[FOUNTAIN]The frontier withinIn early 2000, an advisory group for Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the Commission on Japan’s Goals in the 21st Century, published a report titled “The Frontier Within: Individual Empowerment and Better Governance in the New Millennium.” It was an epochal policy blueprint for Japan, covering issues from lowering the immigration barrier to planning to make English an official second language. The report also emphasized the importance of friendly diplomacy.
The report said, “The relationships between Japan and both China and Korea go beyond diplomacy. Routine diplomatic efforts are simply not sufficient to stablize the relationship and build trust with these two neighbors. Just tourist exchanges, cultural promotion or looking at fashion won’t work. Determination is necessary. That is the implication of ‘friendly diplomacy.’”
What a backflip from the Meiji era slogan, “Escape Asia, Join Europe!”
The tiring of U.S.-Japan relations in the 1990s might be attributed to this 180-degree turn-around. At the time, the first Clinton administration’s Japan policy was called “Japan bashing.” The term referred to the U.S. pressure on the Japanese to open their market. During his second term, Mr. Clinton visited China for nine days, skipping Japan. That “Japan passing” enraged Japanese leaders. Suddenly the slogan “Escape America, join Asia” appeared.
But friendly diplomacy immediately faded away. It lost momentum after the sudden death of Mr. Obuchi in May that year. It has now completely disappeared under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. With his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s diplomacy with neighboring countries is close to sinking.
Yet Mr. Koizumi brags about Japan’s relationship with the United States, saying, “If Japan’s relationship with the U.S. is good, we can establish good relationships with other countries, including China and Korea.” It is now, “Through the United States, enter Asia”; a diplomatic strategy of ignoring rather than engaging.
Since last year, China has tried a new diplomatic tack: being friendly with its neighbors, encouraging mutual prosperity and making its neighbors comfortable. It sounds good, but we should be careful. Chinese President Hu Jintao has flatly rejected meeting with Koizumi unless he stops vising the Yasukuni Shrine. Korea’s diplomacy seems to be stuck in between.
Who would become Koizumi’s successor in September? The new Cold War in the Northeast Asia must end, but that is up to the new prime minister. The frontier of Japan is in Japan.
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.