreign ministry or state department in Washington. Already in March when Susan Rice had met Yanai Shotaro, the emphasis on Japan-ROK relations had been clear. Indeed, the success of Abe’s visit to Washington had become linked to this. What was left vague in press coverage was whether this was: mostly about North Korea and getting Japan to prioritize this more; in an unacknowledged manner also about the South China Sea and the crisis looming there with China; or a sign that the time had come to press for more coordination for the sake of the overall rebalance to Asia.
Asahi Shimbun on April 18 was particularly upbeat about the unprecedented vice-ministerial meeting in Washington on April 16, where Tony Blinken pressed for an improvement in Japan-ROK relations, linking it to the success of Abe’s visit. In the absence of better relations, US policies toward China and North Korea are undermined, the article said, while favorably citing Japan’s position that relations 50 years after normalization should be forward-looking. As Sankei Shimbun seized the occasion to proclaim a kind of victory over South Korea and suggested fighting the “history war” further, as if it could be won, other Japanese newspapers saw a way forward.
Muto Masatoshi, ambassador to South Korea in 2010-2013, in the May 21 Sankei Shimbun gave his view of bilateral relations, explaining that when he arrived in Seoul, he was determined to forge a new era in relations; but when he returned, the relationship had deteriorated. He blamed Seoul for “moving the goalposts” and arousing “hate Korea” emotions in Japan. He called on Seoul to make three changes. One, it should tell the Korean people about the bilateral cooperation post-1965 for development. Two, it should challenge the NGO group that is devoting itself to the “comfort women” issue and making progress in relations impossible without any recognition of sincere Japanese efforts such as the Asian Women’s Fund. Three, it should acknowledge the agreement reached in 1965 that the war issues had been completely resolved, which held until Roh Moo-hyun raised questions and then an article in Asahi Shimbun on the eve of Miyazawa Kiichi’s 1992 visit to South Korea suddenly changed the atmosphere. Further, Seoul must recognize that Takeshima is not an historical but a territorial issue. Muto adds that many Koreans like Japan, but those who are anti-Japan include Park Geun-hye, politicians, the mass media, and NGOs. The onus is placed entirely on the Korean side for deeply troubled relations.
Japanese were perturbed in early May by what they called needless politicization of a plan to record 23 sites from the era 1850-1910 as UNESCO world cultural heritage sites. Whereas there had seemed to be an understanding with South Korea on the matter, despite the fact that at a later date, seven of those sites including coal mines had become workplaces for forced Korean labor, an outcry arose in both the ruling and opposition parties as well as the media, and the government declared its opposition. Given that past examples show that it is difficult to prevent such a declaration, this is likely to be in vain. Asahi Shimbun on May 9 commented that in the South Korean government there are calls for a face-saving resolution, but Japan is cold to the idea. After all, Seoul is not isolated after the recent Japan-US and Japan-China summits.
The entire issue No. 4 of Kaigai jijo was devoted to the road to the ASEAN community in a year when confrontation in the region is overshadowing the establishment of the community and the celebration of a half-century of ASEAN’s existence. In 1967, the organization was born from confrontation, Kuroyanagi Yoneji explains in his article, warning that again there is distrust within the region. ASEAN achieved a lot for regional peace, stability, and development, and, in the twenty-first century, it became the second most effective regional cooperation structure after the European Union. It won acclaim from the international community, and it set the goal of forging a community by the end of this year in three respects: political-security, economics, and socio-cultural. Kuroyanagi adds that this ambitious pursuit has considerable significance for East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, but he finds two conflicting views on this process: 1) its role in realizing peace and security is highly valued; or 2) as a weak grouping it is unsuccessful in realizing peace. During the Cold War, security centered on US bilateral relations, but, in the post-cold war period, he sees it having a growing role.
