Kawakami Takashi in the March Kaigai Jijo assessed the Obama presidency, faulting him for high-sounding language on a non-nuclear world while doing nothing to stop North Korea from possessing nuclear weapons. He calls this “leading from behind” or “talk without action,” creating a vacuum by thinking that the United States is no longer the world policeman. On Asian policy, Kawakami contrasts the two terms of Obama’s presidency, finding Hillary Clinton’s push for the “pivot to Asia” stronger than John Kerry’s weak posture toward Iraq and Syria. Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2016 was faulted as weak on China. The US enforcement of freedom of navigation is deemed inadequate. Indeed, Kawakami detects a widening perception gap with Japan despite new defense guidelines, warning of US isolationism after 10 years at war. He gives vent to frustrations that Washington is not doing more to solve problems in the South China Sea, North Korea, and the military rise of China, but he limits his criticisms to vague generalizations about Obama playing it safe without any specifics as to what he seeks and what Japan should do with its ally. The shadow of isolationism from Obama’s successor is transposed to Obama himself.
Following the G7 summit and Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the evaluation of him was largely positive from Yomiuri Shimbun and more mixed from progressive voices, who sought something tangible in moving toward a nuclear-free world and feared that Abe would now have a freer hand, having accompanied Obama. Washington could not extricate Japan from the suddenly deteriorating environment around it, and Japanese were divided on what to do: be patient with Seoul as implementation of the “comfort women” agreement was delayed; tighten alliance ties as both North Korea and the South China Sea appeared more threatening; coordinate in reacting to Moscow if Putin remained aggressive; and wait watchfully as Beijing stalled bilateral ties. None of these postures showcased Abe’s promise of a pro-active diplomacy.
The visit of Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio to Beijing on April 30—the first official visit by a Japanese foreign minister to China apart from international gatherings in four and a half years—did not raise confidence that recent disappointment in the meager results in bilateral diplomacy since Xi Jinping had ended his boycott of summits with Abe is likely to be halted. The South China Sea issue, on which the G7 summit was expected to ratchet up the pressure on China, loomed in the background. Yomiuri Shimbun was clear on May 1 that Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s message was less about hopes for improving relations than about warnings to avoid worsening relations. Rather than high-level economic dialogue and confidence-building measures at sea—goals that were supposed to be pursued by more active diplomacy but had been kept on hold—, discussion had turned to whether Xi and Abe will have a substantive meeting when the G20 summit takes place in Hangzhou in September and whether next year on the occasion of the fourty-fifth anniversary of normalization Xi can be enticed to Japan for his first visit. The newspaper’s editorial that same day was pessimistic that Xi would come to Japan in 2016 for a China-Japan-Korea (CJK) follow-up trilateral meeting to the one held in Seoul, arguing that China blames Japan for the “China threat theory” and “China economic decline theory.” It likewise asserted that China is the key to pressuring North Korea and needs to be urged to have a forward-looking response. The foreign ministers’ meeting garnered a lot of attention, but progressives and conservatives alike found no basis for optimism in a year when ties are on hold.
A May 9 Yomiuri editorial left no doubt that Japan must not concede on maintenance of the maritime order, acting with others in keeping pressure on China. Indeed, the visits of Kishida to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam after going to China were signs of further trouble in Sino-Japanese relations. Asahi Shimbun on May 3 reported that the aim was to contain China, responding to appeals in Southeast Asia for more assistance and clashing with the Kishida-Li Keqiang agreement in Beijing to strive to improve Sino-Japanese relations. Announcing a USD 7 billion-development plan for the Mekong region on May 2 in Thailand, Kishida did not try to compete with China’s massive infrastructure projects through “One Belt, One Road,” but he stressed the development of human resources and the reduction of inequality. Asahi has kept emphasizing the gulf over the South China Sea and Southeast Asia as indicative of the differences between the two countries on whether going forward is a two-way track or just a matter of Japan doing what China demands. On May 5, it found that China was complaining about Kishida’s remarks in Southeast Asia, as it warns about the strengthening US-Japan alliance affecting the security in the South China Sea. In contrast, Sankei Shimbun on May 1 had suggested that China is softening toward Japan due to economic troubles and the election of Tsai Ying-wen in Taiwan, who intends to draw closer to Japan and the United States. This leap of faith, based on shallow reading of a few of Wang Yi’s comments at the April 30 meeting, was not sustained.
