Country Report: Japan (August 2015)

Japan-Russia Relations

Relations with Russia appeared to be back on track in the first part of the summer. Plans for Putin to visit Japan were going forward despite unconcealed disapproval by the Obama administration. Japanese writers held out hope for trouble in Sino-Russian relations in the face of many signs to the contrary. Abe’s determination to pursue an independent foreign policy at the same time as he was strengthening the alliance with the United States had stumbled with North Korea, but gained new life with Russia at a time when sanctions against it were being renewed and expanded.

An example of those who downplay Sino-Russian relations is Hyodo Shinji, whose article in the June issue of Toa on the May 9 Moscow commemoration of the seventieth anniversary included in the title “Same Bed, Different Dreams.” Hyodo compared the sixtieth anniversary celebrations in Moscow, when the leaders of 53 countries were in attendance to the recent gathering, where about 30 were present of 60 invited and only 6 leaders of the former Soviet Union states attended in contrast to 11 a decade earlier. The fact that Kim Jong-un did not show, Hyodo attributes to mutual demands that were not met: Moscow insisting on a stop to nuclear and missile tests, and Pyongyang on a grant that did not have to be paid back. He concludes that this shows the limits that exist to improvement in Russo-DPRK relations. While the joint declaration included for the first time a reference to “Japanese militarism,” Hyodo sees this as little more than Russia leaning more towards China and showing concern for its thinking, following a long period when Putin was silent after Xi at the Sochi Olympics had raised the prospect of mutual participation in seventieth anniversary ceremonies, but finally in May 2014 agreed after the Ukrainian crisis had begun. Yet, Hyodo argues that the May 9 events were anti-Europe and the United States, while the September 3 events may be focused against Japan, i.e., they are facing two separate targets. Meanwhile, the link-up of the Eurasian Economic Union and Silk Road Economic Belt is not treated as a concern since Russia is worried about China’s activity in Central Asia. Indeed, Hyodo goes so far as to conclude that in warning that it is prepared to use nuclear weapons in response to the Ukraine crisis, Russia is also reminding China that it is a nuclear power. One must calmly judge the reality of Sino-Russian relations, he adds.

Similarly, Haruna Mikio in Yomiuri Shimbun of May 25 derided the “honeymoon” in Sino-Russian relations as a facade, given the power difference between them, the tense negotiations taking place, and China’s refusal to invest if it is not in its interest. This is but one of many statements that open the door for Japan to pursue Putin.

Russian restrictions limiting fishing for salmon and trout caused an uproar in Japan. Beginning on January 1, 2016, trawling (at times with nets tens of kilometers long) in Russia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for these fish will be prohibited, costing (Asahi Shimbun on June 25) about 5000 jobs and reducing Japan’s total salmon catch by about 4 percent. Japanese fishermen are only allowed a month of summer catches. A Japanese vessel was stopped on July 17 before being released for overfishing (Yomiuri Shimbun on July 19). While depleting stocks in Russia’s EEZ was the reason given for the ban, Yomiuri Shimbun on June 25 had calculated that this was really a countermeasure to the economic sanctions Japan had imposed over the Ukraine situation. Abe raised the issue in his June 24 phone call with Putin, but only hours later the State Duma finalized the fishing restrictions bill. This, however, did not dim hopes for a summit.

Abe’s pursuit of Putin in the hope of a summit this year was a subject at the summit with Obama at the end of April and again at the G7 summit on June 4-5, as well as when Abe stopped in Ukraine en route to Germany for the summit. As reported in Yomiuri Shimbun on June 7, Abe asked for understanding about Japan’s desire to get back its islands. In May, Japan hosted Sergei Naryshkin, chairman of the State Duma and a confidante of Putin, whose entry into the European Union and United States was barred by the sanctions. Failing to attend the May 9 gathering in Moscow and aware that Japanese firms have frozen construction on an LNG factory and pipeline in the Russian Far East, Japanese have rushed to revive the prospects of a Putin visit, explaining that other leaders in the West have been meeting with him. Yet, Abe’s efforts are viewed with suspicion in the West amid talk in Japan that Putin’s motive is to split the G7. Of Japan’s newspapers, Sankei Shimbun is the one that forcefully argues that the G7 are equating China’s use of force in the South China Sea with Russia’s in Ukraine, and Japan is leading in one case but is asking for understanding for its apparent dissent in the other, even as it accepts the principle against the forceful change of borders. On June 23, it warned that Japan needs EU and US support at sea, that its foreign minister in May had called Japan the only country that is questioning the results of WWII, that Japan must defend the international order with the United States and its allies, and that as next year’s host of the G7 it should be careful about Putin visiting.

