Country Report: Japan (October 2014)

Hopes for Japanese diplomacy had grown faint in the late summer of 2014. Russian relations had stalled, as Russia flexed its muscles with rare military exercises on the islands in dispute. North Korea was delaying a report on the abductees, which Japan had been expecting in the middle of September. Possible meetings on the sidelines of APEC in November between Abe and Xi Jinping or Park Geun-hye rest on various conditions that remained in doubt. Tensions in the South China Sea highlighted the military nature of the situation, putting the United States in the forefront. By the end of September, TPP negotiations with the United States also had hit an impasse. Items over this period reflect these troubling conditions, but they also convey optimism that belies Japan’s actual situation—even toward ties to Russia and North Korea. The Japanese media often leave aside the big picture by making a single, narrow development the exclusive focus of discussion. Whereas Southeast Asia and the East China Sea were less of a preoccupation than before, Northeast Asian bilateral ties had been turned into short-term challenges little connected to fundamental issues.

Japanese media spent considerable time looking back to the period ending in 1945 as new records of the Showa Emperor were published, accusations of lies about the “comfort women” issue gained wide currency, and analogies with WWI appeared frequently. The revisionists, led by Abe, stayed on the offensive, seeking to destroy Asahi Shimbun for foisting a myth about Japan’s forcible recruitment of sex slaves on Japan and the world after the newspaper acknowledged that it had perpetuated one false account. Yet that newspaper continued to raise sensitive issues, as in an August 28 article asking in relation to the 69th anniversary of the war’s end, the question of why Japan had gone to war. While agreeing that one could not deny that liberating Asia was a reason, it argued that this was not high on the list, at the top of which was securing resources, starting with oil, in Southeast Asia. On August 15, Asahi Shimbun had chosen to feature the story of Togo Kazuhiko, recalling his family history as the grandson of a Class-A war criminal who served as foreign minister at the beginning and end of the Pacific War and the son of a foreign minister, while also showcasing his thinking on how Japan must figure out for itself its war responsibility. Togo recounted that he was asked in the second half of the 1990s by a right-wing Diet member of the LDP why the Foreign Ministry of Japan did not criticize the Tokyo War Tribunal. Accepting this verdict was the start of postwar Japan and being part of international society, he explained. Given the psychology in the United States and China, Togo warns that such a response would end up leading to Japan isolating itself and losing in a cultural war. Challenging such insular thinking with praise of the 1995 Murayama statement for serving as the starting point for Japan to reach its own judgment on this historical era, which Asahi highlighted as the headline for this page 2 article, Togo frames the issue in terms of its impact on international relations.

With the start of the second cabinet of this Abe administration, Yomiuri Shimbun on September 4 carried views on what it should accomplish. Kitaoka Shinichi stressed greater defense solidarity with the United States. He contrasted previous disarmed “negative pacifism” with Abe’s “proactive pursuit of peace,” and indicated that at a time of crisis, according to the new guidelines, Japan would not be prohibited from acting in solidarity with its ally. Objecting to the custom left from the 1955 system of oft-rotating cabinet members, regardless of performance, Kitaoka was pleased that, at least, Foreign Minister Kishida has retained his post. Turning to three countries in the forefront of Japan’s diplomacy after the United States, Kitaoka held out hope for talks with China after former Prime Minister Fukuda’s meeting with Xi Jinping and for relations with South Korea if ties with China show some movement, but he was most specific about Russia (writing a month before the announcement of a meeting between Abe and Putin in Beijing during the APEC summit), noting that Japan has taken a different approach than the United States and Europe and drawing a parallel with 1989, when after sanctions had been imposed on China, Brent Snowcroft, was the first to visit China, accomplishing essential behind-the-scenes diplomacy. This time Japan can fill that role, he reasons. More on Russia appears in a later section.

Sino-Japanese-US Relations

Japanese commentaries on Sino-US relations stress US gullibility, insisting that the Obama administration had the illusion that China respects the existing international order until it awakened to reality and to the importance of supplementing declining US power with a spider’s web of bilateral alliances in order to maintain superiority versus China. Sankei Shimbun warns that there is a big price to pay in such courting of China, as in the case of David Cameron bringing more than 100 British business leaders to China with him late last year, while delaying responding to its policies. Such arguments about the United States are a mainstay in other newspapers too.

