Friday, November 30, 2007

Ozawa to China

Despite the extension of the Diet session, Ozawa Ichiro, DPJ president, will still be going to China with nearly fifty DPJ members of the Diet from 6 to 8 December. Mr. Ozawa will meet with Hu Jintao and mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations.

Mr. Ozawa's visit comes just as turbulence in Sino-US relations continues following China's denying port visits to US Navy vessels. The Chinese government has evidently explained its reasoning for its decisions, suggesting that US arms sales to Taiwan led China to turn the warships away.

Foreign Minister Yang's purported explanation that the denial was the result of a "misunderstanding" has been dismissed, but I wonder whether Foreign Minister Yang was being sincere, in that the decision without the Foreign Ministry's input, leaving the foreign minister to try to explain it in Washington. In other words, the decision to welcome the Kitty Hawk, then the decision to turn it away, then the last-minute decision to permit its entry could reflect not Chinese inscrutability but infighting within the government and between the CCP and the PLA fueled by Chinese insecurity. Now, granted, it is reasonable to question whether Beijing's sense of insecurity is justified, but I still think it would be a mistake for the US (and Japan) to overreact to China's actions.

And so will Mr. Ozawa address this affair, which has drawn in Japan, when he meets with President Hu? Will Mr. Ozawa use the occasion to present a positive vision for Japanese Asia policy that aims to coax China to play a more responsible security role in the region? Perhaps Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda could work together on an Asia initiative, seeing as both see the value of reorienting Japan's foreign policy away from the US to some extent. In doing so, will he be able to strike the proper balance, approaching Mr. Hu not as a supplicant but as a fellow great power interested in the maintenance of order and stability in the region?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Contrary to your belief that China has not been taking a responsible role in the area of security relations in East Asia, I contend that they have been playing a more positive role than Japan has. I am referring of course to the successful defusing of nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula with the dismantling of the major nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. China played a crucial role in the six-party talks by pressuring N Korea to return to the negotiations at several times such as the dispute over the sequestration of funds at the bank in Macao. By contrast, Japan played an obstructionist role by its insistence that the talks elevate the abduction issue into an importance equal to the denuclearization issue. This was of course an absurd and irresponsible position for Japan to make and it indicated the immaturity and waywardness in direction of the Abe Shinzo government.

Japan Observer said...

As someone who has criticized Japan consistently for its refusal to play a positive role in the six-party talks, I certainly acknowledge your point.

But the opacity of China's security decision making — and its defense spending — are problematic. It is no surprise that countries on all sides of China are spending more on arms.

And while Japan has not played a helpful role in the six-party talks, it hasn't necessarily held them back either. Indeed, I'm sure that Pyongyang (and perhaps even Beijing) is thrilled that Japan has isolated itself in Northeast Asia. By stonewalling on the abductees while giving ground on its nuclear program, North Korea effectively stirred up trouble between Tokyo and Washington that will take time to repair. Japan's decision making on the six-party talks may be bad for Japan, but that doesn't mean that it's dangerous for the region (unlike China's opaque decision making).