It has been almost three weeks since the Japanese election that saw the Koizumi coalition make impressive gains against the opposition parties. Since the election there have been several articles and opinion pieces discussing the results and ramifications for the future. In particular, The Financial Times has been the best at providing the most comprehensive coverage in one location (although a subscription is required). Shortly after the election, the paper touched briefly on the response of NEA neighbors to Koizumi’s victory.
China and South Korea have both shared similar grievances that seem to remain, according to FT:
China and South Korea are still furious about the Japanese government’s approval of nationalist school books that exclude wartime atrocities by Japan’s military against their citizens. They are also angry about visits by Mr. Koizumi to the Yasakuni Shrine, which includes convicted war criminals among the dead it honours.
China in particular states:
“We would like to emphasise that the Chinese government’s guidelines for developing friendly Sino-Japanese relations has not changed at all,” China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday. “We will continue to respect the three important Sino-Japan principles as outlined in political documents, according to the spirit of learning lessons from history while looking ahead to the future.”
Zhang Sheng, a history professor at Nanjing University, said Japanese apologies appear to be contradicted by actions such as Mr. Koizumi’s controversial visits to the Yasakuni shrine. “Verbal admissions need to be reflected in action,” Mr. Zhang said. “It makes Chinese people very unhappy. They must admit previous crimes are indeed a reality.”
But beyond the political rhetoric by some Chinese government leaders, a more thorough analysis from the Chinese perspective was provided in the People’s Daily:
It is expected that Koizumi will try to ease Japan's strained ties with China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) at the East Asian Summit to be held in November and through various other multilateral events.
But outlook for relations between Tokyo and Beijing is not optimistic, and a deterioration in bilateral ties remains a possibility.
At a meeting between heads of the country's parties held in late August, Koizumi said he would make an appropriate judgment about his Yasukuni pilgrimage and that China should understand this. He also said Sino-Japanese relations were not certain to improve even if he stops visit to the shrine.
At the meeting, Koizumi also tried to dodge taking responsibility for the years-long pause in high-level visits between the two nations.
Koizumi's habit of regularly paying his respects to the Yasukuni Shrine is widely seen by the Chinese people as being unreasonable and has caused great offence. A veteran Japanese diplomat pointed out that this is the main reason for the breakdown in high-level exchanges between the two countries.
Even as the country was going to the polls, the head of New Komeito persuaded Koizumi to take a cautious attitude on the issue.
If Koizumi becomes excessively self-confident following his victory, misunderstands public opinion and takes a tougher stance on international affairs, there is no way Japan can fundamentally improve ties with its Asian neighbours.
Evidence also shows that the country's tactics to separate its economic ties with China from bilateral political ties are doomed to failure.
The chill in political relations between the two countries has led to coldness in bilateral economic ties.
According to statistics released by China's Ministry of Commerce, between January and July 2005 the rise in Sino-Japanese trade volume slowed to 9.2 per cent on the same period of last year, compared to an increase of 28.2 per cent between January-July 2004 over the same period in 2003.
China's exports increased by 19.3 per cent and its imports by 1.9 per cent between January and July 2005, compared to figures of 23.5 per cent and 31.8 per cent respectively for the same period of last year.
For Japanese enterprises, the strong demand from China in recent years seems to have ended.
During this period, the European Union's share in China's foreign trade volume expanded to 15.5 per cent, the United States' 15 per cent, while Japan's decreased to 13.3 per cent.
In terms of its direct investment in China, Japan's position has been usurped by the ROK. In 2004, its contracted direct investment in China was US$9.2 billion, far behind the US$13 billion from the ROK.
The country's market shares in China are expected to further decline in the coming years if Sino-Japanese political ties do not make a turn for the better, and its status as a leading trading partner of China is likely to be marginalized.
We hope the new Japanese Cabinet will take insightful actions towards rehabilitating and developing ties with China.
We hope the Japanese Government and leaders, in the spirit of maintaining Sino-Japanese friendship as well as Asian stability and development, can take a serious look at the history issue and make sure its past apologies and words of self-examination to Asian victims can become concrete actions, just as Chinese President Hu Jintao called for on September 3.