On September 29, two Sankei articles on culture demonstrated that the gap with the United States has widened. In one piece, the United States is faulted for looking down on Islamic countries. With them at the forefront of international crises and Washington untrustworthy in managing these challenges, Japan’s trust in US-led security moves is called into question. The other article seized upon the August 5 acknowledgment of Asahi Shimbun that it had erred in reporting on the “comfort women” issue to insist that Japan must pursue a public diplomacy war in the main battleground city Washington DC, where Japan’s presence has diminished. The article makes three basic points. First, the negative US understanding about Japan’s “historical revisionism” is due to fiction, attributed to Syngman Rhee, who spread the myth that his country was a victor in the war against Japan. Progressives in Japan reinvigorated this thinking, damaging Japan’s national interest. Second, the way to counter this view is not to restrain politicians from making extreme remarks about the war era or going to the Yasukuni Shrine, but to intensify attacks on those critical of such behavior. In doing this, Japan must appeal to opinion leaders in the United States, not just the pro-Japan types, even if restoring Japan’s image will be difficult. Third, Japan must show that it is in accord with the currents in the values of international society, as part of its strategy stressing its respect for women. This perspective treats South Korea as Japan’s main antagonist, assumes that Japan can persuade Americans and others that its “revisionist” thinking about the war has been unfairly maligned by falsifications, and sets a course for public diplomacy that widens the gap with the United States and isolates Japan in international society.

While recognizing that China’s rise is leading to a new regional order, Asahi Shimbun on August 12 puts the blame on Japan for failing, unlike the United States and South Korea, to conduct a strategic dialogue with China. Calling on Japan’s leadership to exercise caution on Yasukuni visits and on China to forego using Japan’s historical actions as material for international propaganda, the newspaper suggests that an even-handed approach can be achieved. This view bucked the tide in Japan’s media.

On July 28 Yomiuri Shimbun posted an article on the “China Dream” as China’s wish to rule the world as a hegemon. Rather than “China rising,” its rejuvenation is sought and is linked to a century of “humiliation.” In this narrative, in which the war with Japan is seen as not yet over, history builds national identity consciousness and a way to revive victim consciousness in order to legitimate the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Reviewing various writings that seek to understand China, this article weaves together a narrative about a clash of histories with no end in sight. None of the idealism expressed by Asahi Shimbun is apparent in this presentation.

Sino-South Korean Relations

An image of China and South Korea ganging up on Japan with the destructive force of their propaganda war was conveyed in the September issue of Chuo koron. On the historical issue, they are playing the “victim” card, aiming to win sympathy in both Europe and the United States. In 2015, China seeks to celebrate the 70th anniversary of victory in the war against Japan, entangling South Korea in a clear anti-Japanese declaration. Even as newspapers in South Korea warned that calm calculation of the national interest is necessary, this is not what is occurring, the article concludes, adding an appeal for stronger Japanese counterattacks against this propaganda war, even as it warns that some of Japan’s media are following the lead of Western media in criticizing the Japanese government. The implications are that: criticism of Japan’s rightward drift under Abe is an attack on Japan, and the United States is inclined to join China and South Korea, and Japan must fight harder. However, readers find no indication of what a besieged Japan should do except to feel greater resentment. In highlighting that the “comfort women” issue has been based on false evidence and is being used to bash Japan, this and the following issue of Chuo koron and Japanese media in general found proof for their narrative of injustice. This question served to cast doubt, indirectly, on the entire critique of Japan’s conduct in the war period.