Yomiuri Shimbun on May 3 concentrated on China’s moves to split ASEAN, marked by Wang Yi adding Brunei to Cambodia and Laos as states agreeing that maritime disputes in the South China Sea are bilateral matters, not an issue for ASEAN. With Laos chairing ASEAN, the article made clear that the Philippines and Vietnam would not find ASEAN consensus, putting the other five states in an intermediate category.
The one, potential bright spot in Sino-Japanese relations was the easing of visas for Chinese visiting Japan. For Sankei Shimbun on May 10 this came with warnings that “Chinatowns” would be forming, especially in Hokkaido (and Karuizawa) resorts purchased by Chinese. After a recent “big hit” movie in Chinese filmed in Hokkaido, Chinese are coming in larger numbers to the area, to the point that Japanese can now rarely be seen in one Hokkaido resort, the article wrote, trying to arouse alarm.
The trilateral US-Japan-ROK summit in Washington on March 31 was covered in a divergent manner in Japanese media. Was this about solidifying security ties versus North Korea, as emphasized, implementation of the “comfort women” agreement, or expressing shared concern about China’s maritime advance? Yomiuri Shimbun on April 1 in the evening edition noted all three, paying particular attention to the exchange of views on China and the considerable agreement on the nature of the problem, while adding that the Japanese government refused to provide details.
On April 14, Asahi Shimbun reported that the National Assembly elections would have an impact on implementation of the “comfort women” agreement. As a lame duck, Park would find it difficult to fully implement the agreement or by year-end reach an intelligence-sharing (General Security of Military Information Agreement [GSOMIA]) agreement with Abe. It also noted that many in South Korea are dissatisfied with Park’s strategy toward North Korea, which will complicate trilateral US-Japan-ROK strategic cooperation, while the possibility has risen for North-South dialogue splitting public opinion in the South. Sankei was no more hopeful, stressing that same day that the largest opposition party was seeking to renegotiate the deal. On May 9, Sankei went further in warning that North Korea would see an opportunity in the opposition parties’ objection to a hardline approach to it. Unlike the appeal by Asahi (on May 10) to try hard to get back to talks with the North and to forge an atmosphere that would lead to accelerated implementation of all elements of the “comfort women” agreement (May 4), Sankei saw little promise in such overtures to North Korea or efforts to work with South Korea. Yomiuri was insistent that Park had to implement the agreement for the sake of Japan-ROK ties and, despite the opposition, must not forget the importance of trilateral relations.
The May 7 Yomiuri Shimbun discussed parliamentary diplomacy, bemoaning the loss in April’s Korean elections of many of the “pipes” to Japan (shinnichiha). With an eye to developing new “pipes” through exchanges of younger leaders and forestalling new crises in relations, it pointed to the efforts of a veteran LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) official not only in Seoul but also in Beijing, as he also tried to get China to commit to a CJK summit. On May 16, Sankei reported another blow to the “pipes” network, when Park asked Lee Byung-kee to leave the post of chief of staff—number 2 in the administration—in a shake-up after the National Assembly elections of April. It described Lee, the first ambassador to Japan appointed by Park, as having close relations with Japanese official circles, beginning with Yachi Shotaro, and as having contributed to the deal on the “comfort women” on December 28. He taught at Keio University and is called a member of the “shinnichiha” too. This stress on personal ties is common in Japan.
