Friday, December 7, 2007

Ozawa glorifies the Sino-Japanese relationship

I was way off target in my hopes that Mr. Ozawa would be reasonable on his trip to China.

"The intensely cold period in Sino-Japanese relations has been surmounted, and the warm period has advanced," he said. "Both of our countries must bear a great responsibility politically, economically, and even for the global environment, and there are infinite ways we can cooperate."

I am certainly no China hawk, and think that the more cooperation with Beijing the better, but to go to Beijing and to talk of boundless cooperation and of the "world-historical role" of the Sino-Japanese relationship is irresponsible (and delusional). There are real clashes of interests between Japan and China — materially, over energy resources, and politically, over the political future of Asia. Japan must work to resolve these issues, of course, but it does no good to pretend that Chinese and Japanese interests neatly coincide. Cooperation with China may be necessary, but this is not a time to make a virtue of necessity.

How, I wonder, will this play back home, where the Japanese people have mixed feelings about their giant neighbor? According to the Cabinet Office's latest foreign policy survey, 63.5% of respondents said that they felt little or no affinity with China, up slightly from the 61.6% who responded that way in 2006. For that matter, how will it play within the DPJ, which has its fair share of China skeptics and hawks?

Does Mr. Ozawa suspect that hugging China close will endear Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ to the electorate? Or will it have the opposite effect of making Mr. Fukuda look just right when he visits China later this month, falling somewhere between Mr. Koizumi's deliberate and repeat provocations of Beijing, Mr. Abe's lukewarm embrace, and Mr. Ozawa's unabashed cozying up to Beijing?

I guess there's another explanation for Mr. Ozawa's behavior. Perhaps he's not so much cozying up to Beijing as attempting to pay tribute to the legacy of Tanaka Kakuei, his political father, who restored Sino-Japanese relations thirty-five years ago (the ostensible occasion for this visit). Not that it makes it any more excusable.


tornados28 said...

Maybe it is just a reaction to the very cold relationship China of the last several years.

No matter what his comments, I think everybody knows, including China and Japan, that there are still very important disagreements between the two that have to be worked out.

Japan Observer said...

Fukuda is reacting to the cold relationship.

Ozawa is, I think, beyond merely reacting.

I wonder if the problem is that Ozawa doesn't do half-steps or nuance. If Japan is going to cooperate with China, it has to be total. If the DPJ is going to oppose the LDP, it has to be unrelenting — and if it's going to cooperate with the LDP, it might as well be in a grand coalition.

Anonymous said...


Ozawa has a long-standing relationship with China, which as you point out comes from the Tanaka days. He took over the "Great Wall" grassroots program, which sends Chinese average joes to Japan, and vice versa, annually. He runs a similar thing with the US (the John Manjiro Society). There may be more subterranean relations too of course, of which we're not privy.

I think it's shortsighted to see the trip as cheap politicking. Ozawa is a nationalist (I don't mean this pejoratively)- and sees the national interest in ensuring that Japan and China have reasonable relations. Ditto with the US. I'm still not clear how promoting a reasonable bilateral relationship with China harms that interest.

Japan Observer said...

My problem, as noted above, is more a matter of style than of substance.

Japan has no choice but to have good relations with both the US — its defender, for the time being — and China — its biggest trading partner.

I object to Mr. Ozawa's style — to his making a big, ostentatious display of this trip and speaking in unrealistic terms about the Sino-Japanese relationship. The latter will not improve in grandiose words or in pretending that real disagreements exist, which is why I prefer Mr. Fukuda's understated diplomacy (I don't envision his traveling with nearly fifty Diet members and an entourage of hundreds).

Of course, Mr. Ozawa is a nationalist. That's what made this trip all the more ridiculous a publicity stunt.

China and Japan need a constructive relationship, but the less it is dressed in "lips and teeth" rhetoric, the better it will be for all involved.