Asahi Shimbun pointedly objected to Russia’s renewed talk of nuclear weapons as Cold War, which Japanese, who had been the victims, needed to tell Russians must be abandoned. Yet, this message on June 21 was overshadowed by reports that day of Putin’s June 19 optimistic statement that the entire territorial issue with Japan could be resolved. This was the background to the flurry of attention after Abe’s call to Putin on June 24 that preparations had begun for Putin to visit by year’s end.

One response in the June 25 Sankei Shimbun was that Russia was trying to split Japan from Europe and America, recognizing its less onerous sanctions, and it would not let its international isolation and need for Japan to balance China and to prevent overdependence on China for the development of the Russian Far East lead to signs of weakness in dealing with the territorial issue. This article was not optimistic.

Hakamada Shigeki in the July 2 issue of Sankei Shimbun (Seiron) questioned whether an invitation to Putin to visit Japan by year’s end would be appropriate. He noted that just after the G7 summit Defense Minister Shoigu ordered Russian forces to double their military equipment on Etorofu and Kunashiri, warning about Japan’s increased military budget and its demands for the return of the islands. Hakamada quoted Nezavisimaya Gazeta of June 10 as saying that Russia had no hope for talks with Japan, as for the first time it was reported that the military build-up is directed against Japan. Yet, on June 19, Putin asserted that all issues with Japan could be resolved and Russia has high hopes. Abe spoke with him by phone on June 24, and it was reported (although not officially confirmed) that Putin would visit this year. At a time when Russia is infringing on the sovereignty of other countries, Hakamada warned that Japan would be criticized by the other G7 countries. After all, it should be most critical, given its territorial question and the prospect that China would escalate the Senkaku question into the Ryukyu question. Hakamada attributed Abe’s motives to: 1) resolving the territorial issue; 2) blocking Russia and China from drawing together; and 3) maintaining relations of trust with Putin. He questioned how realistic these goals are: citing a Russia who calls the territorial talks just a “performance,” (if Putin were to make concessions, this would be political suicide) suggesting that Russia’s real intention is to drag out the talks and get Japan to make the first compromises; arguing that Russia seeks to split Japan from the G7, causing distrust in Japan; and that Merkel was supposed to have good personal relations with Putin, but then realized that a soft posture was taken as a sign of weakness. Given the poor state of relations between Europe/the United States and Russia and the importance of Japan-US strategic relations, Hakamada questions the suitability of inviting Putin to visit Japan this year. On July 24, Sankei reported that Medvedev is planning his third trip since 2010 to the islands, is insistent on their significance for national defense, speaks of the lively phase of increasing the military infrastructure there, and is buttressed by announcement of a new spending plan for development of the Kurile Islands in 2016-2025—all in the midst of plans for Putin’s visit to Japan.

Japanese papers discussed the schedule of NSC head Yachi Shotaro going to Russia in July to meet with Nikolai Patrushev, Foreign Minister Kishida going there later, the two leaders meeting in a third country (perhaps at the United Nations) in the fall, and Putin visiting afterwards. Yomiuri Shimbun in an editorial on June 28 suggested that given bad relations with the European Union and United States, Putin would be reluctant to worsen ties with Japan and made clear its support for more dialogue after headlining a June 24 article with “Progress in Japan-Russian Relations Expected.” Its article on July 5 saw Abe’s foreign policy as chasing “two rabbits” in the United States and Russia. Indeed, it indicated that many leaders in the European Union, but not Obama, agree with Abe that it is necessary to keep dialogue with Russia going in order to prevent it from joining with China, jointly strengthening anti-Japan activity and destabilizing Asia. Looking back to the Abe-Obama summit, it observes that Abe forcefully made the case that dialogue with Putin will continue and surprised not a few American officials, who called for toughening sanctions. The article explains that: 1) Abe has a strong desire to resolve the territorial question; 2) the worldview of his advisors is realist based on balance of power; and 3) without damaging the US alliance, Abe is determined to make Japan an independent player in international society. Even so, the article ends with doubt that next May at the Ise Shima summit there will be a G8 instead of a G7.