And from The Financial Times on South Korea:
South Korea’s Uri party congratulated Mr. Koizumi but said he “should pay attention to voices that express worries about rising nationalism in Japan”.
The main opposition Grand National party said the victory by Mr. Koizumi “should not be the reason for him to continue his arrogant policies toward Japan’s neighbours”. One of the nationalistic Japanese school books asserts Japan’s claim to a group of rocky islets under Korea’s jurisdiction.
The Korea Times expands on these feelings through an editorial on September 12:
Many factors might have worked toward the landslide victory of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Chief among them were Japanese voters' repugnance of old politics and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's political sense to capitalize on that sentiment in his reform gamble. The media-savvy premier's image politics also played a decisive role. What matters more to neighboring countries, however, is how the popular politician will funnel his people's desire for changes in shaping foreign policy…
It continues by touching on the influential power and its staying power:
It is not easy for foreigners to know if Koizumi is a genuine reformist or a demagogic populist, or both. This has become all the more important, as there are reports on extending his tenure until 2007. Even if he steps down next year as scheduled, he will likely remain a ``kingmaker'' with enormous influence on his party's decision-making, given the role he will be playing in elections. Koizumi's LDP can even revise Japan's constitution almost single-handedly…
Finally, they begin to pinpoint the key issues that matter to Koreans:
Most worrisome is that Koizumi might harden Japanese nationalism and cause diplomatic friction with Korea and China. But he should see the survey that 63 percent of the Japanese people were for his staying away from Yasukuni this year, compared with only 18 percent who were for his visit. The Japanese people may want more regional and global influence, but without unnecessarily provoking neighboring countries. Peaceful coexistence with other countries can be possible only by building mutual trust.
Seoul for its part needs to enhance diplomatic efforts with increasingly right-leaning Tokyo. It is up to Koizumi how he will use his strengthened political status in his foreign policy. A major cause of concern in this regard is how President Roh Moo-hyun, who increasingly looks like _ or offers to be _ a lame duck, can deal with Koizumi, already called a president-like prime minister.
These concerns are summarized best by the Digital Chosunilbo
With their ballot, the Japanese voters have made a clear choice for Japan's path of survival. Koizumi earned the people’s confidence because his reforms produced concrete results. Of course, his government is not without its problems. A foreign policy that dismisses Asia and places supreme importance on the United States, an implacable line on visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, a zeal to amend Japan’s pacifist postwar Constitution -- all these have earned it the distrust of its neighbors. But leaving the problems for Asia's future aside, Korea's politicians and voters would be well advised to ponder the message inherent in Koizumi’s landslide victory.
What of opinion in the rest of the NEA? North Korea’s KCNA hasn’t commented directly on the election, but had this to report on September 14:
The Japan Defence Agency recently included 150 billion yen in the defence budget for 2006 for the purpose of stepping up the U.S.-Japan joint development of the missile defence system (MD). It is now actively cooperating with the U.S. in the realignment of its forces in Japan. Rodong Sinmun today in a signed commentary carried in this connection observes that Japan does such great favor for the U.S. in a foolish bid to establish military supremacy in the region with its help.
Japan wishes to behave like the U.S. which, styling itself "the world's only superpower," is perpetrating aggression and war, military intervention and state terrorism against other countries in wanton violation of international law and order depending on its military superiority, the commentary notes, and goes on: Japan, however, is not in a position to behave like that right now. It is registered as an "enemy state" in the UN Charter as it was a defeated one. It has not yet shaken off this disgrace.
Yet, Japan calculates that it can act like the U.S. after emerging a military power, backed and patronized by it, and holding military supremacy in the region. That is why Japan is so gracious in its military service to the U.S. and stints no money for arms build-up.
Japan is posing ever-increasing military threat to the Asia-Pacific region. No one can vouch that the destructive war started by Japan in the first half of the 20th century would not reoccur in this century.
Now is the time to heighten vigilance against Japan. It is an anachronistic delusion and a strategic error of Japan to work hard to establish military supremacy in the region and realize its ambition for reinvasion with the U.S. help.