The May 13 Yomiuri reported on a joint poll with Hanguk Ilbo showing a gap in how Japanese and South Koreans view the “comfort women” agreement. The Japanese respondents were 49 percent positive and 39 percent not positive, while the Korean figures were 21 and 73 percent respectively, and only 23 percent of Koreans agreed that this finally resolved the “comfort women” issue, as the agreement asserted. The two sides were more agreed about strengthening their defense cooperation—59 and 52 percent respectively in favor. Even so, they view current relations as bad (66 and 82 percent respectively). Acknowledging that the “comfort women” agreement was not the focus of the electoral dissatisfaction, Yomiuri still saw implementation as a tough political issue, along with Japan-ROK security cooperation and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
Also on May 13, Yomiuri carried parallel articles by former Japanese and South Korean officials on the state of relations. Muto Masatoshi called them cold with as many as 55 percent of Koreans viewing Japan as a military threat and accepting an image of Japan becoming a military great power. Yet, he also sees South Koreans as basically liking Japan, if not its history and politics. Given that 82 percent view ties as bad while 73 percent opposed the December 28 agreement, Muto detected some sprouts of improvement, which Japan should nourish by being patient about the removal of the statue while concentrating on closer defense cooperation linked to their US alliances. The sign of hope for the Korean official was the large number of Koreans visiting Japan (four million for the first time in 2015) and the prospect when Koreans learn more about the “comfort women” deal they will be more accepting. In the meantime, the Japanese government should trust the Park administration and take a quiet approach, not to arouse a backlash. The fact that Korean views of China are growing more negative and that Koreans are ready for more cooperation with Japan on North Korea should give Japanese reason for patience, the article implies.
Asahi Shimbun on May 16 depicted a tug-of-war over South Korea between the United States and Japan on one side and China on the other, in which missile defense against a rising North Korean threat is tilting South Korea to the former side, but China is bound to react. No longer able to wait for its own missile defense system, the ROK is considering joining the regional one and adding THAAD to counter the threat from North Korea, even if, due to that very threat, the Park administration is cautious about criticizing China by name over its South China Sea activities.
In Toa, no. 5, Izumi Hajime made the case for how Japan-US-ROK coordination should respond to the North Korean nuclear program. He warned against just a one-sided reliance on pressure, claiming that the possibility it would work is low. The answer, he said, is to make diplomacy the main approach and pressure secondary with more incentives. If done well, he anticipates rolling back the North’s program. Another article in this issue by Kamoshita Hiromi looked at the state of North Korean restaurants in China, explaining the defection of 13 workers in a group to South Korea through Southeast Asia by the heavy pressure from increased norms as the North desperately seeks currency. Restaurants have been closing: 7 of the 20 in Beijing, and 2 of 7 in Yanji, where South Koreans were normally 30-40 percent and about 80 percent of the cliental in the busy summer season. An effect is also seen in Shenyang, where 30 such restaurants operated, and in Cambodia 3 North Korean restaurants have closed. The article examines how well China is implementing the sanctions regime, concluding that it seems to be doing quite a bit to the point it has aroused considerable dissatisfaction in Pyongyang over China’s recent actions.
In two articles in Kaigai Jijo of March and April, Nagoshi Kenro and Hyodo Shinji approached Japan-Russia relations differently. Whereas Hyodo focused on how long Putin’s assertive foreign policy would last—assuming that it is temporary and, by implication, that Japan will have an opportunity ahead—, Nagoshi takes a pessimistic outlook on what can be achieved, while looking wistfully back to 1991-1992 as a lost opportunity. Nagoshi summarizes new remarks by Russian officials—on the history of WWII, the Crimea, the islands Japan is disputing, Japan’s militarism, and etc.—that put Japan on the front line of Russian nationalism. Whereas under Yeltsin and earlier Gorbachev leaders were seen as drawing a line between “new thinking” and Stalin’s bad behavior and approaching Tokyo not as war winner and loser but as two equals, Putin has a drastically different way of thinking. Nagoshi proceeds to discuss why Japan failed to seize the earlier opportunity—the 2001 Irkutsk summit is seen as Japan a decade late trying to pick up where it had hesitated earlier, but both the outcry from Japanese critics mistakenly warning that this was no more than a two-island solution and the Russian silence on how this could be something more meant that it was much less of an opening than in 1992. Comparing 2016 with 1992, he finds: a less favorable balance of power for Japan, a less positive image of Japan as a “dream country,” and a less supportive international environment. Yet, he notes that Abe has overcome bureaucratic fragmentation and inertia, seeing his diplomatic energy as a positive contrast to Japan’s earlier leaders who paled before German chancellor Kohl’s pursuit of Moscow. Even so, he doubts that the balance of power in Japan and in Russia is conducive to reaching a deal on the islands. Ignoring various other dimensions of the ongoing negotiations and the shortcomings of Japanese media coverage, Nagoshi puts the blame on both officials and circumstances.