In the September issue of Gaiko Kawashima, Shin discussed Sino-South Korean ties at a crossroads, suggesting that behind the facade of their “honeymoon” Park is giving the impression of rethinking her policy emphasizing China. The reasons for stressing China are close economic ties and the North Korean question, he adds, but South Korea is focused on a G2 in contrast to Japan’s notion of a multipolar order centered on the United States. After all, when it comes to North Korea, China and the United States wield the most influence. These differences are reflected in survey data from the two on which country will lead world politics with South Koreans much more focused on China gaining a leadership role along with the United States. Yet, Obama has shifted away from accepting China’s terminology for a new type of great power relations, which had buttressed Park’s position, and Xi has turned to regional diplomacy with an eye to excluding the United States. The result is that when Xi went to Seoul, Washington was concerned about a change in the regional architecture in China’s direction. It now fears that the historical dispute between Seoul and Tokyo creates the wedge that drives this transformation. China is not seeking joint management of North Korea with South Korea, but revival of the Six-Party Talks. Looking closely at the joint statement of July 3, Kawashima finds in the Chinese draft calls for deepening relations and for a new currency agreement on won-yuan usage, as well as cooperation in the arena of Asia, befitting China’s plans. The theme of a shared Asian dream was added to that of a new security order just for Asians, a new development bank for Asia not under US and Japanese dominance, and an FTA making China and South Korea together the nucleus of regionalism. This wide-ranging assertive agenda advocated by Xi in Seoul gave Park reason to pause.

Kawashima recognizes that there was some pushback by Seoul against China’s effort to focus on the history issue and Japan, as China seeks an historical united front with Russia and South Korea as the anniversary year 2015 nears. Korean opposition to Japan’s right of collective self-defense is welcome in China and serves to damage the US alliance framework, but the image of history China sought to convey is that of Japan as the common enemy of the Chinese and Korean people, which went too far. The thrust of Xi’s speech at Seoul National University clarified that this visit was a critical step in his strategy for drawing South Korea into China’s regional orbit at the expense of its ally and Japan. Given the harsh nature of this message and the reality of Seoul’s quest for a more balanced geopolitical role, South Koreans must now mull over the meaning of China’s offer is Kawashima’s rather indefinite conclusion.

Japanese-South Korean Relations

At the end of the September the meeting of Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN gathering drew varied responses from Japan’s newspapers. Yomiuri Shimbun saw little change in Park’s oblique reference to the “comfort women,” when she did not use the term in New York, but spoke of sexual violence against women in wartime as a violation of human rights. Acknowledging that this was more restrained that the previous year’s statement on the issue by Foreign Minister Yu—a person vilified as a hardliner in Japan–, the fact that what should be a bilateral issue is raised at the UN assembly complicates the matter, says the editorial on September 28. It assesses former Prime Minister Mori’s meeting with Park on September 19 as having changed nothing, since she made resolution of the “comfort women” issue a precondition for a summit. It refers to her stance as “anti-Japan” (hannichi) and declares that she should understand that it only arouses a negative reaction in the Japanese public. At the same time, the editorial recognizes that South Korea recently has tried to be more forward-looking on issues other than historical memory, pointing to background factors such as signs of improvement in Sino-Japanese relations, the reopening of North Korean-Japanese negotiations, and diplomatic pressure from the United States, as well domestic pressure from some of the South Korean media and business circles. The impasse in bilateral relations has had a negative impact on coordination in North Korean policy, defense cooperation, investment by Japanese firms, and Japanese tourism to South Korea as well as other economic relations and cultural and sports exchanges. Offering no hint that Japan is in any way responsible or that the cost is not being born mainly by the South Korean side, Yomiuri Shimbun calls on Park to unilaterally back down. Indeed, its August 16 editorial in response to her August 15 speech, had insisted that she stop making the relationship only about “comfort women” and listen to growing criticism that she boost cooperation on North Korean policy and in economic areas. There is no effort to address how Abe has aroused Park or what Japan could do to meet her part way.

Japanese newspaper coverage of South Korea drew close attention in August when Kato Tatsuya, bureau chief of Sankei Shimbun, posted an August 3 column implying that Park Geun-hye had been out of sight on the fateful day of the Sewol sinking on April 16 due to an assignation with a man, then was charged with defaming Park and not allowed to leave the country. Yomiuri Shimbun on August 14 asked if this was meant to put pressure on critical reporting on South Korea. Already on July 27 Sankei had responded to what Asahi Shimbun had captioned the “hate Korea boom” with a defense of a book it had published explaining that the sinking of the Sewol was a result of the national character of the Korean people. On September 26, it reacted to Park’s speeches on August 15 and in New York as toning down criticism of Japan but without any change in historical consciousness; she is unyielding is the conclusion, leading to an even more pessimistic outlook than Yomiuri had taken.