In Taiwan, Li Ming-Juinn of National Chengchi University had the following to say in an editorial translated for the Taipei Times:
Koizumi is one of a small number of strong post-war prime ministers, and his victory indicates a longing for a leader to push through reforms. Japanese society now suffers from a lack of focus, which could arise from public dissatisfaction with Japan's economy and political corruption. It could also be caused in part by anxieties over the pressure from the economic book in neighboring nations, which has underlined their own loss of national status and lack of direction. But another result of Koizumi's tough stance could be a more aggressive foreign policy, and this is something that should also concern us.
Although there hasn’t been much specific election reaction from Russia, often associated more frequently with Europe than NEA these days, in August the Asian Times provided some background on the Japan-Russia relationship:
As Russia has failed to secure any significant economic commitments from Tokyo, notably on a Japan-bound Pacific oil pipeline, the Kremlin has lost all interest in resolving its long-standing territorial dispute with Tokyo any time soon. Indeed, Russia has removed Japan from its Asian diplomacy priority list.
A top official has bluntly told Tokyo to forget about the disputed Kuril Islands. President Vladimir Putin's special envoy in the Far East, Konstantin Pulikovsky, said this month that "Russia does not have any problem of Kuril Islands", meaning it is happy with the status quo.
The "so-called territorial dispute" is a sort of publicity platform for Japanese politicians, Pulikovsky claimed. "It is absolutely their internal affair, we have nothing to do with it," he said. In the meantime, the Kuril Islands will become "a beautiful corner of prosperous Russia", Pulikovsky said.
Pulikovsky also said that Russia and Japan had good relations, particularly in the economic and tourist spheres, without a peace treaty. Japan has made the return of the Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai islands, which it calls the Northern Territories, a condition of concluding a peace treaty with Russia. These islands passed to the Soviet Union after World War II.
Furthermore, this has nudged Russia to continue strengthening investment ties with China:
On August 10 Pulikovsky approved a blueprint for developing the Kuril Islands. On August 11, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov suggested to raise funds to develop the islands. The hardening of the Russian stance follows a softening just last spring. At that time, Japanese sources floated the possibility of a compromise over the disputed islands, arguing that better relations with Moscow were essential at a time when Japan's relations with China and South Korea were worsening.
Unlike ties with Japan, Russia's investment cooperation with China has been booming. Just within the past three months, Russia and China have signed investment agreements totaling more than $2 billion. On the other hand, by the end of 2004 Japanese total direct investment in Russia amounted to less than $200 million.
As Moscow becomes more disenchanted with what it perceives as Tokyo's obduracy, China could replace Japan as the main beneficiary of a trans-Siberian oil pipeline.
Before drawing any conclusions from the various perspectives above, it’s important to compare, from a foreign policy perspective, the winning manifesto of Koizumi’s political party, the LDP, and the losing manifesto of the opposition party, the DPJ:
· Upgrade Defense Agency to ministry
· Amend Self-Defense Forces Law to enable SDF to play role in multinational operations
· Focus on resolving outstanding issues with North Korea, with possibility of economic sanctions
· Rebuild trusting relationship with China
· Sign FTA with South Korea
· Establish national secular memorial dedicated to war dead and people who died performing diplomatic duties overseas
· Pull SDF out of Iraq city of Samawah by end of December
· Consider economic sanctions against North Korea
The primary difference between the above two manifestos is that the DPJ would have preferred to “ramp down” some of the trends toward a more assertive Japan—raising the profile of the Japanese Self-Defense Force through changing the status of the Defense Agency and deploying troops to zones of conflict. In fact, it could be considered to favor a more “sensitive” foreign policy by validating the claims against Japan made by China and South Korea on the subjects of historical textbooks, Yasukuni shrine visits, and military-related constitutional amendments.
In Japan, newspaper opinion focused on domestic issues first and foreign policy issues second. The following is from The Daily Yomiuri on September 13:
How will the Koizumi administration move to resolve important issues, such as reform of the social security, fiscal, and tax systems? And how will the administration deal with diplomatic issues confronting Japan? Koizumi should display strong leadership and make full use of the gigantic ruling coalition.