Hyodo argues that Japan has neglected the military angle in Russia’s thinking about foreign policy, but that is changing in light of developments in Ukraine and Syria. As Russia’s economic troubles continue, some see an opening for Japan, but he warns it is unlikely to materialize until Russia’s presidential elections of 2018. After that, he predicts that Putin will recognize that he cannot counter NATO militarily and will seek improved relations with the next US president, dealing with both Ukraine and Syria. The article suggests a growing sense of pessimism that Abe and Putin have short-term prospects of reaching an agreement without willing to set aside the hope that they will still have a window of opportunity, justifying continued overtures.
Abe’s meeting in Sochi with Putin on May 6 drew widespread attention in the media. On May 8, Nihon Keizai Shimbun stressed Abe’s new approach, to which Putin agreed even if details were left vague. It calls for parallel talks on territory and economic cooperation, for which Abe presented an eight-point set of economic objectives. Noting that since the 1980s Japan has kept finding new ways to link or delink politics and economics (seikei bunri, seikei itai, and etc.) in its strategy to Moscow, the article points to the desire to forge an environment that will accelerate talks about territory. At a time when Russia is isolated from international society and its domestic economy is out of joint, Japan has recognized that talks are stalled and is seizing an opportunity to expand them at various levels. The article adds that Kommersant on May 7 took an interest, suggesting that the Russian public may find its economic hopes raised. In an editorial on the same day, Nikkei offered a mixed message: accepting the start of peace treaty negotiations in June—as if the talks between the same officials prior to now were of a less serious nature—and arguing that the two countries—located close to each other—have latent capacity for economic cooperation and room for security cooperation in an unstable Northeast Asia. Yet, it also stressed the need for coordination with the United States and Europe and for urging Russia to behave responsibly in troubled zones after it had disrupted the international order.
Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun on May 8 were more skeptical. Asahi alone reminded readers that Obama in February had expressed concern about Abe going to Russia due to the Ukraine issue, observed that within the Japanese government voices are heard that economic cooperation will not go forward unless firms see the merits of it, and saw little possibility that new economic ties would be linked to a compromises on the territorial issue, especially given the growing military salience of the islands in Russian thinking. It added that Putin has the attitude that by offering to transfer the two small islands to Japan by agreeing that the 1956 accord still stands, he has already made his concessions. Asahi explains that Russia will not change from seeing China as its most important partner in the Asia-Pacific, even if there is rising awareness that relying solely on China is not in Russia’s national interest. The editorial that day in Asahi called for close coordination with the United States and Europe in defense of the principle that use of force to change the status quo cannot be permitted and that Russia must completely observe the Minsk Accord. It called on Abe to explain to the G7 his cooperation plan and to the Japanese people what are the compromises he would make and what is the true meaning of his new approach. Mainichi called Abe’s economic cooperation with Russia a big gamble unlikely to shift Russia’s territorial stance and a big diplomatic success for Putin in acquiring investment and technology from an advanced economy to help in overcoming the excessive dependence on energy. Also noted is Russia’s call for resuming the 2+2 strategic talks and its remark that Abe has now taken an “extremely positive tone on the ‘territorial issue.’” Mainichi seemed to be casting doubt on Abe’s new approach.