Later Japanese media attention regarding Russia focused on the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meetings in Ufa, Sino-Russian relations, and Medvedev’s plan to visit the disputed islands. A statement on history at the BRICS summit stressed not distorting the results of history and the need to defend the fruits of victory and international justice, Asahi Shimbun noted on July 10, while pointing to sharp differences among the members leaving in doubt how much they agreed with Russia. A Sankei Shimbun article of June 30 commented on resistance within Russia to the announced plan to lease 115,000 hectares in the Zabaikal region to Chinese enterprises for as long as 49 years, demonstrating that despite the honeymoon with China, Russian alarm about Chinese migrants to the sparsely settled area of the Russian Far East and East Siberia is tenacious. One party official said that after 20 years the governor of the area would be Chinese, and opponents also called this a “Trojan horse.” Yet, it was noted that with large-scale out-migration in the area, there was a lot of vacant land. Finally, on July 24, Asahi Shimbun asked whether talk of a third visit by Medvedev to the islands would set back Japan-Russia talks. Noting that Putin was absent at the occasion where this issue was raised, it points to the visit of Russia’s health minister on July 18 to Shikotan as a sign that within the Russian leadership some are trying to scuttle talks on returning islands and concludes that it will be difficult to avoid a halt to the talks. The seesaw images of diplomacy with Russia are never-ending.

On August 4, Jijicomm reported that on July 25 the governor of Sakhalin (following the decision on July 23 for a new 10-year development plan) had offered Japan a chance to participate in joint projects for the development of the Kurile Islands and pointedly added that if Japan did not want to do so, he would turn to South Korea. With Putin’s visit to Japan hanging in the air, the source expressed concern that this would affect relations. Also on August 4 in Jiji tsushin there was a report that Russia had decided on a law to offer citizens a hectare each for the development of its Far East. The article posited the goal to be an increase in population in the Northern Territories and elsewhere, linking this to heightened patriotism and territorial nationalism in response to the Crimean annexation and the seventieth anniversary celebration of the end of WWII. It, too, found a connection to the new development plan and to Medvedev’s announced August visit to the islands, expressing concern that this would cast a shadow on plans for Putin’s visit to Japan.

In the July/August issue of Kaigai jijo, Nagoshi Kenro put relations in the context of Russian thinking about history, recalling the May 9 commemoration and previous May 9 occasions as well as looking ahead to the September 3 seventieth anniversary in Beijing. In this context, he found little basis for optimism on Putin’s thinking about Japan. First, he highlighted the rise of nationalism, in which reference to Japan’s past militarism is now invoked in harmony with China, in contrast to the 2015 occasion. Nagoshi sees this having a negative impact on talks over the islands against the background of “spouts of a new cold war.” Second, he stresses the weight given in Russia to Yalta and the outcome of WWII as the foundation of the world order, which is being endangered as is UN Security Council centered “international law,” by what is seen as US policy backed by Japan, while Russia is leaning one-sidedly to China in a manner unpromising for a shared geopolitical understanding. Third, Nagoshi notes the rehabilitation of Stalin that is accompanying commemorative events, as public support for him has risen from 27 percent to 45 percent in seven years and criticism of his achievements has fallen from 43 to 20 percent just from 2010. Earlier, some in Japan had taken hope from negative assessments of Stalin that it would be easier for Russian leaders to disown his glorification of taking four islands from Japan if not his rationale for breaking the treaty of neutrality and entering the war versus Japan.

