[OUTLOOK]Reinforce diplomacy with Japan

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[OUTLOOK]Reinforce diplomacy with Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s hard-line conservative third cabinet is creating ripples at home and abroad. The reshuffle, which will be the last one by Mr. Koizumi, whose term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ends next September, attracted much attention because we can estimate from it who will probably succeed Mr. Koizumi. It is true that we had a vague anticipation that Mr. Koizumi would pick a relatively moderate lineup in order to re-establish East Asian diplomacy, which has ruptured over his Yasukuni Shrine visit, and to pursue negotiations with North Korea. Surprisingly, however, Mr. Koizumi made hard-line choices.
As Korea and China have begun to seek ways to break the regional deadlock keeping in mind the would-be successor to Mr. Koizumi, it seemed intentional that the Japanese Prime Minister openly refused to follow. The cabinet reshuffle was announced on October 31, immediately following the announcement of the constitutional revision bill by the Liberal Democratic Party on October 28, and the mid-term report for the reorganization of the U.S. Forces in Japan and the reinforcement plan for the U.S.-Japan alliance on October 29. This series of moves suggests that Japan is turning to the right in earnest.
From the Japanese point of view, of course, the point of the reshuffle is the continuation of Mr. Koizumi’s reform. The attention on foreign policy is, in all respects, secondary. Mr. Koizumi has stressed that the yardstick he used in selecting the new cabinet members was that of having a “reformist mind.”
However, most of the new cabinet members are supporters of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, and those promoting a national memorial facility were excluded without exception. Some even presume that the hidden standard of selection was approval of the Yasukuni Shrine visits. Mr. Koizumi seems to have determined that the Yasukuni Shrine visit will be a part of his legacy to be inherited by his successor, along with the continuous pursuit of structural reform.
Therefore, what are the aims of Mr. Koizumi in foreign policy? Will he get lost like a headless animal because he lacks strategy? Or will he recklessly turn to the right and try to become a military power? It is too complex and uncertain to know for sure yet, but let’s look at the issues that are notable at the moment.
Firstly, Mr. Koizumi has revealed a strong intention to use the Yasukuni Shrine issue to paralyze attempts to use Japan’s history as a diplomatic card. Despite much opposition, he stubbornly visited the shrine for four consecutive years and made the annual visit a fait accompli, making it hard for the next prime minister to reverse the situation.
At the same time, he has not shown much enthusiasm for constitutional revision. Over the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan and the reinforcement of the U.S.-Japan alliance, there has been notable friction between Tokyo and Washington. It should be concluded that Japan is not yet ready to dash towards the right. Various possibilities are still open for the future direction of Japan, depending on how the situation unfolds.
Secondly, the formation of an ultra-rightist cabinet is highly likely to be a move in consideration of negotiations with Pyongyang. When Aso Taro, his choice of foreign minister, expressed concern, Mr. Koizumi said a hawk was not necessarily bad for diplomacy and that normalized relations with China were accomplished during the Fukuda government. His comment can be interpreted to mean that he has normalization with Pyongyang in mind. Shinzo Abe, who leads the opposition to normalizing ties with North Korea, has been appointed chief cabinet secretary in order to share the responsibility of negotiation with Mr. Taro and silence public opinion against normalization.
In fact, the moves to resume negotiations with the North and signs of progress are detected here and there. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda attracted attention by saying, “The DNA of someone else was mixed in the remains of Megumi Yokoda.” It is a far more flexible comment than the former stance of the Japanese government. Pyongyang responded by suggesting that it would reinvestigate the case in a contact with Tokyo in Beijing on November 3. We should not exclude the possibility that the negotiations between Pyongyang and Tokyo will make progress surprisingly fast.
The ultra-rightist cabinet of Mr. Koizumi will exert a diverse and complex influence on the Korean peninsula. Seoul needs to respond as complexly. Along with “restraint,” through solid principles and criticism, we desperately need to encourage Tokyo to make realistic policy changes through “engagement.”
In order to prepare for the rapidly changing circumstances in Northeast Asia, it is time for Seoul to reinforce its diplomacy with Tokyo.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Rikkyo University in Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Jong-won
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