[OUTLOOK]Echoes of pre-war Japan linger

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[OUTLOOK]Echoes of pre-war Japan linger

Kijuro Shidehara and Yosuke Matsuoka were the foreign ministers of Japan who led Japanese foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s when Tokyo’s imperial policies held sway. With completely different backgrounds, philosophies and diplomatic styles, they proposed the two archetypes of Japanese foreign policy, the moderate diplomacy of cooperation and the hard-line diplomacy of unilateralism.
Mr. Shidehara, who served in the 1920s when the Taisho democracy was blooming, had worked to enhance the national interests of Japan in the post-World War I system of international cooperation. Married to a member of the Mitsubishi family, his foreign policy was nicknamed “Mitsubishi diplomacy,” and critics say that his diplomacy of cooperation was, in fact, another expression of imperialism. Nevertheless, he agreed with the United States and Britain to control Japan’s military armaments in the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922 and tried to respect the principle of nonintervention in internal affairs in Japan’s dealings with China, then under the dominance of warlords. Especially when U.S. legislation restricting immigration from Japan enraged that country, he worked to reduce tensions with the Unites States rather that bowing to public opinion in Japan. While Japanese military hard-liners condemned Mr. Shidehara’s diplomacy for weakening the country, his emphasis on mutual survival and prosperity with other nations could be considered a model of a cooperative foreign policy.
The Shidehara diplomacy was rejected when the military and right-wingers emerged strengthened by a string of coups after the Manchurian Incident of 1931. Once Shidehara diplomacy was forced out of the spotlight, the diplomacy of Mr. Matsuoka came to represent Japanese foreign policy. It was Mr. Matsuoka, then the Japanese ambassador to the League of Nations, who led Japan out of the league in 1933 after an outpouring of international criticism of Japan after its invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and its subsequent occupation.
Mr. Matsuoka had gone to the United States at age 13 and stayed there until he graduated from the University of Oregon. Because he spent a decade on the U.S. west coast, he personally experienced the raging discrimination against Japanese. Upon returning to Japan, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was dominated by graduates of the prestigious Tokyo University.
In 1935, he became the president of the South Manchurian Railroad and was later a member of the Diet. He was a critic of Shidehara diplomacy and was appointed to the post of minister of foreign affairs in 1940, when Europe was already at war. Armed with nationalistic conservatism, Mr. Matsuoka championed an alliance with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy that was reached in September 1940, and completely shut down any channel for reconciliation with Washington.
A characteristic of the Matsuoka diplomacy was a disregard for international treaties and trust. He prioritized the Tripartite Pact (with Germany and Italy) over negotiations with the United States, and hoped to exploit his popularity as a political tool to realize his diplomatic plan.
As was seen in the constant opposition of the Japanese Navy, Matsuoka diplomacy had some vulnerabilities in judgement and was so aggressive that even Emperor Hirohito expressed displeasure about him in his memoirs.
The juxtaposition of the two diplomats, one a cooperator and one a unilateralist, takes on a new meaning today because of the attitudes of the Koizumi administration toward the Yasukuni Shrine visits and the history textbook issue.
In the background of the trends are the consideration for the Japanese Association of Bereaved Families, a strong support base of the Liberal Democratic Party, combined with an extraordinary perception of history by the political leaders, including Prime Minister Koizumi.
But the conservatives in Japan need to pay attention to the fact that their unreserved expressions of their unilateral interpretation of historical issues can have a very bad effect on the security environment, which they value more than anything. Academia has reached a consensus that the image a country or a society projects to its neighbors plays a crucial role in creating antagonism or affinity toward that nation.
The more Japan projects an image of beautifying its imperialist past, the more cautious its Asian neighbors will become toward Japan.
Today’s Japan is a mature democratic country, very different from Japan in the 1930s. But if the sayings and doings of the Japanese leaders remind its neighbors of the Matsuoka unilateralism, the perception will result in very grave damage to today’s Japan.

* The writer is a lecturer in political science and international relations at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Seung-young
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