ABE’S FOREIGN POLICY

ABE’S FOREIGN POLICY


Abe with a World-War II-style Japanese flag

Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “Abe became prime minister for a second time in December, after making a string of far-right campaign pledges to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and loosen certain restrictions on the armed forces. He also promised to be tougher on China than the previous government, the deeply unpopular and moderate Democratic Party of Japan, which was booted from office. But months into his term, Abe looks more like a pragmatist than a strident nationalist, focusing mainly on a new, and so far successful, economic policy to weaken the yen and spur inflation. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, February 20, 2013 :::]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “In terms of foreign policy, Abe aims to pursue an updated version of "value diplomacy," a principle he developed during his first term as prime minister from September 2006 to September 2007. The policy has been changed slightly to reflect the current increasingly severe security environment. The central idea of value diplomacy is to make a priority of building relationships with nations that share the same basic values in terms of democracy and a market economy. "Freedom, democracy and fundamental human rights: We will deepen ties with nations that share and uphold these values. There has been no change in the philosophy," Abe said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 30, 2012]

See Separate Article ABE, YASUKUNI SHRINE, AND WORLD-WAR-II-RELATED ISSUES

Abe's Hawkish and Nationalist Views

Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “The question is whether Abe will change course and begin pushing for his controversial right-wing hobbyhorses. One concern is that Abe could revise earlier government apologies for atrocities committed by Japan’s World War II-era military. Abe, in the interview, said he would someday like to make a “future-oriented” statement aimed at Japan’s neighbors, but he did not elaborate on what its message would be.” [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, February 20, 2013 :::]

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times: “There have been concerns that the hawkish Mr. Abe may provoke China by taking a firmer stand against that nation’s increasingly assertive claims to disputed islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyu in Chinese. But after the victory, he vowed to also move quickly to improve ties with China, Japan’s largest trading partner. “Our goal is to stop China from making these challenges,” Mr. Abe said, “but we do not intend to allow an overall worsening in relations.” Party members said that even before the election, Mr. Abe’s camp had been quietly reaching out to Beijing to ease tensions. He also said he would mend ties with the United States, which grew strained when the first Democratic prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, clashed with Washington over an American air base off Okinawa. Mr. Abe has said his first trip abroad as prime minister will be to Washington. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, December 16, 2012]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Abe is a is a long-standing hawk and the grandson of one of Japan's war cabinet leaders. His maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister in the 1950s, was imprisoned for three years at the end of World War II for war crimes, and although he wasn't convicted, Chinese and Koreans invariably point out the connection. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2012]

Abe and His Japan's Asian Neighbors


Abe with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Abe is widely disliked in China and Korea for downplaying Japanese atrocities in the 1930s, including the sexual enslavement of "comfort women" for Japanese troops. An editorial last week in the China Daily compared Abe's grandfather to Nazi architect Albert Speer and the atmosphere in Tokyo to 1930s Germany. [ In his first postelection interview Abe swore he wouldn't cede "1 millimeter" of the islands to China. In the campaign, Abe promised he would amend Japan's pacifist postwar constitution to enhance the military and said he regretted that during an earlier stint as prime minister he had declined to go to the notorious Yasukuni shrine, dedicated to Japan's war dead. "People keep saying that Abe's bark is worse than his bite," said Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean ambassador to the United States. "But I've got to admit that between political developments in Japan and rising nationalism in China, I'm concerned.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2012]

In July 2013, Linda Sieg of Reuters wrote: “Abe moved quickly to improve ties with China and South Korea at the start of his first 2006-2007 term but it is unclear whether he will repeat that success in his second. He has taken a tough stance toward Beijing in particular this time. Ties with China and Japan have been seriously strained by territorial rows and feuds over wartime history. Concerns are simmering about the risk of an unintended clash near disputed isles in the East China Sea where Japanese and Chinese vessels have been playing a cat-and-mouse game for months. [Source: Linda Sieg, Reuters, July 21, 2013 ||||]

"In that environment, something could go wrong," said Michael Green, Japan Chair at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That's the Black Swan." Abe is also unlikely to abandon his long-term goal of revising the 1947 constitution, drafted by U.S. Occupation forces after Japan's defeat and never altered once since. Conservatives see the constitution as not only restricting Japan's right to defend itself but responsible for eroding traditional mores such as duty to the state. ||||