Nagoshi also describes dark clouds hanging over talks on the territorial issue. He is careful to note that Abe waited until nearly the last moment to decide not to attend the May 9 festivities. Having received the invitation in the fall of 2014, Abe waited to the end of April just before traveling to the United States to make his decision, while explaining that this did not signify a change in his Russian policy. The article leaves no doubt that US pressure was the reason given, but Abe’s visit to Washington, the strengthening of the alliance, and his visit to Ukraine in June reflected to Russia its part in containment. Putin’s language, it concludes, has reverted to that of the Soviet Union on the war and Japanese militarism and influenced by the “honeymoon” with China. Nagoshi argues that this will have an influence on policy towards Japan. He traces comments of specialists from the sixtieth anniversary heading in this direction, points to language by leaders at the time of the sixty-fifth anniversary as growing more hard line, and warns of State Duma rhetoric about making September 3 the victory day over Japan in line with China’s day of celebration. When Putin joins Xi on this September 3, Nagoshi fears a further setback to talks on the islands. Given Russia’s economic difficulties and desire to split the coalition against it, he explains Putin’s hopeful language on June 20, but he is gloomy due to Russia’s historical narrative.

Japanese-Chinese Relations

Yachi Shotaro also figures heavily in coverage of relations with China during this time frame, which gathered steam in mid-July. Earlier in the July issue of Toa, Takagi Seiichiro had asked how to stabilize Japan-US-China relations, emphasizing that Japan needed to picture the triangularity of its situation. One form it could take is two versus one with China the outlier, which has reason to try to split the alliance, but Takagi sees it missing that opportunity when it not only failed to capitalize on efforts by Hatoyama Yukio to forge a more equal triangle, but when its handling of the September 2010 collision in the East China Sea had the opposite effect, which was compounded by the way the alliance worked in the aftermath of the March 11 tsunami. Then, he notes, in April 2012, as part of the “rebalance,” the United States linked the pursuit of new defense guidelines with the hardening situation with the islands followed by the fall Sino-Japanese discord over Japan’s purchase of the Senkakus. The arrival of Abe strengthened this dyad, as Takagi traces in a detailed chronology. In turn, he depicts Sino-US relations shaken by China’s growing assertiveness after the global financial crisis raised its confidence, to which the United States after diminishing its role in Iraq and Afghanistan responded with the “rebalance.” As some Southeast Asian states sought a greater US role in response to China’s hardline unilateralism in the South China Sea, Sino-US relations suffered as Japan-US relations were boosted. Yet, to escape the Thucydides trap, Obama and Xi Jinping met in June 2013 in search of a “new type of major power relations.” Takagi asserts that Beijing’s aim was to continue pursuing its core interests while avoiding conflict with Washington, but the latter reacted negatively to use of Xi’s concept and looked for concrete actions. Instead, China’s behavior aroused further distrust, even as the two states found some areas of cooperation. Turning next to the Sino-Japanese leg of the triangle, he sees China trying to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington, getting Tokyo to doubt the US defense commitment and Washington to agree that Abe is trying to break up the postwar order. Yet, in Japan in April 2014, Obama sought to encourage Abe to improve relations with Xi, while Xi was feeling pressure to improve relations too. Standing its ground against Chinese pressure, Abe got a meeting with Xi at APEC in November and again in April 2015, but relations still do not suffice. Thus, Takagi concludes that this is an unstable triangle, due not to Japan-US opposition to China but to China’s actions, which reflect its internal situation not triangular dynamics.

On June 25, Ken Jimbo in Yomiuri Shimbun applauded the increasingly close Japan-US alliance after more than 20 years of patchwork responses in Japan’s security policy in the face of far-reaching changes in its security environment. He cited the possibility of a North Korean attack against US forces at sea and China’s increasing military superiority in the air and at sea (which in 5-10 years will leave Japan in a situation similar to what Taiwan is facing now). Strengthening the alliance is seen by him as important after Japan long benefited from the stability of the world order to emerge as an economic power. He argues that it should now feel a responsibility to contribute more to peacekeeping operations and also to “gray zone” situations.

