JIN-416 -- Chirac's Foreign Affairs

Chirac's Foreign Affairs

Secret bank accounts, illicit affairs, slush funds and love
children - the media are certainly going to miss Jacques Chirac.
Mr. Sarkozy however, has also given journalists more than a few
inches in relation to his personal life, or at least his wife
has. Paris Match made a meal of their temporary split up in 2005
publishing photos of Mrs. Sarkozy's alleged lover even though it
probably led to the editor getting the sack.

During his election campaign Mr. Le Pen, who can always be relied
on to be play a dirty game, tried to stir things up afresh by
warning the nation about the next possible First Lady and her
dubious personal history. All said and done however, President
Sarkozy himself looks more like an innocent than a player –
particularly in comparison to Chirac. However, this week's
newsletter is more interested in looking at the two men's
relation to Japan than their skeletons in the 'amoire'.

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A visit to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes Chirac's
relation to Japan a key paragraph in its overview of
Franco-Japanese relations. In the section entitled 'The emergence
of Japanonphile President Jacques Chirac and what it bodes for
Japan-France relations', it proclaims:

'President Chirac is perhaps better informed about and more
friendly toward Japan than any other politician in France. He is
said to have visited Japan more than 40 times, and probably knows
more about Japan than any other politician outside of Japan'

There are few other leaders singled out for such personal praise.
But there are few other leaders with such 'friendly' relations
with Japan. A very frequent visitior to the country, Chirac's
love of sumo is well known - his keeping of a Japanese mistress
is more well known than it is establised. Nonetheless there have
been many printed words devoted to the subject and some stories
have gone as far as to speculate that he has a now adult half-
Japanese son or daughter. Most French bloggers (bloggeurs?) seem
to believe it to be a son while one quips that he has four! A
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More speculation concerns Chirac's alleged Japanese bank account
in which he is rumored to hold over US$50 million and this has
apparently been investigated more than once by France's
intelligence service. The most recent investigations catch Chirac
at his most vulnerable point having just exited from power.

But the new President is more damned for his alienation of Japan
than for a suspiciously close embrace. Mr. Sarkozy, recently
made the blunder of attempting to attack Chirac by insulting the
Japanese. He reportedly referred to sumo wrestlers as
'slicked-down topknots'. But in doing so he actually follows in
an alternative French tradition of Japan bashing - former Prime
Minister Edith Cresson famously called the Japanese 'ants that
are trying to take over the world'. Meanwhile Tokyo governor
Shintaro Ishihara has been sued for his comments on the French
language. He labelled it 'neglectful and appalling'. Touché.

Post-Chirac then, which way can we expect relations between Japan
and France to turn? At a business level Nissan/Renault symbolise
successful cooperation while Toyota has steadily expanded its
French operations much to the delight of the French government
who are struggling to tackle issues of unemployment and urban
development. From the opposite side Japan is Louis Vuitton's
largest market and there seems to be no shortage of consumer
demand for Paris chic from Hokkaido to Okinawa. From a more
grass roots perspective French teenagers are avid readers of
manga (something Segolene Royal frowns at) and
Japanese have adopted Western confidence in France as a Mecca for
fashion and food.

So, as France and Japan get ready to celebrate 150 years of
diplomatic relations, it seems fair to conclude that despite some
silly politicians speaking out of turn, things bode fairly well
for the future. Things might not turn out quite so smoothly for
Chirac.

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor, J@pan Inc magazine

J@pan Inc invites all comments and suggestions on the content
of its newsletters, online and print media. Please visit our
website at www.japaninc.com or, if you have a comment directly
related to this article, email it to peter.harris@japaninc.com

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