The Economist reported: “Mr Abe has also promised to strengthen security ties with America that were not always smooth under DPJ rule. They would, he said on taking office, be “the first step in turning Japan’s foreign and security policy around”. Inevitably, China bristled. The China Daily, an official newspaper, warned that using the alliance to apply pressure to China will “only aggravate” tensions in the East China Sea over disputed islands known to the Japanese as the Senkakus and to the Chinese as the Diaoyus. Mr Abe has offered no peace-pipe to the Chinese government, only stiff promises to defend Japanese territory. These follow the scrambling of eight fighter jets to intercept a Chinese surveillance aeroplane that flew over the Senkakus last month, the first Chinese incursion into Japanese-controlled airspace since records began in 1958. [Ibid]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Abe aims to promote security cooperation with Australia and India, based on the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance, in a bid to counter China's efforts to extend its influence. Abe also believes strengthening ties with Russia and other Asian nations will help rebuild relations with China. "The Japan-U.S. alliance is the central pillar [of Japan's foreign policy]," Abe told The Yomiuri Shimbun. Commenting on Japan-China relations, he said, "I think new developments will occur in our relationship [with China] by building a trust-based partnership with countries that share the same values, as well as strategically important nations such as Vietnam." By boosting partnerships with nations surrounding China, Abe aims to urge Beijing to improve its relations with Japan. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 30, 2012]

Abe’s Overseas Trips


Abe and Akie getting off Japan's national plane

Abe's busy agenda after he came to office included numerous overseas trips. His first overseas visit, in January 2013, was to Vietnam. He also visited Thailand and Indonesia on the same trip. His second overseas trip in February 2013 was to the United States Abe's third overseas trip in March 2013 was to Mongolia Abe's forth overseas trip in April 2013 was to Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Abe's fifth overseas trip in May 2013 was to Myanmar.

In June 2013, Abe visited Poland before attend the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. In Poland he he attended a meeting of leaders from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia and pushed the sale of nuclear power plants in eastern Europe. In June, Abe also went to the Philippines and Malaysia and other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

In November 2013, Abe visited Laos and Cambodia—the only two members of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) he hadn’t visited. He visited Turkey in October 2013 for the second time to help firm up a nuclear power plant deal that involved Japan.

Abe Visits 47 Countries in First 19 Months in Office

A tour of Latin America in July and August 2014, brought the number of countries visited by Abe to 47 in the one year and seven months since he took office in December 2012. That is just one short of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who holds the all-time record for the most overseas visits by a Japanese prime minister. Koizumi visited 48 countries during his five years and five months in office. “Latin America, which is increasing its influence on the international community, is an essential partner in my diplomacy, which emphasizes a panoramic perspective of the world,” Abe said during the trip. [Source: Kazunori Hakkaku, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 3, 2014 /=/]

Kazunori Hakkaku wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: While focusing on the Japan-U.S. alliance, Abe has also pursued active diplomacy based on his goal of enhancing relationships with a wide range of countries, a stance prompted by China and South Korea’s increased pressure on Japan. This approach was proposed by his diplomatic strategists, whom he began to mention often in 2013. /=/

“Abe has visited all 10 countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a group over which China is strengthening its influence. He also visited African countries in January 2014. “The stability of the administration is allowing mid- and long-term diplomacy,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. /=/

Abe’s visit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in September 2014. This brought his total to 49, placing him above Koizumi in the number of countries visited and meant he visited about a quarter of the world’s countries in 20 months. At that time he also expressed willingness to visit Central Asia and North Africa but had not visited China or South Korea, or held summit meetings with their leaders. He did visit those two nations during his first administration in 2006. /=/

Abe and ASEAN

In November 2013, May Masangkay of Kyodo wrote: “Just 11 months into office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as Japan seeks to further cement its strategic ties with the region at a time when relations with China remain sour. "ASEAN is an important partner (of Japan) in ensuring freedom and security (of navigation) in Asian seas," Abe said at the press conference.[Source: May Masangkay, Kyodo, November 18, 2013 ==]


Abe and ASEAN leaders


"The premier's trips hold a symbolic meaning and also show the commitment level of the Japanese leadership in terms of engaging with ASEAN," said Narushige Michishita, associate professor of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Japan enjoys close economic ties with ASEAN nations, offering official development assistance, either monetary or technical, to boost their infrastructure. Southeast Asia is also seen as a potential market for Japan's infrastructure exports. But China is not to be outdone in economic ties with ASEAN. A case in point is Cambodia, where China's accumulated investment from 1994 to 2011 accounted for about 35 percent of foreign investment, compared with 0.7 percent for Japan. ==

“Among ASEAN nations, Cambodia and Laos are considered particularly "close to China," according to a Japan-ASEAN source, giving extra meaning to Abe's two trips in November to these two "pro-China" countries. Against this backdrop, it was unexpected for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in preliminary negotiations to agree to a Japanese proposal to issue a joint statement about cooperating on maritime security, with China in mind, according to a diplomatic source. "It is a surprise (for Cambodia) to make this much of a concession," a high-ranking Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. ==

“Still, China casts a shadow over Japan's relationships with Southeast Asian nations, with experts saying ASEAN nations are wary of becoming too cozy with Japan at the risk of irking China, a rising economic and military power. "One can see how Japan's Southeast Asian diplomacy is influenced by Japan's China strategy," Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University, said. In his talks with ASEAN leaders, Abe has often made an implicit reference to China's growing assertiveness at sea by referring to the importance of ensuring freedom and security of navigation and abiding by international law. ==

