Japan’s insular diplomacy

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Japan’s insular diplomacy

Among countries with a population of more than 100 million, only two have a per capita gross domestic product of more than $40,000: the United States ($51,704) and Japan ($46,707), as of 2012. Though Japan surrendered its status as the world’s No. 2 economy to China, its per capita national income is nearly eight times that of China. Japan is a powerful country as a leading member of the OECD. Regrettably, however, it seems to be oblivious of the simplest truth.

During the Lunar New Year holidays last week, Japan doggedly strived to find fault with Korea. In a hysterical move, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a plenary session of the Upper House last Thursday that the Japanese government is considering lodging a claim for the Dokdo islets to the International Court of Justice. His signature provocation followed his cabinet’s earlier decision to specify Dokdo as Japan’s territory in teachers’ guidebooks on history education among middle and high schools across the country.

Abe knows well that Korea would not engage in legal battles over the jurisdiction of the islets on the East Sea because Seoul has never considered Dokdo as a matter of territorial dispute. However, Abe again provoked Korea while being aware that his attempts are futile unless Korea reacts to the Japanese claim.

As it turned out, the Japanese Embassy in Washington has methodically lobbied to thwart the Virginia State legislature from passing a bill describing the Sea of Japan as the East Sea as well in the state’s school textbooks. The embassy even sent Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe a letter threatening that the state will suffer a lot of damage if he signs the bill. The Japanese government has also pressured the organizing committee of the Angouleme International Comics Festival not to allow an exhibition of comics on the politically charged issue of comfort women, which has stoked regional tensions in Asia.

Japan contends those issues are part of its legitimate diplomacy to safeguard Japan’s national interests. But we wonder whether it is really true. We believe that an open-minded, straightforward and forward-looking attitude - rather than a narrow-minded, impure and lopsided one - befits a country like Japan. We fully understand Japan’s ever-deepening irritation at China’s stunning rise on the world stage, but Tokyo must act with dignity as much as it can. We hope Japan will remain as one of the genuinely advanced nations that deserve international respect as a neighbor that shares the core values of democracy and a market economy.

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