Kuroyanagi traces the visions that led to the plan for an ASEAN community. In 1997, he sees ASEAN’s reinvigoration followed by a vision and then a roadmap for forging a community, but he also sees the first disputes within the group that have led to killings in 2008 and the discord over the South China Sea that meant in 2012, for the first time, the foreign ministers could not issue a joint communique. Managing great powers is now paramount: keeping the United States engaged, checking China, and maintaining order through regional dialogue that boosts ASEAN centrality. Seeing China’s attitude changing—in the 1990s, it feared US unipolarity and accepted the role of ASEAN in dialogue to restrain both powers, welcoming the ASEAN Way as opposed to interfering in any country’s internal affairs—, Kuroyanagi doubts the capacity of ASEAN to reform beyond serving as a channel for dialogue, while seeing it losing the trust and praise of international society. Suzuki Sanae in the journal was also pessimistic about the prospects for ASEAN, as Washington and Tokyo intensify their diplomacy with countries in ASEAN and make their support for both freedom of flights and freedom of navigation unmistakable, and in meetings that bring together high officials of Southeast Asia and in their bilateral summits. Rather than ASEAN as a whole, both countries have been strengthening support for particular countries. The result, he foresees, is that ASEAN as a group will have a reduced negotiating voice with China and differences within it will become more visible.
Japanese coverage of the Chinese reclamation and artificial construction of islands in the South China Sea grew prominent in April. It was increasingly obvious that these moves were for military use, China’s argument that this was simply a matter of building in one’s own garden was not taken seriously, and the accelerated pace aroused a sense of urgency that China was rushing to take control of the South China Sea, as reported by Yomiuri Shimbun on April 5. On April 6 Sankei Shimbun noted US alarm about a great wall of sand being constructed, threatening regional peace and security, violating promises to the ASEAN states, and leading to urgent appeals to the United States and Japan as well to join ASEAN in action. On April 8, Yomiuri was also agitated in reporting on Ash Carter’s strong statement to the newspaper as he prepared for his first trip to the region as secretary of defense. April was the month that the sense of looming confrontation with China spread in Japan, attentive to the increasingly tough US response and the impending change in US-Japan guidelines.
Sankei Shimbun on April 29 wrote of the deep concern in Southeast Asia over the reclamation projects by China. It called for a cohesive ASEAN response backed by Japan and the United States as China’s maritime advance ignores international rules. As the Abe-Obama summit was unfolding in Washington, Sankei stressed the shared concern of the two countries, the praise in international society for their expanded cooperation and guidelines, and their refusal to recognize China’s view that a great power has special rights over a small power. If the Abe-Obama summit had a single theme, it was an alliance being fortified for the coming showdown at sea with China.
Vietnam drew special attention in April for what was called “balanced diplomacy.” Yomiuri Shimbun on April 8, covering the visit of the leader of the communist party of Vietnam to China and noting that he is likely to visit the United States later in the year, stressed Xi Jinping’s quest for balance at a time of intensifying tensions over the South China Sea. At the same time, Xi Jinping was appealing for Vietnam’s participation in the Maritime Silk Road. Noting that Vietnam is heavily dependent on China for trade (30 percent of imports), the article indicated that it wanted to avoid confrontation. Yet, the article concluded that its real aim is to contain China with closer ties to the United States, and it is also pursuing Russia with plans for an FTA with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union. Asahi Shimbun covered the same meeting on April 9 with more emphasis on the positive outcome. It pointed to the forward-looking stance of Vietnam regarding the Maritime Silk Road and to Xi’s apparent softening on oil exploration, which had aroused demonstrations in Vietnam in 2014. However, it too used the term “balanced diplomacy,” and it explained that visiting China before going to the United States and joining the AIIB saved China’s face as defense ties with the United States are being strengthened. A message from these articles is that China is applying pressure on Vietnam to join its regional economic endeavors even as security tensions are deepening. It is hard to see how a balanced approach works.
How do Japanese boost their optimism that they have promising opportunities in relations with Russia and in regional diplomacy? One mechanism is to minimize the linkages between Russian policy in the West and the East. Another has been to find internal reasons why Russia will have to change course. A third is to stress its need for Japan in the context of a balance of power strategy. Finally, one finds writings that downplay Sino-Russian relations, as in an April 14 Sankei Shimbun piece by Kimura Hiroshi that claims that relations are a facade, embellished for the sake of political public relations as in their supposed western route energy deal. Kimura uses the Russian term “pokazukha” and the Japanese term “tatemae” to minimize what is really happening. Such arguments support Japanese patience in waiting for Russia to come to Japan from a weak position. Others also assess Russia’s approach to China as limited, although less so, and call on Japan to be more active in testing its intentions, not assuming that Japan will be dealing from a position of strength, and prepared to seek a compromise as both countries seek a regional balance.
