Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda play early morning catch at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on 29 December 2007
Andrew Oros of Washington College has an interesting piece on Brookings Northeast Asia Commentary site on what impact 2008 elections both in the U.S. and Japan might have on the bilateral relationship.
I particularly enjoyed this part reflecting on how things have changed since former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s and Bush’s memorable Camp David baseball toss:
Casual observers might have been jarred to see Prime Minister Fukuda, during his late December visit to China, tossing a baseball with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
These visuals naturally invoke earlier images of President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s similar play during Koizumi’s visit to the United States in 2006. But does this mean Japan is now playing with China, not the United States? After all, no one reported President Bush and Prime Minister Fukuda playing ball during Fukuda’s November visit to the United States.
During the four-day trip, Fukuda’s first to China since he became prime minister, the two countries signed agreements to cooperate to fight climate change and to increase youth and professional exchanges, and concluded arrangements for China’s president Hu Jintao to travel to Japan in April 2008 (which will be the first such trip by a Chinese head of state in a decade).
Rather than seeing this as a zero-sum competition, the United States should be pleased to see its game (baseball) and its principal ally (Japan) embraced in China. Difficult Japan-China ties serve no one’s interests.
The most interesting part of Oros’ essay is the bit which comments on Prime Minister Fukuda dialing back the strident hyper-nationalism of his predecessor, Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:
Just as Republican presidential contenders in the United States have signaled a shift away from President Bush’s foreign policy approaches, the rise to power of Prime Minister Fukuda also has signaled a political shift in Japan, though from within the same ruling LDP.
Although also clearly a strong supporter of the U.S.-Japan alliance, as noted in his November visit to the United States (the first foreign country he visited), Fukuda’s public speeches regarding the alliance and in particular Japan’s military role lack the stridency of Prime Minister Abe.
Fukuda also shows a greater closeness to Asia, for better and for worse. In his 2008 new year’s speech (delivered in English via YouTube, a first for a Japanese Prime Minister), Fukuda does assert the “essential” nature of the alliance, not only to the security of Japan but also to the region, but then continues by expanding the definition of security to include health and sanitation, development, and environmental concerns — rhetoric that harkens back to the “comprehensive security” approaches pursued by Japan in previous decades.
The concluding words of Fukuda’s speech — “The larger the problem the more we wish for cooperation among all in the world. Now is the time for the global community to unify to fight on the same side to live together.” — could not sound more different from the current chief executive in the United States.
Fukuda’s broader and more cooperative approach to security suggests that his administration may be less keen to focus on expanding the military aspects of U.S.-Japan alliance.
Japan and how it decides to assert itself and its interests in Asia and globally are very important. Japan has significant military capacity — but more importantly, it sits on a giant chunk of global capital reserves that will help drive the contours of future economic growth and development.
But as Oros illustrates in the essay, Japan is in the arena of nations being neglected right now because there don’t seem to be any screaming problems there at the moment.
This again should remind us of how ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’ our national security and foreign policy directions are. What’s clear to me is that China and Russia — and I’d add Japan and a number of other key nations — are testing their abilities at proactively pursuing their objectives.
— Steve Clemons