Japan’s Fukuda Plays Baseball with China: Considering the Implications


fukuda baseball beijing.jpg
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


7 comments on “Japan’s Fukuda Plays Baseball with China: Considering the Implications

  1. Blogbart says:

    Yeah, Fukuda pushed through the Afghan War ship refueling mission after a rather unusual presentation by Yukihisa Fujita (Japanse Democratic party) in Diet upper house ahead of the voting. If you can figure out what this was all about, let the rest of us know!


  2. Dirk says:

    Well I see that Fukuda(LDP) has decided to defy the Democratic Party in the upper house by pushing through the Afghan War ship refueling mission (despite having no coast and suspicions that the ships were more involved in Iraq).
    The Democratic Party has previously threatened to force early elections which could say sayonara to Fukuda’s reign.
    From the NY Times:


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “….that I heard during their debate tonight…”


  4. Carroll says:

    Good for Japan.
    I am going to consider moving there (or some where) if any of the repubs (except Paul) that I heard during their debate tonight get elected.
    It was a Jurassic Park of reptilian minds, dinosaurs and raptors.
    On days when I have “hope” I just want them put in padded cells…. on days when I am thinking clearly however I want them dumped into a deep pit and bulldozed over.


  5. rollingmyeyes says:

    You, more than most,have not forgotten that the world, exclusive of Iraq and Iran, still exists out there. We have become so hyper aware of these spears in our side that that it is all that we really think about. In 1953 Ike had the CIA overthrow the Iranian government to keep the Soviets (Russia) out. We’ve lived with the unhappy blowback ever since, up to and including the present “Tonken Incident” and seemingly hoped for war. If your irony gland doesn’t get overworked, Bush has viated all that by “forcing” Russia to team up with Iran. If the overthrow of Iran was a strategic move, this teaming up signals a strategic failure of an effort that goes back over 55 years.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    China is very health oriented. In a drive to protect their youth from dangerous household pollution, they have launched an effort to ship all their poisonous formaldahyde tainted plywood to the United States.
    And in the interest of unilateralism, and just to show the rest of the world we don’t need their approval, we are the only nation gracious enough to import these poisonous and sub-standard quality plywoods.
    Looks like we are going to need that universal healthcare all these candidates are lying about providing us.


  7. DB says:

    My understanding is that as a symbolic public health measure, China has outlawed the spitball. (did you notice, Steve, that with this China-Japan posting and the prior one on Pinkerton, you have consecutive postings with baseball examples or metaphors? Congratulations!)


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