Japan’s foreign policy has gone right “back to the USA”, according to Katsuya Okada, Japan's foreign minister. This is a big change over the past year.
Overall, relations with the US, Korea and China have improved. Okada claims that the US/Japan Alliance has deepened over the past year. The present government is committed to last May’s agreement with the Americans over their forces in Okinawa. This will be implemented with the “understanding” of the Okinawan people.
Prime Minister Kan’s apology to Korea regarding Japan’s annexation of that country one hundred years ago was a positive step. Japan and Korea have a lot in common as democratic market economies. Negotiations for a free trade agreement with Korea are being reviewed. With China, one-by-one, issues are being tackled like food safety and some progress has been made over East China Sea matters. Relations with ASEAN are moving forward.
Japan is working more closely with emerging economies including through the G20. While industrial countries are still important, there has been a power shift to the emerging world. Japan is also working toward a world without nuclear weapons
Most importantly, the US/Japan relationship is qualitatively different from all other relationships. It is a security relationship from which all the Asia-Pacific benefits. The Alliance must be deepened.
This is quite a different message from one year ago. On that occasion, Okada was asked about the possible membership of an East Asian Community. Would the US be in or out? Okada responded categorically that the US would not be in. Although Japan appreciates its relationship with the US, Japan is not part of NAFTA and the US should not be part of an East Asian Community.
Washington apparently exploded when they heard this. When he visited Japan in November last year, US President Obama was moved to say “As a Asia Pacific nation, the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region, and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve”.
Okada has since had six meetings with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to help improve mutual understanding. North Korea helped a bit by exploding a South Korea vessel. And China has played a role through its bully tactics in the East China Sea.
Overall, Japan’s foreign policy is back on track in the now-safe pair of hands of Minister Okada. Most importantly, after all the confusion created by former Prime Minister Hatoyama, foreign policy is thankfully off the front pages. It would be all to the good if the Okinawan people could be quietly appeased behind closed doors, and not inflamed in public.
Disturbingly, Democratic Party of Japan bad man Ozawa has just announced that he will challenge Prime Minister Kan in the DPJ leadership contest coming up soon. No-one can guess the outcome. A compromise solution could be Okada for Prime Minister. He would be a good candidate. But in the Japanese system, he would be bound to be dragged down like most of the others before him.
Both Okada and Japan deserve more than that. Political instability at the top of Japan is one thing preventing the country from developing greater maturity in its foreign relations. It is also a major reason why the American security shield is still so important.
Remarks by President Barack Obama at Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan. November 14, 2009.
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