Minimizing ideological and other deeper forces at work in the rapid improvement of Russia’s ties with Japan, Shimotomai Nobuo in the April issue of Toa insists that the real goal of Putin is regional balance, not just for the Korean Peninsula, but broadly, raising hope for Japan-Russia relations and overall improvement in regional ties. In saying this, Shimotomai appears to endorse Putin’s regional strategy and oppose the US strategy toward Russia and Japan’s acquiescence to it, which hampers ties with Putin.
In contrast, Hakamada Shigeki in the April 10 Sankei Shimbun argues that inviting Putin to Japan is not in Japan’s interest. There is almost no possibility of resolving the Northern Territories question now, and emissaries from Abe who go to Russia and say that Japan does not really mean its sanctions on Russia but is responding to US pressure are not doing the right thing. Yet, Hakamada sees Russia turning to China to escape isolation, and he thinks that it may later try to turn to Japan; therefore, it is not necessary to arouse its victim mentality excessively while maintaining various channels for dialogue since strategically over the long term it is important for Japan to forge good relations with Russia. Similar to Shimotomai, he does not condition Japan’s response to Russia on its behavior in Europe, minimizes Russia’s turn to China, and offers hope that its goal is a balance of power in Asia.
On May 10, Asahi Shimbun explained why Abe could not go to Moscow as he wished. He had left open the possibility until the time of his trip to the United States. but then he decided that if he went right after strengthening the Japan-US alliance, the timing would be bad, undercutting the message from his US trip. He wrote a letter to Putin explaining that his emphasis on relations with Russia had not changed and giving excuses, such as he could not be absent from the Diet, but this was to no avail.
On May 20-21, a sharp exchange signaled the depths to which Japan-Russia relations had fallen. Sergei Lavrov accused Japan of being the only country that does not accept the results of WWII due to its position on the Northern Territories, asserts Sankei Shimbun. This was followed by Suga Yoshihide responding that Lavrov’s remarks are baseless. As memories of WWII are being showcased in international relations, Russia’s hesitation to focus on Japan is fading. Diplomacy is stalled. As explained in Asahi Shimbun on May 20, Russia has now decided to emphasize its enormous historical role in World War II, which has negated Putin’s pledge to negotiate over the islands and led instead, once it became clear that Japan would stick with the United States and the European state on the showdown over Ukraine, to singling out Japan’s for its island stance as the only state unwilling to accept the results of the war. It now appears likely that Russia will endorse China’s historical demonization of Japan. Even before Lavrov’s remarks, Russia had suspended visits to their ancestral areas by Japanese natives of the islands in a visa-free travel program begun in 1992, which had been scheduled to resume on May 15-18 for 64 persons to Kunashiri and on May19-22 for 59 to Shikotan. The Japanese media has speculated that this was a response to Japan tilting in its policies to the European Union and the United States and away from Russia. On May 16, however, a Yomiuri Shimbun article indicated that Abe was still trying to persuade the Obama administration that Foreign Minister Kishida should visit Russia and Putin come to Japan by year’s end.
Now that hopes for the abductee issue with North Korea have collapsed, the article indicated that Japan sees relations with Russia as more important, as it strives to draw Russia away from China. Yet, the article notes that Obama views Russia along with the Middle East as priorities and he is strongly supporting Japan on its island dispute with China, indicating firm US expectations that Japan, in turn, should back US policy and should stand against the principle of using force to make changes. By going to Japan, Putin would aim to split the G-7 sanctions network and break free of Russia’s isolation in international society. The impression is that Washington views Russia as unrelenting on Ukraine and a big threat to international society, and Japan either is taking a narrow view based on the illusion that it will cut a deal on islands or is exaggerating its geopolitical clout reasoning that it can split Russia from China.