Sankei Shimbun was bluntest in its headline that Russia had not softened its stance on the Northern Territories. While Russia’s economy had slipped, support for Putin remained firm, but if he showed weakness, it would decline. While Sankei saw Putin in April already as having shifted from the posture that no territorial question exists, the paper’s insistence that Japan stand squarely behind the return of four islands led it to a pessimistic outlook. That day’s editorial insisted, despite a “new approach” (shinhasso), that Japan stick to its principles, reminding readers that what Russia did in Ukraine was similar to how it took the islands—using force to change the status quo—and calling for unity versus Russia at the G7 if Russia does not alter its stance on Ukraine. Two days later it warned that Japan should not invite distrust from the United States and Europe over its handling of sanctions, and when Russia tries to return to international society through some movement on Ukraine and Syria, Japan should not forget the battle to return the islands when there is little time left for the aging prior residents. Sankei stressed US alarm over Japan’s moves. On April 3, Sankei added a dark page to its somber picture of Russia, reporting that on February 2 Russia had signed an agreement with North Korea, which has 33,000 workers (lumberjacks in camps, construction workers, and farmers) there, forcibly to repatriate asylum seekers. It added that from 2004 to 2014 only 2 of 211 who had tried to receive recognition as refugees in Russia had received approval.
As usual, the coverage of Japan-Russia relations in Yomiuri Shimbun had special significance for its boosterism. It repeated the idea that Abe’s meeting with Putin could be an “icebreaker,” and on May 8 it also editorialized about how the “new approach” can be a breakthrough. The thrust of its optimism centered on Japan’s growing seriousness about increasing trade with Russia and investments on a large scale including technological cooperation, especially for the Russian Far East. After bilateral trade fell by 30 percent and Russia experienced various economic troubles, Abe’s 8-point plan has really caught Putin’s attention, readers are likely to gather, as it has been put under special supervision in the Russian government. Moreover, the paper asserts that the Putin administration expects Japan to play a mediating role in restoring relations with the G7. Yet, different from earlier Yomiuri coverage, there is a note of caution that one cannot expect a soft posture from Putin while elections are ahead. The Yomiuri editorial that day argued that economics would not suffice to advance the territorial issue. Rather, the key would be whether Russia would find strengthening ties with Japan useful in its relations with China. Yomiuri argued that Putin’s sense of alarm over China—its firms entering the Russian Far East and its rising military profile—will matter. In the talks, Putin had indicated that he expects security cooperation with Japan, and Japan, readers are reminded, sees cooperation with Russia as of no small significance in containing China and North Korea. The first page in the Yomiuri lead article on May 8 headlined the repeated meetings in 2016 between the two sides and progress “Toward a Breakthrough on the Northern Territories.” On the more cautious side, however, Mainichi on May 8 had predicted delays not only because Putin will be running for a new term as president in March 2018 but also because Abe faces reelection in September 2018, hinting that Abe too would have to make concessions. Yomiuri’s upbeat tone did not acknowledge such a compromise.
On the Abe-Putin summit, Japan’s central newspapers revealed three divergent responses. One, Abe has piqued Putin’s interest and the talks have advanced to a new and promising stage, if the results may take a while. Two, aware that Putin cannot soften his stance on the islands for the next two years, Abe is setting the territorial issue aside (as well as Japan’s pride as an equal, sovereign state in the eyes of international society by going to Russia four times in a row), as argued by Hakamada Shigeki in the May 8 Tokyo Shimbun, which also described Abe’s split from the G7 in responding to the Ukrainian issue as a ”diplomatic victory” for Putin. Three, Abe is limited by the international community and Russia’s closeness to China with little prospect of a breakthrough. Over the past three years, pessimists with the third outlook have come from the progressive side, and some who doubt the approaches he is taking and appear in defense of Japan’s interests and identity have staked out the second position. Yet, Abe’s overall popularity and his relative freedom of action indicate that we should concentrate mainly on the first response.
On May 14, Jiji Tsushin took a fresh look at the Sochi meeting, arguing that Abe was boldly trying to break a stalemate: handing Putin an economic plan with industrial development sought by the Russian government in the Far East and medical and urban planning benefits for the Russian public; offering a new framework as a big concession to Putin, in which economics is in the forefront; calling what had just occurred an “icebreaker” for the Northern Territories; proposing a “new approach,” which Jiji interpreted as no longer asking for a 50:50 split in territory but without specifics; casting mutuality aside by not only making a fourth trip but planning a fifth trip to Russia before Putin has made a single trip to Japan in his current term; and making it clear that Abe is preoccupied with the return of Japan’s territory. Yet, the article draws a line beyond which Abe is not going: saying that this process is “give and take,” and now it is Russia’s turn to give; adding that Japan is not touching the sanctions on Russia; and explaining that no date is being set for Putin’s visit in order not to raise expectations further. Abe is trying harder, testing Putin’s intent.
