Friday, September 29, 2006

Abe, Aso Get off to a Fine Start with Our Neighbors. But Then, So Did Koizumi

Foreign Minster Aso told the Japanese media on the 27th that he wants a Japan-China heads-of-state meeting as early as next month, even before the more likely occasion of the November APEC summit in Vietnam. He also indicated that a similarly timed meeting with the South Korean president for Mr. Abe could be possible. The following day, Mr. Abe talked to President Roh on the phone, calling for the construction of a "future-oriented Japan-ROK relationship" and an early meeting of the two. Mr. Roh reportedly also expressed his desire to meet his Japanese counterpart soon.

So far so good, putting to rest for the moment fears that the appointment of a hawkish prime minister and the retention of a like-minded political heavyweight in the Foreign Minister's seat would be bad news for Japan's relations with its neighbors. However, it is important to remember that Junichiro Koizumi’s relations with his counterparts got off to a strikingly similar "future-oriented" start, only to founder when Mr. Koizumi insisted on going to the Yasukuni Shrine over strenuous objections from Beijing and Seoul.

Some believe that China will settle for a return to a purported deal with then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone that each Japanese prime minister can go once, but only once. This has the ring of absurdity; why would China okay the Japanese prime minister's paying respects to the Class-A war criminals once, but not twice, or more? The answer is that it is an imposed condition. For the Chinese leadership, it reestablishes a measure of the historical control over the "barbarians of the East" and, more important, saves and enhances face for the Chinese leadership.

But, leaving aside Japanese denials that there was such a deal in the first place, the submissive nature of this deal, and the openness of the demand renders it void for Mr. Abe. The only thing that seems to work, therefore, is one form or another of strategic uncertainty. Mr. Abe either goes or doesn't go. But it's a unilateral decision, and each side adopts, again unilaterally, a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Will such a tacit reciprocity be acceptable to the current South Korean administration? I'm somewhat doubtful. President Roh has asked for more than the Chinese leadership, and his political incentives can work in the opposite direction, because he might want to ride on the back of inflamed popular sentiment, rather than seeking to curtail it. But he may not have a choice if China wants it, and the US insists.





こうした暗黙の相互主義が今の韓国政権に受け入れ化のうでしょうか。私には、それはさかいさ疑問です。盧大統領は、中国指導部以上に多くのことを日本から要求しています。また、彼の政治的動機が原因となって、逆方向に効いてくることがあります。つまり、彼は、民衆の怒りを前に、これをよりは駆り立ててその先頭に立つことを 望んでいるようすです。しかし、もし中国がそれを望み、米国もそれを強調し続けている場合、盧大統領にとって選択肢がなくなっているかもしれません。

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