Japanese media took the Putin-Xi summit and their parade proximity on May 8-9 more seriously than US media. Most insistent that this is essentially a new cold war was Sankei Shimbun, which for the past year has found parallels in the conduct of the countries. On May 9, it stressed that both countries have the same objectives, but qualified this by saying that China is not prepared to worsen relations with the West so decisively. Even so, it suggested that talk of a “new type of major power relations” between China and Russia sends a message against the United States at the same time this same label is being used for Sino-US relations. Also on May 9, Sankei wrote that the way the two countries are interpreting WWII is of far-reaching significance, insisting that this was the biggest tragedy in human history and that their two states were the biggest victims as well as victors due to their great historical deeds; thus, they must make sure that there is no distortion of history. Suggested also is the prospect of September 3 bringing an intensification of this shared national identity with Japan on the receiving end. Coupled with the Eurasian link-up of the economic plans of the two countries, the image is conveyed of a rapidly tightening continental union.
The May 10 Sankei stressed that the joint reference to the revival of militarism as well as Nazism as the main threat to the world order is meant to contain Japan and the United States. Other newspapers also prioritized the Sino-Russian honeymoon and the highlight of joint opposition to historical rethinking, as China prepares to intensify use of the “history card” to pressure Japan on September 3. On May 9 and 10, Yomiuri Shimbun carried articles showcasing the history consensus and linking it to the growing security closeness and the overlapping economic regionalism. Only Asahi Shimbun on May 9 noted the difference that a Russian paper stressed the role of Soviet assistance to China’s victory and the defeat of Japan, while a Chinese one was more focused on winning concessions from Russia to realize its Silk Road Economic Belt. On May 10, Asahi drew a sharp contrast between the sixtieth anniversary celebration in Moscow jointly with Western leaders and the leaders of the defeated powers and the Sino-Russian focus at the seventieth at a time both are encroaching on the territory of others and boosting authoritarianism. Its editorial put the focus on new threatening views of history, and this from a paper long in the lead in warning of Japan’s views.
A June Chuo Koron special issue asked what is taking place in the rapid drawing together of China and Russia. One author, Hyodo Shinji, responded that relations are much more troubled than the two countries let on. Behind the scenes of what the two are calling a political honeymoon, he observes latent mutual distrust centered on Russia fearing unequal relations as it becomes the “little brother.” The past taboo against writing about the “China threat” has been broken, he insists, citing articles in 2013 and a public opinion survey in 2013, which showed a rise in concern about the threat of Chinese expansionism from 26 percent in 2006 to 59 percent. Hyodo argues that Russia is refocusing on its nuclear force and reorganizing its forces in the Far East in light of concern about China, repeating also prior account of the 2012 tensions over the Sea of Okhotsk and Arctic Ocean. Two additional points are stressed. First, China has been encroaching on Russia’s sphere, not only in Central Asia but in Ukraine. Hyodo lists many examples: more than USD 3 billion in planned investment in Crimea prior to Russia’s annexation of it; joint aircraft development, leasing vast amounts of land for agriculture in eastern Ukraine, and buying Soviet-made weapons. Second, he asserts that Putin has resisted Xi’s approach to Japan both for economic development of the Far East and as a strategic balance against China, although since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis he has been waiting to see how independent Japan would be as others have isolated Russia. While in Sino-Russian statements in preparation for the seventieth anniversary events there was opposition to Germany and Japan, Russia and China each had only one target in mind, he adds. The Ukraine crisis is not altering Russia’s desire to turn to Japan as well as India and Vietnam for balance, with new prospects for joint development in the Arctic Circle being another lure to Japan. Disregarding what Russia is doing in Europe, Hyodo concludes that if Japan drives Russia further into isolation, it forces Russia to draw closer to China against Russia’s true instincts.
Preceding the Hyodo article, Nakanishi Hiroshi presented a more complex picture with no optimism that Japan can alter the course of events. He acknowledged that China and Russia both are increasingly posing a challenge to the international order, but he put these two challenges in the context of the challenges from the Islamic world and from the world economy. Adding to the complexity is the fact that China is pursuing two goals at once: prioritizing “One Road, One Belt” to the west while also challenging the United States in the Pacific as a naval power, as it strives to make the South China Sea its Caribbean Sea. Nakanishi does not find reason for optimism, but he does find Russia more isolated after having alarmed even its partners in the Eurasian Economic Union, China failing to give Russia full support on Ukraine, and Japan with no basis for optimism that Putin after arousing patriotism would return the islands. As competition for spheres of influence persists, he doubts that there will be a direct confrontation even as chronic trouble threatens the world.
