It’s been a news-filled week for Japan-China relations and Japan in general, leading up to the LDP election later this month.
Several signs that tensions between China and Japan may ease after Koizumi’s departure emerged this week.
- Using the a signed commentary in the People’s Daily overseas edition, the Chinese government demanded Abe Shinzo take a stand on shrine visits, writing Thursday, “Perhaps the strategists and advisers at Abe’s side see this strategy of ambiguity as a success, but they appear to have forgotten the lesson that sincerity can vanquish a hundred tricks. … Abe must ultimately use facts to demonstrate whether he’s truly serious about relations with China.” [The Reuters story apparently refers to this People’s Daily commentary, which is hard to interpret because of a rough translation.]
- It is unclear whether he was responding to this specific call (I suspect not), but Abe said in a news conference he did not believe a fresh Japanese war apology was necessary from him as a new prime minister.
- On Friday, Abe said he intended to meet with top Chinese and South Korean leaders at the November APEC meeting to calmly discuss political problems such as Yasukuni visits (「（靖国神社参拝などの）政治問題が拡大しないように冷静に対応するための会談だ。」). He added that he thinks China is coming to realize that “playing the Yasukuni card” was a mistake. (From a Japanese language Yomiuri Shimbun report.)
- An English language Kyodo dispatch reported that Yomiuri had said more: That report said Abe will likely skip a Yasukuni visit during the fall festival in October to smooth relations with China before the meeting.
- Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan said President Hu Jintao expressed the desire that China and Japan commit to peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Repeating well-worn phrasing, Tang also said, “We will adhere to the principle and make joint efforts with Japan in pushing ahead bilateral exchanges and cooperation in various fields and properly handling the existing problems and obstacles.” “Properly handling” is a key phrase, which has been used before to admonish Japanese leaders over textbooks and Yasukuni Shrine. The report appeared in the Chinese official press.An AFP report added that Tang had said that a “wise decision” on Yasukuni was a precondition for China to consider a November meeting with Abe.
- The first “working level” financial talks between China and Japan since 2002 were held this week. AFP reported that an official gave the dubious excuse of “scheduling difficulties” as the reason that the annual talks had been held up. It is widely believed that such summits were stopped over Chinese objections to Koizumi’s shrine visits, and with some research, it may be possible to find reports where this was said publicly for these particular meetings, contradicting the new statement.
In other news, a new report issued by former Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro’s think tank, the Institute for International Policy Studies, proposes that Japan study the possibility of obtaining its own nuclear capabilities. I have not read the report, “Japan’s National Image in the 21st Century,” but a Japan Times article reported that Nakasone acknowledged that Japan is protected by what many call the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but he said it is unclear whether the umbrella will remain.
Indeed, as Japan strengthens itself, the United States may put less emphasis on protecting Japan. It is unlikely, however, that U.S. strategic interests in the region will diverge from those of Japan in the near future. My question is, how much study does it really take for Japan to create nuclear weapons, given its high scientific capabilities and prominent use of nuclear power? Since it is a virtual certainty that Japan could produce a nuclear deterrent quickly in a pinch, Nakasone is likely attempting to guide Japan in a hawkish direction to the extent that he still has influence.