Tag Archives: Noda Yoshihiko

Key U.S.–Japan meeting overshadowed by U.S.–China diplomacy

BEIJING — As Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited the White House Monday, the continued strength of the U.S.–Japan relationship was a central message. But this first Washington summit of U.S. and Japanese leaders since the Democratic Party of Japan took control in 2009 was overshadowed in the transpacific news cycle by the U.S. relationship with China.

The timing of the Noda visit may well have been designed to set the stage for the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to occur this week in Beijing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner leading a 200-strong U.S. delegation.

The U.S. “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia is a major concern in China, and U.S. leaders may have sought to reassure Japan that it is still a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Asia and the Pacific.

If all had gone as planned, the administration could have enjoyed an Asia-focused news cycle all week, as the Japanese leader visited, followed by the meetings in Beijing.

But in the last days of preparation for the Japan summit, the U.S. government was confronted by a much more high-profile challenge: the escape of Chen Guangcheng a well known blind activist from extrajudicial house arrest, and his apparent flight to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

As it happens, the first question for Obama in the Noda–Obama press conference was about Chen, not about Japan (though the reporter also asked Noda about Japan’s response to a potential North Korean nuclear test).

[Obama acknowledged he’s aware of “press reports” on the Chen case, but wouldn’t make a statement except to say the U.S. government always brings up human rights in its meetings with China.]

A lesser-known disappointment for some about the U.S.–Japan meeting is that it did not include an announcement that Japan would join the eight countries (including the United States) currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that does not include China but does include other East Asian countries.

There is significant opposition to the TPP overall, mostly over its intellectual property measures that some view as a rehash of the SOPA/PIPA fight and over a perceived lack of transparency in the negotiations. But the greater opposition to the specific question of Japanese participation comes from sectors in Japan that would lose some existing trade protections, and from the U.S. auto industry.

In their White House statement, both leaders mentioned that TPP talks would continue, but the issue lies largely unresolved. Meanwhile, the U.S.–Japan relationship still spends time on the disposition of the U.S. base at Futenma, the challenge of North Korea, and rather generalized concerns about China.

Five Years of Transpacifica: Five New Japanese Prime Ministers

I’m in transit these days, moving for the time being from Seattle to New York. This is a perfect opportunity to look back on what I’ve written in this space since I started here just over five years ago, on Aug. 18, 2006. Looking back, I found some early speculation about what Aso Taro, then foreign minister, would do if he became prime minister of Japan.

This blog began as “Transpacific Triangle,” focusing specifically on the relations among the three largest Pacific powers: the United States, Japan, and China. In 2006, I had studied Japanese in college and in Japan, and I had just spent a ton of energy understanding the April 2005 anti-Japan protests in China for my undergraduate thesis.

Since then, we have seen five Japanese prime ministers, and a sixth is on deck: Noda Yoshihiko.

Aso Taro didn’t become prime minister back when he was running for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2006. As expected, Abe Shinzō took over in Sept. 2006 after Koizumi Jun’ichirō’s long term. Aso did have his turn, however, two leaders later in 2008.

What’s striking looking back is how little anyone talks about the Yasukuni Shrine issue anymore. Sino-Japanese nationalism is more pronounced these days over issues like the supply of rare earth elements—though a Xinhua report did strike a relatively stern note instructing the incoming Prime Minister Noda on how to act.

Take a look at what we used to be worried about (from my post of Aug. 21, 2006):

The same day that he declared his candidacy for LDP president (and presumably prime minister) Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro said he would work to improve ties with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister. Aso is viewed as a long-shot candidate in the Sept. 20 election, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo the presumptive winner.

“Having no meetings between leaders at all is a distorted form of diplomacy and we must correct this,” Aso said, according to Reuters. Aso has been more flexible than Abe on the Yasukuni Shrine question. He has even proposed that the shrine be re-nationalized as a secular war memorial. Some have remarked that the proposal is insane, but to my mind, Aso has apparently been relatively shrewd in his handling of the Yasukuni issue. By renationalizing the shrine, the government would wrest control of the symbolic site from the private Shinto authorities who enshrined the war criminals in the first place and currently administer the controversial Yushukan war museum.

Meanwhile, Aso struck a familiar nationalist note when announcing his proposal, saying “the tens of thousands of soldiers who died crying ‘Long Life to the Emperor’ filled those words with deep emotion, so I strongly pray that the emperor can visit Yasukuni.” This last statement is no personal sentiment. The special status of Yasukuni Shrine as the place where the emperor, who was at the time considered holy, prayed for war dead was fundamental to its rise in importance during what Japan called the Greater East Asian War. When the Meiji authorities built the shrine on Kudan Hill, across the street from the imperial palace grounds, proximity to the emperor was key.

By taking control away from the Shinto authorities and at the same time encouraging an emperor’s visit, Aso might be appealing to both sides of the Yasukuni debate. Abe appeals only to the nationalists on the issue.
But there is still no indication that disenshrining the war criminals is possible, and even before he introduced this new plan, Aso was agitating for Emperor Akihito to visit the shrine. If Hirohito stopped visiting the shrine after it was tarnished by the war criminals (as was recently confirmed by newly available documents), why would Akihito reverse this decision?

Over the next few days, I’ll cue up some other past posts, not necessarily this old. Much has changed in five years, but much has remained the same. If I have some peace and quiet, I might even do a “why I blog” post like Climate Progress has for its fifth year.