The G7 Summit
Japanese articles take seriously Japan’s leadership of the G7. First, Japan has earlier seen its presence at the G7 as an opening to play a major role on the international stage, for example, when Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru attended in the late 1980s at the height of the bubble economy. Lacking a large voice in other forums—especially where China is present—, Japan prizes this venue. Second, Abe cultivates an image of “pro-active” leadership unlike any recent Japanese prime minister and had set his sights on this summit as his prime opportunity in 2016. Third, Abe was building on what many Japanese see as momentum from a remarkably successful year in foreign policy in 2015. Apart from diplomacy with North Korea, he had no setbacks and a string of achievements, as reported in the Japanese media. Finally, Japanese prepared to press for a series of security objectives: to enlist trilateralism on behalf of maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea clearly at the expense of China; to relax pressure on Russia in order to engage it more as a balancing force in the Asia-Pacific region and to allow room for Abe’s diplomacy with Putin; and to solidify the response to North Korea’s provocative behavior in conditions when new sanctions may have the effect of dividing the great powers.
The March 2016 special issue of Gaiko is devoted to the G7 Ise-Shima summit. The lead article by Iokibe Makoto sets the stage for appreciating this organization as the key to international cooperation and free trade. Finding its longevity—it began in 1975 as a six-nation forum with Canada added in 1976—exceptional, he recalls its role in promoting a three-sided response to economic crises. When its leadership included Reagan, Thatcher, and Nakasone in the 1980s, the G7 reached as much as 60 percent of global growth domestic product (GDP) and led the victory in the Cold War. As for the input from Japan, Iokibe points to a new sense of Japan’s presence in the Fukuda era that was undercut when Japan hosted the summit in 1979 only to see a rump group of four other states meet in the French Embassy to allocate oil consumption and import amounts. The peak for him came when Nakasone hosted the G7 in 1986 and Japan overcame distrust with a strong image of reform. A low point followed in 1993 when Miyazawa served as host even as the LDP hold on power was crumbling. In 2000, Iokibe saw Japan preparing to build on the dynamism of the Hashimoto and Obuchi periods until Obuchi died suddenly after he had supported Russia’s entry into the G7 and was thinking of invitations to China and South Korea. In contrast, the G8 was in decline in the 2000s, especially after the financial crisis of 2008, the year Japan once again hosted but failed to win China’s cooperation on climate change—the priority of Fukuda Yasuo. After that, talk turned to the G20 replacing it. Even so, Iokibe finds that a reassessment of the G7 has now begun, which places on Abe a big responsibility to revive the spirit of free trade and stabilize the international order. Being Abe’s fifth G7 summit, he would be building on foreign policy achievements. Since Obuchi, Iokibe adds, Japan has never had fewer bad relationships now that ties with China have improved and the year-end deal was struck with South Korea, while Abe has succeeded in quieting US concerns over history and isolating critics in China and South Korea. Thus, Abe approaches the summit with power and goodwill only second to Nakasone when he hosted 30 years ago. “Japan is back.” Abe will show how far back it is even though Japan’s economic clout is well below what it was then.