A flurry of articles on July 17 and 18 analyzed Yachi Shotaro’s visit to China, noting that this was testing whether Abe should go for an occasion marking the seventieth year since the end of WWII on September 3 or thereabouts. Asahi Shimbun on the 17 of July noted that the dialogue between Yachi and Yang Jiechi, which in November 2014 had led to the Xi-Abe summit, was being renewed and again divisions on security and historical consciousness were forming with the expectation that Yang will visit Japan next. Yomiuri Shimbun attached more significance to the search for suitable handling of sensitive questions, remarking on July 17 that Yachi was trying to understand what Xi had in mind for September 3 and on July 18 that Abe was striving to curtail the international anti-Japan propaganda from China, while Xi prior to visiting the United States is appealing for improved relations with Japan. The paper warns that in both August and September there are sensitive anniversaries when the possibility exists of intensified anti-Japan propaganda. When they met in April, Xi had invited Abe. This was read as a sign that if Abe accepted, China’s posture toward Japan would soften. While Abe was weighing his options, he welcomed the opportunity to create an impression at home of improving relations with China. With this, Abe could raise his popularity, which has fallen due to the Diet deliberations on the security law. Yomiuri noted that Yachi was receiving unusual hospitality, including a meeting with Prime Minister Li Keqiang and intense media coverage—a sign of eagerness for Abe to come in September and of the need for closer economic ties at a time of great uncertainty for China’s stock markets. Abe’s attendance would allow China to bask in the role of war victor, Yomiuri added. In the following days, this newspaper showcased the arrest of hundreds of Chinese lawyers and the Chinese cyber attack on the United States, indicating that these could have an influence on Xi’s visit to the United States. On July 20, it explained that Beijing is striving to build a security and economic order centered on it, not on Washington.

Miura Ruri in Yomiuri Shimbun of July 21 explained why the law on the right of collective self-defense is necessary, given the possibility of a clash with China. She noted that in 1999 Japan already agreed in a law to collective self-defense in case of an incident on the Korean Peninsula; therefore, there is no dramatic change by Abe. As Japan’s environment has worsened from the time it feared a Soviet invasion with China now having no match except the United States, which following the Iraq War has stepped down from the sea of global policeman while its public opinion has been turning inward, the “rebalance” does not mean that the chances of involvement by the United States in the region have not decreased. This means that Japan must be ready for joint activity with the United States in the South China Sea. It must look to the possibility of a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait, keeping in mind that Chinese may attack Japanese department stores and factories and Chinese police may not provide protection. Miura asks Japanese to debate security issues, fearing that the lack of strategic thinking would shake the alliance, and to bear a suitable share of the burden given the expected long-term decline in US involvement in Asia.

On July 22, Tokyo Shimbun reported on an unusual article in Guofangbao introducing Yachi’s visit to China as paving the way for Abe to visit China and calling Yachi an important coordinator of relations with China. The article suggests that China would understand if Abe found it difficult to attend the parade and that it would be okay if his visit occurred around September 3. China appears to be pulling out all of the stops to entice Abe to visit at a time that commemorates the seventieth anniversary.

On July 30, Sankei carried an article on the warm treatment accorded Yachi in Beijing as the “key man” in Japanese diplomacy who is trusted by Abe. This is proof that Xi Jinping is now extremely polite to Abe, in contrast, it argues, even to the way he hosted Abe in November. The explanations offered are: Abe’s April trip to the United States to strengthen the alliance; Abe’s May 21 plan for Japan to spend USD 11 billion on Asian infrastructure; and the expected passage of new security laws in the Diet. Claiming that all of these steps and the joint Japan-US resolute opposition to China’s advance in the South and East China seas are successfully containing China, Xi has thus changed direction, positively striving for Abe to visit China in September. On the same day, however, Sankei reported that after cautiously avoiding mention of China as the reason for the new security laws as part of Abe’s pursuit of improved bilateral relations, he invoked the China “threat” as well as the North Korean missile threat in order to broaden understanding of the need for the law. On August 2, the same theme was raised in Asahi Shimbun, observing that Abe had tried not to arouse China more than necessary, but the need to point to threats has grown more urgent.

