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Japan Shuns Diplomacy

By Pang Zhongying

A recent development on Japan's diplomatic front has made many doubt whether we need Tokyo's diplomacy in Asia.

On November 26, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, at a lecture delivered in Kanazawa, said China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are the only countries in the world that talk about the Yasukuni Shrine, implying that Japan does not need to care about the matter.

Later, the Japanese foreign minister corrected his viewpoint by claiming there were other countries joining in with the two neighbors' criticisms, but he did not name them.

Despite some changes in his words, Aso's tone indicates Japan does not have to worry about its deteriorating relations with China and the ROK.

The provocative statement has led to severe criticism of Japan's new cabinet and indignation from official and non-official circles in the two Asian neighbors.

Aso's words have also exposed his astonishing ignorance of diplomacy.

However, what has really puzzled people is why Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party singled out a politician like Aso to be their manager of foreign affairs, a position that one would think needed skills and wisdom.

Four years ago, United States diplomatic strategist Henry Kissinger drafted a book about American foreign policy following President George W. Bush's unilateralist actions shortly after coming to power.

In the book, the veteran American diplomat pointedly criticized the diplomatic mentality and foreign policy of the country's new conservatives. He thought it was absolutely wrong to believe that the United States, by relying on its sole superpower status and overwhelming national strength, does not need diplomacy or foreign policies.

He also lashed out at the growing belief among these people that the United States could resort to unilateral activities to solve international disputes while bypassing the United Nations and other international institutions.

Aso is a well-known rightist and hawkish Japanese politician.

Over the past month, since he took office, the foreign minister has issued a series of comments about his country's foreign policy towards neighbors and relations with them.

His remarks seemed to suggest that Japan can underestimate Asia's role and should not worry about the attitudes of China and the ROK towards visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Aso's stance puts him in the same position as those conservatives and unilateralists at whom Henry Kissinger severely lashed out in his book.

Possibly, in the eyes of the Japanese foreign minister, there is no need for the country, which has been backed by its ally the United States and owns a sophisticated military and is the world's second largest economic strength, to have its own diplomacy in Asia.

Aso's remarks only represented his personal diplomatic ideology, but his attitudes could presage the country's diplomatic tendency to the extent that it may take a tough diplomatic line in Asia, especially in its relations with China and the ROK.

Even in the United States, those that claim their country does not need diplomacy have to take into account other countries' stances in the international arena.

Henry Kissinger's critique warned arrogant American hawkish politicians that a country should use skilful diplomatic measures to cope with international affairs even if it commands overwhelming national strength.

Japan is by no means a country on a par with the United States. How can it claim it does not need diplomacy?

In the past few months, the Koizumi administration has provoked waves of criticism from various domestic circles over its deteriorating relations with China and the ROK following provocative action.

Some distinguished Japanese strategists have expressed deep concern over the country's excessive preoccupation with the maintenance of its alliance with the United States.

They think deteriorating diplomatic ties with Asian countries will inevitably lead to the nation being isolated, thus damaging its long-term interests.

It is regrettable that the criticism and indignation from neighbors have not helped change Tokyo's perverse diplomatic stances and foreign policy.

Koizumi's appointment of a politician like Aso as the chief of his diplomatic bureaucracy demonstrates his diplomatic ignorance and ineptitude.

It should have been an internal matter for the Japanese Government. But neighboring countries have good reason to react to Aso's words given that the foreign minister once again irritated them by raising the Yasukuni Shrine matter, which is of principle importance to their ties with Japan.

Aso and the Japanese Government have been trying to shun past atrocities against Asian neighbors, instead of squarely facing up to the past and making a soul-searching apology.

Aso and his like in the Japanese Government have also been attempting to attribute the long-stalemated state-to-state relations between Japan and China and the ROK to the two neighbors' excessive preoccupation with history.

Their attempts have completely confounded right and wrong. As the victims of Japan's past colonial aggressive war, China and the ROK have never caused trouble for Japan by discussing history.

On the contrary, the two countries have adopted a lenient and conciliatory attitude towards the barbaric acts committed by Japanese militarists.

Also, they have always strived to set up a new type of co-operative relationship with Japan on the basis of the principle of "taking history as a mirror and facing up to the future."

It is Koizumi, Aso, and other Japanese rightist politicians that have inverted cause and effect in Japan's damaged ties with neighbors.

Their stubborn insistence on pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors World War II criminals as well as common soldiers, have completely shattered the possibility of improved relations with Asian nations.

The author is a professor with Tianjin-based Nankai University.

(China Daily December 9, 2005)


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