Naturally, the most hopeful response in the daily newspapers came from Asahi, which on August 16 highlighted Park’s forward-looking wish for improved relations and noted that Japanese administrations had repeatedly accepted consciousness of wartime responsibility. A basis for improved relations exists, its editorial added, in the 2012 breakthrough draft that almost was adopted. The Japanese ambassador would apologize to the victims (“comfort women”) and they would receive state budget assistance. On September 12, the newspaper found a basis for optimism also in signs that a trilateral summit, begun in 2008 and including China, could resume in November. On September 20 Asahi’s positive interpretation of Mori’s meeting with Park concluded with a quote from Japanese government officials. “South Korea is quickly softening its position.” Then on September 26 the paper emphasized new expectations in Japan of improving relations. The atmosphere had changed, as seen in Park’s omission of a direct reference to the “comfort women.” Whereas rightist newspapers put the entire onus on Park to accept Abe’s revisionism no matter how far it goes, Asahi argued that Park’s overtures should be met with a return to past Japanese responsiveness. Its editorial on September 9 called for no more needless provocations, while overcoming the sense of danger in this relationship on the eve of the 50th anniversary of normalization. The divide between the Sankei and Asahi outlook is nothing new, but Yomiuri’s harsh stand is indicative of the hurdle ahead.

Japan-North Korea Relations

Sankei Shimbun on August 2 presented a view of Japan as hopelessly mired in never-ending historical friction, pointing to the month of August, especially August 15, as the time when memory is most intense. It bemoaned the fact that Chinese and South Koreans from their early education are steeped in a very one-sided consciousness of history—even more so under the distorted history education strengthened by Xi—while Japanese only faintly recall the Great War. Recalling the Kanemaru Shin led delegation to North Korean in 1989, the article warns that as people anticipate that the abductee talks will proceed and normalization of relations will be on the agenda, they should expect that the North will again put reparations on the table as its final objective. In this case too, history is being used to Japan’s detriment and at odds with how Sankei would like history to be understood and made a factor in policy. In this warning, Japan is leaving itself vulnerable with false expectations of the North.

When North Korea did not deliver the list of abductees at the expected time in early September and suggested that the report should be accompanied by a new round of relaxation of sanctions, the response was harsh. Sankei Shimbun on September 14 asserted that North Korea had to provide a full list immediately and, naturally, Japan must not negotiate on the basis of a partial list with reduced sanctions and economic assistance. Not only should Japan not damage ties with the United States and South Korea in managing this question, it should deal with the North with both pressure and dialogue. On this issue, however, it was at odds with Yomiuri Shimbun.

Whereas the main justification for Japan’s overtures to North Korea has been the desire of the families of abductees (confirmed and suspected) to bring finality to their suffering, the government plan to send a representative to Pyongyang drew their alarm, as reported on October 2 by Sankei Shimbun. Noticing that no report had yet been provided as promised, the families doubted that any news would be forthcoming and warned that a visit would be used by North Korean propaganda, as they charged was already happening in the Japanese media. On September 29, such a visit had been proposed by North Korean officials who met in Shenyang with their Japanese counterparts, but the article raised doubts about whether in going forward Japan would be maintaining a balance between dialogue and pressure. The paper’s editorial on October 1 made it clear that the ball is in Pyongyang’s court and that no visit or lifting of sanctions should occur without concrete progress. Alarm may have risen that Abe was motivated by more than the return of abductees in his diplomacy.

Tokyo Shimbun was more willing to let talks proceed, but it called for sounding out the North Koreans before proceeding with direct talks in Pyongyang (as opposed to the meetings in third countries) and expressed suspicion that North Korea would offer information in dribbles while demanding that more sanctions be lifted and humanitarian assistance provided. Yomiuri Shimbun also raised doubts, but paid more attention to the benefit of directly questioning the members of the North Korean investigating commission. Despite setbacks to hopes for fall progress with both North Korea and Russia—Abe’s twin initiatives—, they were likely to proceed. After the ARF meetings where the Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers met, Yomiuri on August 12 reported that South Korea’s alarm was growing, but it added cryptically that by Japan and North Korea drawing closer they may have some slight impact on international relations in East Asia. More than abductees are on its mind.