Japanese-South Korean Relations

In late June, a flurry of articles accompanied the June 22 events marking the fiftieth anniversary of the normalization of Japan-ROK relations. Already on May 31 an article in Yomiuri Shimbun on the meeting of defense ministers in Singapore after a four-year hiatus perceived a boost to relations. The Japanese side explained the Diet deliberations on a security law and repeated reassurances that the SDF would not be sent to Korean territory without prior agreement from Seoul. An overall message, reiterated when these leaders met with the US Secretary of Defense, was that it was necessary to send the right message to North Korea and to strengthen information sharing. Yet, Yomiuri bemoaned the absence of progress on Japan-ROK information sharing (GSOMIA), apart from the arrangement to go through the United States for information on North Korea, as well as the Korean reaction to Abe’s speech to Congress, which did not include an apology to Korea nor any reference to opposition in Korea to the UNESCO designation for Meiji era sites in Japan due to questions about forced Korean labor. Yomiuri concluded that it was hopeless to expect closer cooperation.

On June 21, Yomiuri carried a full page review of the tortuous half century of ties since normalization, concluding that things were looking up until Lee Myung-bak went to Takeshima in 2012, Park focused on “comfort women” after taking office, and anti-Japanese Korean attitudes spread to “hate Korea” in Japan, resulting in greatly increased distrust on both sides. The blame is all laid on the Korean side.

On June 22, it was somewhat more upbeat following an agreement on handling the UNESCO issue and a meeting of the foreign ministers as well as statements from Abe and Park, although a separate article on cultural ties argued that they had fallen far from their peak under earlier leaders and Korean signs are now focused on a surge of Chinese visitors, while “hate Korea” books stand in rows in Japan’s bookstores. On June 23, Yomiuri credited talks between Lee Byung-kee, Park’s chief of staff, and Yachi with advancing relations, noting John Kerry’s role when he visited Korea and the Korean fear of exclusion while watching Abe-Obama moves to strengthen ties. Yet, it warned that the conflict over “comfort women” continues with no summit. Another Yomiuri June 23 article observed that firms in Japan and South Korea had become more competitive with each other since the 2000s, citing shipbuilding, home electronics, and steel, and proposed that more cooperation would be useful in the face of China’s remarkable economic growth. Still another article that day put the burden on Korea for allowing prioritization of the past over the future, insisting on resolving history questions before looking ahead as citizens keep demonstrating.

On June 24, Yomiuri reported that on May 18 when Kerry visited Seoul he warned that if the ROK-Japan historical opposition continued, they would not be able to do a good job of opposing North Korea, as Foreign Minister Yun assured him that history and security would be separated. Yet, Yomiuri does not think that is happening, that the May 30 Singapore meetings led to real progress on GSOMIA, or that South Korea appreciates Japan’s role as the base for US troops in Korea. Resentment was noted about the June 11 joint Sino-South Korean statement opposing Japan’s militaristic invasion and colonial rule when Zhang Dejiang met a Saenuri Party representative. On security, the paper argues that Seoul looks to China to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear development. Thus, it doubts that Seoul really is following a two-track approach of separating history and security, and it is waiting for actions as well as words. On June 25, Yomiuri extended the argument that Seoul is leaning towards Beijing, arguing that this follows growing economic dependence on it (the China-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CK FTA) versus the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being one example) and a sense that both Beijing and Washington are making “love calls” to Seoul. Yet, Seoul awakened to its isolation from Washington and Tokyo, finally deciding in government and business circles it had better separate economics from history and territorial issues. Meanwhile, Abe is said by those close to him to have no special feelings for South Korea, leaving doubt that relations really will improve.

Asahi Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun had different takes on how to manage relations with Seoul, although both shared a pessimistic outlook. Asahi on June 23 pointed to the “comfort women” issue as the biggest concern, explaining that both sides have homework to do before there will be a summit. Two days later, Kimura Kan wrote in Asahi that two forces are driving the countries apart: public opinion and the courts. He stressed that courts in the two states take opposite views of whether individuals are due compensation or if that was resolved in 1965. Kimura wondered how the two states could reached a shared understanding. Sankei on June 23 put all the blame on Korea’s emotional diplomacy, but it argued that Korea is being forced to pay a rising price aware of its growing dependency on China, as what used to be dependency on Japan, e.g., for 40 percent of imports when the figure is now 10 percent, has turned to reliance on China. On June 25, Sankei doubted that Seoul could proceed with relying only on improved relations with China for peninsular security, pointing to Koreans who recognize the need for balance and the significance of Japan. In July, Sankei wrote extensively on this relationship, wondering whether Seoul’s enemy is North Korea or Japan, arguing repeatedly that South Korean media are silent about “comfort women” for US forces and for South Korean troops in the Vietnam War, and that now under US pressure Seoul is beginning to soften toward Tokyo. It saw Seoul on the ropes and pressed for it to drop the history issue and join on security. On June 16, this approach was treated as the starting point of a “mature relationship.”

