With the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) electing Shinzo Abe as its new president on Wednesday, Junichiro Koizumi will soon step down as Japanese prime minister, leaving to his successor a negative legacy in Japan's ties with its Asian neighbors.
During his over five-year tenure, Koizumi has been pursuing a "following the United States" foreign policy, and neglected its Asian neighbors. He insisted on visiting the war-related Yasukuni Shrine and dragged his country into an awkward isolation in Asia.
For the new leaders of Japan, to dispel the negative legacy left by Koizumi will be a wise decision, which will be conducive to mending Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, and pulling the country out of the diplomatic stalemate. It will serve Japan's national interests.
Bad result of unbalanced diplomacy
Koizumi has been following the United States hardheadedly during his tenure, trying all out to promote the Japan-US ally and seeking to elevate it into a "global alliance" which could wield influence on international affairs.
Koizumi regarded Japan's ties with the United States as its most important bilateral relations. By describing the Japan-US ties as "critical" and believing the more intimate they are, the more easier Japan could build friendly ties with China and South Korea, Koizumi left Asian countries out of consideration.
Although he has repeatedly expressed to pay attention to the development of relations with China and South Korea, he did not take any action to demonstrate his sincerity. Koizumi has paid visits to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine for six consecutive years, ignoring opposition and criticism from Asian countries, which have suffered from Japanese militarism during the World War II.
His shrine visits not only dragged the Sino-Japanese political relations to the lowest ebb since the normalization of bilateral ties in 1972, but also led to the suspension of summit meetings with South Korea, which suffered from the 1910-1945 Japanese colonization.
Koizumi's wrong historic viewpoint and his crude handling of the historic issue should be blamed for Japan's isolation in its Asian diplomacy and the deterioration of Sino-Japan and South Korea-Japan relations.
Japanese people know what's right and what's wrong
Koizumi's unwise actions also drew criticism within Japan. Following his shrine visit on Aug. 15, which marked the 61st anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, Koichi Kato, former Secretary General of Japan's ruling LDP, said "actions regarding diplomacy cannot be resolved with words like 'spiritual matter.'"
Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, said the prime minister's visit had damaged Japan's present and future relations with other Asian countries.
Makoto Iokibe, president of the National Defense Academy of Japan, said in a recently released article that Koizumi's war shrine visits had led to the exacerbation of negative effects in its foreign relations, and had harmed Japan's "credit" and "foreign assets."
Most Japanese hope to remove the negative impact of Koizumi's shrine visits on its foreign relations.
A survey released by Japan's Foreign Ministry in March showed that 77.9 percent of the respondents thought that the damaged ties with China should be repaired.
Recent public surveys by the Japanese media also indicated that most people were against the shrine visits by the next prime minister and they hoped that the new leader can endeavor to improve relations with China and South Korea.
Japanese people have realized that the souring relations between Japan and its Asian neighbors could finally do harm to Japan's own interests.
Japan's Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii said damage to Japan's national interests would be immeasurable, if the shrine visits by Japan's leaders became a national policy.
Furthermore, most people in Japan's business community also strongly support the idea that Japan's new prime minister should solve the shrine visit issue as soon as possible, and help create favorable political environment for trade and business between Japan and China.
Clear up political barrier
Japan and China's economies are mutually beneficial and complementary. The fast development of the Chinese economy is contributing to Japan's steady economic recovery. In a friendly political atmosphere, the Sino-Japanese economic ties will be in the interests of both countries.
China has been attaching great importance to developing friendly cooperation with Japan. The diplomatic impasse between China and Japan resulted from the Japanese leader's repeated shrine visits. It is critical for the Japanese leaders to make a resolute decision as early as possible, to clear up the political barrier, and put the bilateral ties back onto the right track.
Even the United States expressed concerns over Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors. Congressman Tom Lantos said in a recent hearing that Koizumi's shrine visits not only hurt the feelings of people of Northeast Asian countries, but also caused a tense regional situation, which damaged the interests of the United States. He called on Japan's next prime minister to refrain from paying visit to the notorious shrine.
The development of Sino-Japanese relations could bring profound influence on peace and stability in Asia and even the whole world. The Japanese side should resolve as early as possible to remove the political barrier and put the development of Japan-China political relations back on track.
(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2006)