On October 2, Yomiuri Shimbun carried an article on the rapid improvement of Russo-North Korean relations, noting that North Korea’s foreign minister had just arrived in Russia for an 11-day stay—the first visit of the Kim Jong-un period. The article concluded that the North is not only improving relations with Japan, but is also hurrying to boost ties with Russia after Russian exports rose 49 percent in 2013 to close to USD 100 million. Energy supplies and joint development of minerals are on the agenda, including meetings with local officials from the Russian Far East. Two main points emerge: the North’s effort to escape from China’s orbit and the notion that its pursuit of Japan is comparable to its pursuit of Russia, leaving uncertain if Japan is also inclined to set aside denuclearization and to increase economic assistance that will help the North to realize its byongjin objectives of both guns and butter.

Japan-Russia Relations

For half a year Japanese media were preoccupied with whether Putin would visit in the fall, as Abe had invited him to do at Sochi, or not, given the fallout from trouble over Ukraine. The story played as a quintessential drama in Japanese foreign policy. On the one hand, Japan’s leadership was eager for the visit to go forward, playing up its potential as if it would have far-reaching consequences for national interests and national identity. As in the wait for Gorbachev to visit in the years prior to his arrival in 1991, the countdown to 2000 with Yeltsin, and similar narratives, papers did not hesitate to embellish the significance of every development during the long wait. On the other hand, despite the long odds against the visit, which kept growing from the Crimean annexation to the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner to the Russian armed intervention in East Ukraine, officials kept giving the impression that they were ready to go forward if it were not for pressure applied by the United States.

An August 2 article in Nihon Keizai Shimbun describes US pressure against Putin coming to Japan following the downing of the Malaysian airline over Ukraine, noting that on July 31 Joe Bide had telephoned Abe and then just an hour later the White House made the contents public. On July 29, John Kerry had called Foreign Minister Kishida, likewise expressing thanks for the additional sanctions Japan was applying. With the EU hardening its position toward Putin, the paper acknowledged that his visit in the fall had become more difficult, but it explained this as “saving the face of the United States” and only a postponement to which Russia should agree. Anxious that Russia is losing patience and criticizing Japan more harshly, readers easily infer that Japan has been put in a difficult spot less by Putin than by the United States.

Coverage in August and September dwelt on the breakdown in relations. On August 17, Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Russian military exercises on the disputed islands, described as a big blow to trust. Following Putin’s visit to Crimea, these exercises are further evidence that Russia has no intention of yielding on territorial disputes. They are seen as connected to the russification of the islands. The article notes that in Japan-France defense consultations, Defense Minister Onodera had appealed to stop the sell of the Mistral-class ships to Russia (which could be used in the Russian Far East), and such efforts should continue. Indeed, it concludes that Japan should not be moved by Russian overtures and should sustain cooperation with Europe and the United States through strategic diplomacy that does not allow both invasions of territory and changes in the status quo with the use of force in the background.

Kimura Hiroshi on August 8 in Sankei Shimbun reminds readers of the end of the post-Cold War international order based on the impermissibility of using force to alter territorial boundaries, concluding that a new Cold War has arrived, whose rules will be different but still requiring the United States to assume principal responsibility. Faulting Obama for relaxing Bush’s firm policy toward Russia in the mistaken belief that Medvedev, who (among other transgressions) twice showed his true colors to Japan by visiting the disputed island of Kunashiri, was a liberal, he blamed both US weakness and Japanese who have given Putin the impression that Japan will easily yield on the territorial issue. The headline charges that Obama is at fault for permitting the collapse of the postwar order, while Kimura renews attacks on all who would compromise on territory as encouraging Putin’s aggressive stance. On October 1, Kimura wrote for the same Seiron column in Sankei, expressing alarm that Putin’s right-hand man Sechin is coming to Japan. He accused Japan of double standards in not being very eager in its sanctions over the forced seizure of another country’s land, but only serious about its own territory. Along with Japan’s weak response after Medvedev’s repeat visit to Kunashiri in July 2012 with Abe bringing a dog to Putin in Sochi, this sends the wrong message to China and South Korea. Given Japan’s dependence on the United States since it is not able with its own military force alone to defend its territory, Kimura expresses concern about the fact it does not necessarily support US sanctions on Russia and risks being a pariah in the G7.