On May 27, Michishita Narushige wrote in Mainichi Shimbun that the point of the new security draft law is to respond to China’s rapid build-up of military power and the beginning of a breakdown in regional balance. Closer Japan-US cooperation is natural to maintain the balance, but that is not sufficient. India and Australia are needed too. Collective defense makes possible joint training and exercises as well as information sharing and patrol and surveillance operations. Japan will not be able to contribute much more to international security due to the increasing defense needs of its own resulting from a rising China and a nuclearizing North Korea. Japan needs to have a sense of realism that other advanced major powers have, deciding to participate in international security missions only when it contributes to both Japan and the international community. Unlike the past when Japan decided to cite “US demands” and “international society’s pressure,” this time Abe is leading the way and Japan is deciding to do more on its own initiative. This increases Japan’s voice and leadership, but it must be careful not to cause disappointment by raising expectations too high. Discussion about an incident on the Korean Peninsula must now turn to concrete scenarios of what Japan would do, Michishita concludes.
At the sixtieth anniversary gathering of the Bandung conference of Asian and African leaders on April 22-23, Yomiuri Shimbun reported on April 24 about the looming presence of China as Xi Jinping pitched his “One Belt, One Road” to leaders hungry for increased investments in infrastructure from China. In some settings, Xi called for Asian integration or Eurasian integration; here, it was Afro-Asian integration. Given the Bandung spirit of anti-colonialism, sovereignty, no interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and anti-alliances as the division between East and West is reviving, the article notes, countries need to recognize how this applies to their growing risk of outsized dependency on China. Is it consistent with their emphasis on independence? On April 12, Sankei Shimbun had already made clear its answer that even joining the AIIB is risky for the states of ASEAN. It argued that some of them are appealing to Japan to participate in the AIIB in order to provide balance to China there and to forge cooperation with the Japan-led Asian Development Bank. An earlier Yomiuri article on April 23 concentrated on what Xi and Abe were seeking from each other: Xi calling for Japan to join the AIIB, as international society has, but Abe responding that questions about governance issues remain; and Abe citing the principles of peace in the Bandung spirit while seeking to get China to eschew the use of force in the South China Sea. Each claimed to be in accord with a larger cause.
On the Abe-Obama summit, Japanese coverage centered on three interrelated goals: countering China, strengthening the alliance, and forging a new economic order in Asia. Actually, all of the goals were framed in regard to China. The TPP was seen as answering the question: who constructs the regional economic order, as Asahi Shimbun put it on May 3. There was consensus that China is striving to establish a new economic order under its control, threatening values such as transparency, the rule of law, and freedom. Thus, it was not surprising that much of the coverage was that Abe’s visit was about China, and about Japan’s increasing foreign policy role in the global and regional order to limit China’s aggressiveness. Both the media and Abe in his speeches in the United States heralded not only the future of Japan-US relations but also the postwar evolution of the relationship and the reconciliation achieved since 1945. Others, it follows, can also achieve reconciliation with Japan, if they are so inclined. For Sankei Shimbun, challenging the lowering of volume about history, and for Asahi Shimbun, intent on keeping pressure on Abe alive, there was a reluctance to let the de-emphasis on their concerns go unchallenged.
The month of May was dominated by the deepening divided between Washington and Beijing with the South China Sea in the forefront. Following the November Xi-Obama summit, Asahi Shimbun on May 17 explained China further challenged the existing world order, Russia extended its opposition to the United States and European Union, and even in economics the fight over leadership intensified. Yet, there was interest in China in reaffirming common interests between Washington and Beijing to control the spillover, reduce the feeling in the United States that China is threatening its position, and contain Japan as it deepens its alliance with the United States. The paper suggests that Xi’s goal in his September visit to Washington is to recall the fact that the two countries were friends in WWII, joint victors, and are linked in their view of historical questions. Meanwhile, for Obama, cooperation with China on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues is indispensable. Thus, a state of limbo is expected over the summer, blemishing the “new type of major power relations,” but not doing so much damage that China will not continue to insist on its applicability.