Monday, November 01, 2010

Hu’s Coming to Dinner?

Yes, he will. At least that’s what I think. There’s been much speculation in Japan whether Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, will actually show up to sup with his fellow heads of state and government at the upcoming APEC summit in Yokohama. The last-minute unilateral cancellation of a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit between Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Wen Jiabao by the Chinese side—accompanied by a tirade from the Chinese Foreign Deputy Minister—had put the matter in further doubt. The Japanese authorities pointed out that a key part of the denunciation—the last straw if you will—was the result of an erroneous AFP report*. On the heels of this dust-up, though, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, for whom the Chinese netizens appear to harbor particular enmity, announced that the two prime ministers had indeed subsequently held a ten minute chat, where Wen reportedly expressed his regret that their meeting had to be canceled. I wondered how that story would be carried in the Chinese media. Now, I know. Yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 31), the answer came in 法制晩報 (Evening Legal Report: my translation), one of many semi-official publications operating out of Beijing, according to Damien Ma** at Eurasia Group. The Evening Legal Report, according to a Kyodo Tsushin wire by way of among others the Sankei, gave a matter-of-fact report of a ten-minute meeting and characterized it as a “coincidental” “reenactment of corridor diplomacy.” It does not appear to have referred to the Japanese claim about Wen’s regrets. In the meantime, the Chinese side appears to be putting the blame on attempts by national security conservative Foreign Minister Maehara and other hawkish elements in the Kan administration to repair the damage under the Hatoyama administration to the Japan-US bilateral relationship, according to the somewhat more authoritative—am I right, Damien?—環球時報 (Global Times) indicated today (Nov.1) in a bylined report.

Leaving aside guesswork on Chinese motives, I think that the first report is a sign that the Chinese authorities want to limit their reputation risk abroad while containing discontent at home—the demonstrations have all occurred in the less prosperous interior provinces (and Chongqing, a special city in the interior), the most recent ones spilling over into domestic complaints—which means that Hu will show, the only suspense surrounding the status of a bilateral that should take place on the sidelines. The second report? A reminder that the US is the other big dog in the neighborhood, as well as possibly a manifestation of the Chinese authorities’ desire to localize if not completely isolate in the minds of the Chinese public the undesired elements of the Japanese political establishment. There is no mention of the near-universal if low-key Japanese aversion to Chinese actions around the latest Senkaku incdident***.

(Addendum) More to the point, this Global Times editorial puts the blame squarely on Maehara’s shoulders. Note also that Maehara has risen to the top of the preferred politicians in Japan according to the latest Nikkei-TV Tokyo public opinion poll. I don’t think that this is a delayed recognition for his JAL bankruptcy workout efforts, or his less commendable work on the Yamba Dam project.
* Is it just me, or is AFP generally less reliable than, say, Reuters?

** Damien, you will remember, blogs at the Atlantic website, a considerably more prestigious piece of virtual real estate than my more modest efforts. Little known fact: Damien played lead guitar for Johnny Cash’s studio recordings in the country legend’s last years. He is also quickly becoming an authority on rare earth elements. True story.

*** The Chinese belligerence took the Japanese public by surprise and captured its attention in a way that reminded me of the national response to the revelations of the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizen albeit in a much more low-key way. So many people in Japan, including those who had shown little to no interest in Japan’s international relations, or politics for that matter, woke up and took note.

1 comment:

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