Monday, December 10, 2007

In Mr. Ozawa’s Defense: The DPJ’s China Ties Have a History

[DPJ] President Kan and Others Meet Hu Jintao, Chinese Vice President

Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, who is visiting Japan, met President Kan, Secretary-General Hata and other leaders of the new Democratic Party on the 22nd. Vice President Hu proposed that “in line with the inter-party exchange with the Democratic Party up till now, [we] would like to have an official inter-party exchange with the new Democratic Party as well,” and President Kan agreed with enthusiasm, saying that “we have received a very welcome present five days before the new merger conference*.”
(22 April 1998)

The history of the DPJ’s relationship with China is chronicled here, an attention that no other country receives**. What the first item shows, more than anything, is that official ties with the Chinese Communist Party go back to the beginning of the DPJ in its current reincarnation and beyond. In fact, the second item in the China archives, a report on the inaugural conference of the new DPJ, made into the China archives only because the people handling public communications believed that CCP Vice President Hu and Italian Prime Minister Prodi’s messages (Mr. Prodi, a head of government, sent a videotaped message, while Mr. Hu merely sent the customary telegram) were the only overseas messages worthy of mention.

The most recent December visit by 44 DPJ Diet members led by party leader Ichirō Ozawa had been in the works for months itself*** as the second meeting of the Japan-China (DPJ/CCP) "Exchange and Discussion Mechanism", which had held its inaugural session on 16 January of this year in Tokyo. The Mechanism, or the concept behind it, had been proposed originally in December 2005 by Seiji Maehara as DPJ President, and officially agreed to on 4 July 2006 between a DPJ delegation led by Mr. Ozawa and President Hu****. The visit, in other words, was one more significant step in the development of public diplomacy efforts by the DPJ that stretches back more than a decade. The timing may have been unfortunate, and the DPJ could have cut back some more on the size of the delegation, but it could claim to have planned out the itinerary long before the LDP made clear its intention of extending the current Diet session, perhaps even before the hiatus arising from Prime Minister Abe’s tragic-comedic demise had unexpectedly forced the Diet to continue meeting so late in the year.

The substance of the DPJ’s approach to China has been similarly consistent. The DPJ sees strong relationships with China and the U.S. as being equally important to Japan. Its views on China are broadly similar to the most liberal elements of the LDP. It is sympathetic to China’s position on history issues, to the point where it has implicitly blamed Japanese authorities when popular enmity spilled over into violence during the 2004 Asia Cup Soccer Finals in China*****. It will respond strongly when China trespasses on Japanese sovereignty, as in the case of the 2002 police intrusion into the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang, or the clandestine trespassing of a Chinese submarine in Japanese territorial waters******. This respect for sovereignty cuts both ways. The DPJ respects China’s position on Tibet and has responded to a Chinese complaint over JDP relationships with the Dalai Lama by dismissing them as “the private activities of a small number of Diet members”*******. On the other hand, although the DPJ also adheres to the One-China policy, it has supported the issuing of a visa to China nemisis Lee Teng-Hui on humanitarian grounds. All in all, the DPJ has been consistent on humanitarian concerns, as can be seen in the broader response to the treatment of North Korean refugees in China.

Although the DPJ has expressed mild concern about the Chinese military buildup and has sought greater (mutual) transparency, overall, it sees broadly consonant interests between the two countries in most areas, from protecting the environment to maintaining the security of the sea lanes. It is obvious that it is this mutually beneficial relationship that it seeks to enhance through the Mechanism. Many of the harsher words from the DPJ came while Mr. Maehara, who has stronger national security concerns than most, was Minister of Defense in the DPJ shadow cabinet and later President, but it is notable that he was the one who put forth the proposal for a formalized dialogue that came to fruition after Mr. Ozawa took over. Besides, those were the times of much difficulty between Japan and China, and some of it was clearly China’s fault. The past couple of years have seen major efforts on the Chinese side as well to ease and eliminate sources of tension********. That in itself is enough to justify the benignity of the agenda for the most recent trip********.

So, mea culpa for calling it a photo-op. In my defense, the media itself has been quite vague about the purpose of the visit, not to mention the broader and deeper background. Here, I am tempted, as I have done here, to blame a media that resents an unsympathetic Mr. Ozawa. But it is as likely, and I suspect more so, to be the result of poor public communications that allowed the issue to framed as the appropriateness of the DPJ flying off en masse to China in the midst of the struggle in the Diet, as well as the public domain, over the refueling resumption bill, Japan’s role in the regional conflicts, and more broadly Japan’s security needs*********. And the unwillingness, or inability, of the DPJ to put forth a viable alternative to standing government policy had surely added to the doubts.

* The 1998 merger formalized the relationship that had brought together the old DPJ and three other center, left-center parties at the beginning of the same year. Ichirō Ozawa’s New Frontier Party merged into the DPJ in 2003.

** The US (米国) gets 1008 hits on the DPJ news file, almost twice as much as China (中国) does. But news on the US does not have a dedicated server file that allows browsers to access the “Best Hits” directly from a China page linked to a China icon on every DPJ webpage.

*** As late as October, Mr. Ozawa was still talking about a 1000-strong delegation, according to this item.

**** See this and this.

***** See here

****** See this and this on the Shenyang intrusion, and this on the Chinese submarine.

******* See this.

******** I believe that this became official policy after the 2005 flare-up against Japan. The violent and out-of-control demonstrations showed the potential dangers to domestic stability of the combination of their perception of Koizumi’s response to history issues and their own anti-Japanese inoculation. See this for the DPJ response of a careful calibration of sovereignty concerns and its own take on history issues. I do believe that Mr. Ozawa should have brought it up during the meetings, if he didn’t. In any case, a full rendering of the discussions should be laid out for the Japanese public. That is the least that the DPJ could do to justify the absence of the oft-absent Mr. Ozawa and his entourage during what appears to be a crucial turning point in the political battle over the refueling resumption bill.

********* The LDP did not work this angle too heavily because it had to consider the possibility of Prime Minister Fukuda also going to Beijing during the Diet session. This should have made it easier for the DPJ to have framed the issue more to its liking. I suspect that the failure had to do as much with the lack of internal communication as the result of Mr. Ozawa’s imperious incommunicativeness as incompetence in the party machinery.

My thanks to Tobias for alerting me to the potential of the DPJ website.

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