On July 5, Park Cheolhee wrote in Tokyo Shimbun about the ironic results of Japan-China-South Korea diplomacy. He sees countries as recognizing the unfavorable outcomes and now ameliorating relations. Xi Jinping, he asserts, may have had cause to be suspicious of Abe’s historical consciousness, but China’s hardline behavior accelerated the process of turning Japan into a normal country—exactly what China did not want and what Abe sought. Park links this realization to China’s move now to improve bilateral relations some. He notes too that China found it convenient that South Korea and Japan had a big gap in historical consciousness and sought to forge a common front with Seoul, but Seoul found that it only ended up hurting relations with the United States while playing into Beijing’s strategy. Recently, Seoul has softened its policy to Tokyo some, separating the history issue from security, economic, and cultural cooperation, after it realized the earlier approach was not advantageous for its relations with the United States, which could get the impression that it was one-sidedly leaning to China. Criticizing Japan more than is necessary results in acting on China’s behalf. Finally, Park points to Japan’s strategic error in failing to separate South Korea from China by emphasizing shared democratic values with the Koreans instead of historical consciousness and comfort women. Indeed, even as Japan tried to compromise with China, its posture continued to be unyielding to South Korea. Thus, Abe assisted China in splitting Japan and South Korea, but Japan is softening its posture now, and Park expects accelerated moves to improve ties with Seoul. In looking back at the effects of flawed diplomacy, Park offers hope of lessons learned.

On July 30, Asahi Shimbun carried an article insisting that the “Japan wave” is alive and well in South Korea. High school students make it their second language after English, reaching 636,000 in comparison to 340,00 for Chinese. Japanese animations are having an impact, including related collectibles bought for May 5, Children’s Day. Japanese beer and sake as well as novels are popular. In short, people do not hate Japan. Rather, the article conveys a positive outlook despite the historical controversies.

Tsukamoto Shoichi in the August Toa took a close look at how the fiftieth anniversary had been marked and what lies ahead for Japan-ROK relations. He noted the oddity of Park’s June 11 Washington Post interview that Seoul and Tokyo were in the final stages of their negotiations on the comfort women issue, when that was not the case, suggesting that this was an image intended for US audiences just prior to her postponement of the visit due to MERS in Korea. When this image was no longer needed, it was clear, Tsukamoto argued, that Seoul’s position was hard. Reviewing the clash over UNESCO and the agreement finally reached, Tsukamoto finds Park’s omission of any direct reference to the “comfort women” issue as a “thaw” at the top, trying to wipe away the Japanese impression that Korea is moving the goal posts on the history issue. Foreign Minister Yun praised Japan’s leadership role in international society, going as far as possible in appealing to the Japanese public. The article explains that Seoul is isolated by Tokyo’s relations with Washington and Beijing. It is somewhat upbeat that a China-Japan-ROK meeting will take place this fall and that Park and Abe will meet then and strive to resolve the “comfort women” issue beforehand, pointing to public opinion in both countries in favor of a summit. Yet, also noted is that neither side is in a hurry, and what they want to occur in advance is not in sync. The conclusion is that Park’s popularity at home may decide the future of relations, hinting that the recent drop is a positive force.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Warning that upcoming elections mean that action on TPP must occur soon, an editorial in Yomiuri Shmbun on August 2 mentioned the dairy disputes in the late July talks that failed to achieve a breakthrough, but its main focus was US insistence on 12-year protection for pharmaceutical property rights, as opposed to Australia and New Zealand’s advocacy of less than 5 years and Japan’s suggestion of 8 years. It notes that Japan and the United States are leading the negotiations, and they need to calmly and constructively continue to strive for an agreement before elections make compromise difficult.