A second article in Gaiko assessed the role of the G7 in the age of the G20, reflecting on how that role has changed since the rise of China and other developing countries. Nagamine Yasumasa, Jitsu Tetsuya, and Tadokoro Masayuki observed that while the G20 comprises 90 percent of the global GDP, the G7 gathers democracies together as a force for freedom, human rights, and the rule of law in international society. As before, it has an important role, readers are told, implying that it can reestablish its leadership with high-standard economic rules and a different social agenda. This would not need to be in opposition to the G20, the authors explain. Rather, they stress the need to overcome a sense of crisis over the US elections and the possible exit of Great Britain from the European Union. They also call for sharing Japan’s own experience as an advanced country on matters such as aging, health, nuclear energy, and know-how for developmental assistance; so others can avoid a process of trial and error. At a time when developing countries have a whiff of stagnation, there is a renewed need to look to relatively advanced states—along the lines of traditional G7 themes. Global issues such as climate change also figure in the likely agenda. Yet, the authors make clear that also to be discussed are political diplomacy including Russia-Ukraine relations and, in Asia, both North Korea and the South China Sea.
What does this reinterpretation of the G7 mean for ties to Russia and China? After all, the authors in Gaiko acknowledge that the past two summits have dwelt on the issue of Russia, and they emphasize the need for a constructive discussion about the Russia question. They add that despite the fact that Japan has no security problems with Russia that arouse tension, it has joined in the sanctions and seeks to win the cooperation of Europe in dealing with China, aware that for Ukraine and the South China Sea the same issues of the “rule of law” apply. Standing in the way, one author acknowledges, is a negative image of Abe in the main European media. The article concludes with a call for the G7 summit to return to its once formidable past.
A third article in the same issue of Gaiko by Hyodo Shinji asks if Putin can cooperate with the G7, including on terror and on relations with China, and whether Abe’s trip to Sochi to meet Putin earlier in May will enable Abe to play a bridging role with the possibility in the near future of Russia rejoining the G8, which had met 16 times, 9 of which Putin had attended. Arguing that from 2008 the worsening Russo-US political relations had affected the discussions at the G8, reducing its role in agenda setting on matters of values, Hyodo says that had changed at the 2015 summit in Russia’s absence, when attention reverted to freedom, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and maintenance of sovereignty and territorial integrity. He finds that now there is much talk of Russia being different—politically, economically, and diplomatically. Yet, Hyodo sees the original arrangement for Russian entering the group as humiliating to get its indirect acceptance of NATO’s expansion, and Russia’s decision to seize Crimea as done in order to block the entry of Ukraine into NATO. Now Russia is part of many new groupings, and Putin feels free to scorn the “G8.”
Hyodo is hopeful, however, that Putin’s appeal to toughness in advance of the September Duma elections and at a time when it is urgent to distract Russians from domestic problems does not mean a lasting division. After all, he cannot afford such opposition to the West for long, pursuit of shared interests is possible, and China is not providing the support that Russia is seeking. In Putin’s inner circle, Hyodo says, alarm toward China is resurfacing, and there is a prospect of shared consciousness with the G7 regarding China. Thus, even if Russia does not completely rejoin the G7, cooperative ties can be forged, he argues, praising the leaders’ personal relations of trust—given that Angela Merkel will not be able to renew her ties to him, there is an opening for Abe. The role expected of Japan at the G7 summit is not small, Hyodo concludes, assuming that Japan can link Russia to this group. What Putin thinks about this enlarged role for Japan and a return to the G8 is left uninvestigated.
Clearly, China was eclipsing Russia as the focus as the G7 summit drew closer. When the foreign ministers met in mid-April, they issued a statement on maritime security clarifying European support for freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law and opposition to land reclamation and its use for military purposes. China expressed its displeasure to Japan, including at an April 30 meeting of their foreign ministers. Rallying more countries behind a multilateral approach to the South China Sea and injecting Japan and its maritime self-defense forces (SDF) actively into military preparations in the sea have set back Sino-Japanese relations and set the stage for the G7 summit to deliver an unprecedented message to China, one article argued.
Travelling to four European states in the G7 a few weeks before the G7 summit, Abe sought to maximize coordination. Sankei Shimbun in an April 30 editorial stressed the goal of shared consciousness toward China—the South China Sea in the forefront.
At the end of May, after the G7 summit was eclipsed by Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japanese did not anticipate major developments in relations in Asia. The image of success at the G7 and with Obama joining Abe in Hiroshima would have to suffice until renewed diplomacy in September when Abe would go to Russia and China.