An exchange between Nishitani Tomoaki and Togo Kazuhiko in the October issue of Sekai focused on Japan’s role in moving the world toward stability in Ukraine. With an eye to the quadrangle of Sino-Russian-US-Japanese relations and eschewing an ideological approach, it insisted that Japan’s August 5 sanctions against Russia had been a formality—far different from US and European sanctions, but they failed to satisfy Putin, who on May 21 after visiting China insisted that he wanted to resolve the territorial issue with Japan but was uncertain if Japan did. Noting that Germany had changed its position on sanctions after the downing of the Malaysian airplane, it argued that Germany would not have done so otherwise, given its vested interests in economic relations, and had Ukraine not broken the ceasefire on June 10, this result would not have occurred. Rejecting the picture drawn by the United States of evil in the East, supported by Putin, and justice in the West, the article explains the reasons why Russia has a special relationship with eastern Ukraine, the backbone of the Ukrainian economy, including its defense industry so closely connected to Russia.

At the core of the problem is the fact that NATO has moved east, driving Russia to turn to the East, and offering Japan an opening with Russia, which Hashimoto in 1997 with his call for “Eurasian diplomacy.” As Russia further reacted to NATO moving into the three Baltic states and a possible extension to Georgia and Ukraine, it was drawn closer to China, but it was uneasy about turning to China alone. This opened the door to a strong, independent policy by Japan. Even now, Russia wants to avoid energy dependence on China alone with pipelines that lead only there.

Given that the United States has allowed democratic idealism to sway its response as it focused on the Middle East and China and lost sight of Russian power after the Cold War, the time has come for Japan to rethink its policy, recognizing that Russia’s economy remains quite strong with large foreign currency reserves and high energy prices, Japanese were told. Japan should recognize that the world is changing, avoid demonizing Russia, and be independent of the United States in its policy, thinking geopolitically. Togo Kazuhiko argues that this was how Japan was proceeding under Hashimoto in 1997-1998 with Russia and even with China. Then Washington was not anti-Russia, but Obama is now anti-Putin, who in Sochi favored Abe over Xi, lunching with him and building trust. With the Yasukuni Shrine visit, Abe lacks relations of trust with Obama. Japan has entered a new era of war and peace, and the people are totally unprepared. While Japanese are talking about Putin’s military build-up on the disputed islands, it really is aimed at China. Russia is signaling that Japan should take a forward-looking posture. It is particularly eager now for better economic relations. In light of the feeling that Japan’s diplomacy is at an impasse, Russia offers the most hope for a breakthrough, which would be a plus for other possibilities.

Yomiuri Shimbun on September 25 emphasized the weak nature of Japan’s sanctions announced on September 24 and the importance it attaches to continuing dialogue with Russia, adding that only superficially was Japan’s response parallel to those of the EU and United States. Reluctant to abandon its plan for Putin to visit in the fall, Japan imposed financial sanctions when it there was no other option, in light of US pressure and the importance of the alliance. The article quotes a reassurance from a high Japanese official that the possibility is low that these sanctions would have any effect on the Russian economy. There was no intention to impact Russian oil and gas firms. Again, the focus is on blaming the United States, while saying little about why Russia might deserve to be sanctioned or how a soft response may abet aggression. As in the period 1985-2000 Moscow is viewed through a narrow bilateral prism.

