Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some Worries around Second-Track, Backdoor Diplomacy

There are two schools of thought around how Japan-China relations will fare under the second Abe administration. Some point to his “nationalist” inclinations—actually quite moderate, and moderated, compared to anything that the Chinese or even mainstream US political spectrum offers; I’m using that term in a Japanese context—and think that he will exacerbate it while others think that he won’t, pointing to his past behavior as well as some very real constraints. I’ve always been in the second camp, but I do acknowledge that Abe has a strategic vision around concern over China’s regional presence and the reasons for that concern has certainly grown since his last tour. Moreover, the likelihood of an unplanned incident around the Senkaku Islands is growing, an incident that is sure to elicit a stronger response from Abe than from any of his seven predecessors, including Abe 1.0, with the attendant potential for escalation. I’ve looked to what appears to be superior second-track and backdoor diplomacy resources to help contain the spillover. But it so happens that three significant LDP figures in the pro-China wing are retiring, willingly in the case of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and former Secretary-General (Koizumi’s right-hand man) Hidenao Nakagawa, or not, in the case of former Foreign Minister Koichi Kato, who lost in his single-member district election and was denied the proportional-regional-district zombie insurance because of his advanced age. Out of diedt does not mean out of mind, but they will no longer have a personal power base, carrying less authority and disadvantaged as it were to demand the ear of what may be a prime minister that would be reluctant to listen to their more constraining voices. This may be an avenue worth pursuing.

Okay, back to work.


Graham Webster said...

Track II is constantly populated by retired officials, though. The question is whether anyone listens to them

Jun Okumura said...

Thanks for that. You have a good point, though track 2 appears to be deserted since the latest incident, and that makes it very difficult to hear each other. In any case, I should have put the focus more closely on the personalized LDP-CCP connections built up during more balmier days.

Martin J Frid said...

Is it really possible to have "good" contacts with a communist regime? Experience from Cold War Europe certainly says, no, they can't be trusted. And they will say, we cannot be trusted. What's needed is a lot of shutzpa and glasnost and moving mountains (perestroika). Perhaps not only there, but also here, but I would hope that Communist China will at least try. Political prisoners should be released, for example.

Jun Okumura said...


The institutions of an authoritarian regime may not be trusted in the sense that their actions can be expected to be tolerably consonant with the values that they profess to uphold. However, they can be consistent, in which case deals can be cut with them where interests coincide. That was what the arms limitations talks were all about. Of course deals only hold while the key presumptions hold, and those presumptions are more limited when values common to the parties to the deal are fewer. But that does not preclude deals with authoritarian regimes that endure, such as the truce on the Korean Peninsula, and, yes, the arms limitation agreements.

Moreover, we have seen that trust can be generated at the personal level under highly adverse circumstances in the form of respect (cf. reportedly between Nelson Mandela and at least one of his jailors that turned the Stockholm Syndrome on its head) or, more pertinent to the issue at hand, in the sense that one’s word is good. It is the understanding of where the other side is coming from and the need and willingness to reach mutual accommodation that enables deals. And that becomes much easier when there is trust between the individuals involved.

And yes, I have met “good” people in the Chinese bureaucracy over the years.