He should ensure the postal privatization bills are passed in the special Diet session as quickly as possible and do his best to get on with solving more important issues.
There are many pending issues on which the Koizumi administration needs to make decisions to expedite the compilation of the budget for next fiscal year, including the triple reform of local government finances, plans for a new medical system for the elderly, and personnel costs for government employees.
Looking at the long-term social and economic effects the issue will have on the nation, the highest priority for the government is to tackle the revamping of the social security system.
Social security expenses, including those related to medical services and pensions, are ballooning year after year. With the rapidly aging society and declining birthrate leading to a decline in total population, it would be difficult to maintain the social security system as it stands today.
If the government sits idle and leaves the system unchanged, "universal social security coverage" and "universal medical insurance coverage" may collapse.
The Daily Yomiuri also had this to say on foreign policy in the same editorial:
Japan's diplomatic and security situations are uncertain and unstable.
Improving bilateral ties with China, which is rapidly emerging as an economic and military power, is vital.
North Korea's nuclear development program poses a serious threat to the nation's safety. The six-way talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions will resume Tuesday. Japan should deal with the issue tenaciously, in cooperation with the United States.
The Antiterrorism Law, drafted to empower the Self-Defense Forces to refuel other countries' naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, will expire on Nov. 1. The government also needs to make a decision soon on whether to extend the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force troops in Iraq or to pull them out of the country when their current commitment expires on Dec. 14.
In making these decisions, the Koizumi administration needs to carefully consider the current situations in the areas concerned, Japan's role on the world stage and its bilateral relationship with Washington.
In essence, and as other commentators have noted, Koizumi’s political victory displays a degree of decisiveness not previously seen in the make-up of Japanese leaders. Although, for this election, much of this decisiveness has been displayed in response to domestic issues, the decisions Koizumi has led in terms of engaging North Korea and raising the profile of the Self-Defense Force through its Iraq deployment have also been unwavering. It is exactly this decisiveness that concerns China and the Korean Peninsula in particular because it harks back to an era when Japan was just as decisive in following a dangerous and destructive ideology towards trying to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which led to its defeat in WWII.
Having spent time exploring the opinions of acquaintances in both China and South Korea, their populations have gained confidence through the visibly growing economic strengths that have resulted in increased respect by the outside world. Thus, national pride is visibly on the rise in both China and South Korea and it is only natural that a similar rise in Japanese nationalism would create regional friction.
Although Japan should not, in my opinion, suppress itself from world engagement because of its grievous mistakes leading up to and during WWII, I believe the current leadership must display decisiveness in addressing the condition of the populations that are its neighbors. This condition is very easy to explain. The significant story in the lives of the grandparents of today’s young people in Northeast Asia is the Japanese occupation of the early 20th Century. The significant story in the lives of the parents of today’s young people in Northeast Asia is the liberation from Japanese occupation and subsequent struggles of establishing sovereign governments. Thus, in China and South Korea especially, having grown up with the stories most predominantly full of hardship and pain, it is no wonder that today’s young people can feel negatively toward Japan.
How can this feeling of negativity be overcome? It is my opinion that the young people of Northeast Asia not from Japan require such a significantly positive experience interacting with Japan that it could begin to cultivate a more understanding view. Friends of mine in South Korea and China who have studied overseas in Japan can sometimes claim such an experience and subsequent change in perspective. Thus, Japan should decisively begin to develop some programs that ensure its young people are out interacting with the younger generation of Chinese and South Koreans, providing that generation with a more positive story of Japan to pass down to their children and their children’s children into the future. Japan cannot wait for the governments of China or South Korea to dictate to its people the positives of Japan—they are lead by politicians who are still too touched by Japan’s past, negative exploits. It should not even blame China or South Korea for stoking the fires of nationalism and anti-Japanese sentiment. Rather, it should take the high-road and establish genuine, NEA exchange programs for the political, social and business leaders of tomorrow. In addition, this new attitude would shape decisions made on history textbooks and the Yasukuni visits, probably the two issues easiest to address quickly and without domestic repercussions.