In contrast, on the same day Sankei Shimbun reported that Sergei Ivanov, a high official close to Putin, had visited Etorofu on September 24 to inspect the newly opened airport, thus strengthening Russia’s hold on land Japan considers its own. Noting that the new plan for the development of the Kurile Islands in 2016-25 calls for more than doubling funding compared to the 2007-15 plan, the article depicts Japan’s new sanctions as more serious, extending exports to Russia of military and dual-use technology and reflecting a decision of Japan’s NSC, but it also suggests that the sanctions would not have an influence on the continuation of dialogue. The next day this paper editorialized that sending a high official to the Northern Territories, which Russia illegally occupies, just after Abe’s birthday, after conducting military drills there is something Japan should not tolerate. Pointing out that in a telephone exchange on the 21st Abe had called for a meeting at the APEC summit and Putin had agreed, the editorial blamed Russia for damaging trust afterwards. It concluded with the warning that it may be an illusion to negotiate over territory with a state that has used force to seize land from Ukraine and that using the Russia “card” for the aim of containing China has become more difficult. Focusing on the two goals of regaining Japan’s territory and peacefully resolving the Ukraine question, it raised doubt about whether it would be possible to improve relations with Russia. A day later Sankei reported that at the UN, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had refused to meet Kishida, as officials complained that Japan’s new sanctions were an “unfriendly act.” Moreover, Defense Minister Shoigu was now scheduled to visit Etorofu as well. With Russia’s position hardening, Abe’s hopes for Putin appeared to be in doubt.

Waiting for Putin became such an obsession—parallel to earlier obsessions focused on Gorbachev and Yeltsin—that little else mattered in the summer of 2014. Articles asked how Russia was responding to new sanctions, what could Japan do to assure it, and how could US pressure be handled without causing undue damage to the alliance. The larger strategic context was usually lost. As Yomiuri Shimbun noted on September 11, discussing what former Prime Minister Mori had said in his meeting with Putin the day before, Abe’s wish was to do the least possible damage to Japan-Russia relations. Little mention was made of what Japan might achieve from a visit by Putin except some deal returning one or more of the four islands (analysis did not distinguish between various outcomes) and some statement to China (analysis did not explain the context of Sino-Russian relations). Treatment of the US stance and the impact on Japan-US relations was similarly simplistic. An exception was the September 22 Yomiuri Shimbun article, which reported that Russia was trying to split the G7. Sankei Shimbun took a more consistently realist posture, on September 8 arguing that despite Abe’s Brussels speech in May agreeing to a new partnership with NATO he did not attend the NATO summit on September 4-5 that discussed Ukraine, not wanting to offend Putin, given the illusion of him returning the islands. More forcefully than other papers, it warned that Putin is trying to split Japan from Europe and the United States and Abe, for no good strategic reason, encourages him.

Japan-Southeast Asian Relations

An article by Kawashima Shin in the October issue of Chuo koron summarized what many in Japan are saying is the four-way dynamic of China, the United States, Japan, and ASEAN. Xi Jinping’s doctrine, clearly articulated in May, is “Asia for the Asians,” a Chinese Monroe Doctrine, and insistence that China leads Asia’s security. This means dismissing ASEAN as the driver in regional cooperation, taking a hard line toward ASEAN as the time for the China-ASEAN FTA in 2015 approaches, and also looking down on Japan’s power. In response, not only is the United States solidifying ties with allies in the region, beginning with the alliance with Japan, it is solidifying a framework of regional cooperation centered on ASEAN. There is no doubt in such analyses that an era of polarization has arrived, caused by China’s strategic vision.

An article in Yomiuri shimbun on August 8 targeted Thailand as the country China is seeking to add to the pro-China ranks in ASEAN following the coup that had led the United States and Europe to distance themselves from the military government. In striving to build a high-speed railroad and other infrastructure, China is countering the mood elsewhere in ASEAN to tighten ties with Japan and the United States. This theme was developed in its August 10 article on the results of the ARF meeting. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) had won Thailand’s support as well as that of Cambodia, but Japan’s foreign minister criticized it amid reporting that it was at odds with the Asian Development Bank, in which the United States and Japan are the leading investors, and it would undermine environmentalism and transparency. Describing the just completed ASEAN foreign ministers gathering as a tug-of-war between China and the United States/ Japan, the newspaper on August 9 put the Philippines and Vietnam on one side and Cambodia and Laos on the other with Thailand leaning their way and host Myanmar somewhat the other way but not willing to take a stance on the South China Sea in the final declaration it issued.