JIN-394 -- Abe's First Step Toward a New Foreign Policy

The J@pan Inc. Newsletter

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 394
Friday November 24, 2006 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Abe's First Step Toward a New Foreign Policy

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Abe's First Step Toward a New Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Abe's trip to South Korea and China breathed
fresh air into the stale diplomacy of Japan. This was only a
first step in the evolution of a new foreign policy, but it was
an important first step. Admittedly, Abe has been
mealy-mouthed on the subject of Yasukuni Shrine, a
lightning rod for anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea and
China. Nor has his perception of history won him any
friends abroad. However, even before he officially became
PM, he spoke of the need for revamping diplomatic strategy
for Asia, and behind the scenes, his supporters among the
leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party and cream of
the Foreign Ministry have been laying the groundwork for
improving relations with China. More importantly, that he
put under wraps his personal views of history and Yasukuni
and realized summit meetings with Chinese and Korean
leaders testifies to the earnestness of his desire for a fresh
Asian strategy.

Abe, as much his predecessor, realizes that Japanese foreign
relations rest on the foundation of its alliance with the
United States. But looking at the overall situation of Japan
from even an American-centric viewpoint reveals significant
pressing issues in Asia. Their successful resolution would
restore the presence of Japan on the diplomatic stage and
lead the US to reexamine Japan's role in Asia.

For Japan, the two greatest challenges are denuclearization
of North Korea and resolution of the abduction issue. The
former is a matter of security (prevented by its constitution
from a preemptive strike, Japan would be at the mercy of
an unreliable antiballistic missile shield for defense against
a nuclear attack from the North); the latter issue is driven by
domestic politics (the abductees' families have achieved
a solidarity and political savvy that has kept the issue at
the forefront of national consciousness).

North Korea has tried to delink the two issues. Some
Japanese pundits have argued that Japan, together with
the US, China, Russia and South Korea, should impose
sanctions on the North. This would seem unrealistic.
The whereabouts of a handful of Japanese allegedly abducted
by North Korean agents 30 years ago is hardly a hot-button
issue in Washington, Moscow, or Beijing.

Japan does have an important role to play--helping to
integrate the North in the international community
through encouraging the introduction of a market
economy essential to its revival. This is perhaps the
only way to prevent a collapse of Kim Jong-Il's
regime that would unleash a flood of starving,
disease-ridden refugees, and the possible launch of
nuke-tipped missiles in an orgasm of self-destruction.

Generous aid to the North in the framework of the
Six Party talks would be a carrot to induce Kim's regime
to give up its nuclear ambitions and would help improve
frosty relations with the South. But even if the Bush
Administration could be induced to substitute the carrot
for the stick, PM Abe would have to overcome the domestic
opposition galvanized by the abductees' families.

As for China, its thirst for energy and need to protect
sea lanes are viewed as leading to a showdown with the US.
Confrontation need not be inevitable, however. An alliance
between the world's two great powers might seem attractive
to Beijing, and for the rest of the world would be preferable.
Japan could advance such an alliance and shore up its position
with respect to both powers by, for example, promoting a
four-country alliance including South Korea. Satoshi Amako,
a Sinologue at Waseda University in Tokyo, has suggested a
Pacific Treaty Organization (PATO), also including
Australia and other countries.

Abe will need the political finesse of Junichiro Koizumi to
convince fellow pols and the Japanese people that a soft
landing for North Korea with the help of Japanese aid is in
their best interest even in the absence of resolution of the
abduction issue. Whether he and his brain trust in
the LDP and Foreign Ministry have the vision to preempt
the sidelining of Japan by forging something like a PATO
remains to be seen. In any case, the new PM's recent visits
to China and Korea were an auspicious start to a era of new

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