“Japan and China remain at odds over the sovereignty of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls Diaoyu, in the East China Sea. Beijing also has overlapping territorial rows in the South China Sea with nations like Vietnam and the Philippines, with whom Japan has been strengthening maritime cooperation. Tokyo will provide 10 coast guard patrol ships to Manila to help counter China. ==


Abe promoting nuclear power in Britain


Abe’s Energy Diplomacy

In April 2013, Reiji Yoshida wrote in the Japan Times, Abe is embarking on a diplomatic quest that will take him halfway around the globe to Russia and the Middle East accompanied by dozens of top corporate executives, with one key goal in mind: energy. Russia, in the shadow of the U.S. shale gas revolution and falling demand in Europe, is suddenly reaching out to hike its natural gas exports to Japan in a drastic policy shift. Abe, for his part, will try to use this newfound leverage to convince President Vladimir Putin to kick off fresh negotiations on the return of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido and pry open the long-stalled territorial dispute. In the Middle East, Abe’s tour will take him to Saudi Arabia and then to the United Arab Emirates, with securing oil supplies topping his agenda. While in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Abe is set to request that the oil field interests of Japanese companies be expanded, according to media reports. Abe’s seven-day voyage will also see bilateral nuclear power pacts inked with the United Arab Emirates as well as with Turkey, the final leg of his trip, to ensure that Japan’s atomic energy technologies are used for peaceful purposes. [Source: Reiji Yoshida, Japan Times, April 27, 2013]

See Nuclear Power

Abe’s Stance on World War II Angers Asian Neighbors

In May 2013, Kirk Spitzer wrote in Time, “After weeks of muddled statements, verbal gaffes and bungled photo ops, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made one thing unintentionally clear: He thinks Japan did little wrong in its years of war and colonial expansion, and he sees no reason to apologize now. The controversy, perfectly avoidable, has alienated both friends and foes and renewed fears of rising nationalism in Japan. It may be too much to expect Abe and other conservatives to abandon comforting historical narratives. But if Abe cannot manage to at least reign in the rhetoric, it could worsen an already dangerous security environment, and wreck Japan’s best shot in decades at reviving its slumbering economy. [Source: Kirk Spitzer, Time, May 20, 2013 +=+]

“I believe that Shinzo Abe honestly thinks that the Second World War and the aggression and events leading up to it were relative – that Japan basically was forced into fighting because of Western colonial policies,” says Robert Campbell, a professor of Japanese literature at the University of Tokyo and a long-time social commentator for Japanese television and radio. “It’s very difficult to move on and to gain the political capital necessary to solve difficult economic and political problems when you are constantly carrying this enormous bagful of historical rocks.” +=+

“The latest drama began last month, during a question-and-answer session in the Diet. Abe, who had focused largely and so far successfully on boosting the economy, repeated a standard line recognizing that Japan had caused great suffering and damage during World War II. But he added that he did not fully agree with a landmark apology issued by Japan’s prime minister in 1995, and he questioned, in lawyer-like fashion, whether Japan had actually committed “aggression” against anyone during the war. “The definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community,” Abe said. The policy chief for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party later said that Abe also disagreed with the allied tribunal that found 14 wartime leaders guilty of war crimes. +=+

“Predictably, there were howls of protest from China, where an estimated 20 million Chinese died fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s, and in Korea, which Japan ruled as a colony from 1910 to 1945. South Korea quickly cancelled a visit by its foreign minister to Tokyo and withheld an invitation to Japan to attend a diplomatic conference with China and the United States; in a clear snub, President Park Geun Hye scheduled her first visit to an Asian country with China, rather than with Japan. More ominously, articles appeared in China’s government-controlled press hinting that Japan’s entire southwest island chain, not just the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, might actually belong to China. +=+

“It didn’t help that nearly 170 LDP members visited the Yasukuni Shrine during its annual spring festival. Some 2.3 million Japanese soldiers who died on behalf of the country are memorialized at Yasukuni. But the ones who really matter – at least to Japan’s neighbors and former victims — are the 14 wartime leaders who were tried, convicted and hanged for war crimes by allied authorities. Nor did it help that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a rising conservative star, claimed that the “comfort women” system — which is believed to have forced some 200,000 Asian women into sexual servitude — had been “necessary” to maintain good order and discipline in the Japanese military. He later clarified that he did not approve of the system, and blamed translators and foreign media for implying otherwise. +=+

“The extent of Abe’s tone-deafness, however, was demonstrated during a goodwill visit to the tsunami-ravaged region of Japan last week. With the controversy still swirling, Abe posed for a photo in the cockpit of a military training jet emblazoned with the number “731” – that’s the unit number of an infamous Imperial Army group that conducted lethal chemical and biological warfare experiments on Chinese citizens. Entire chapters are devoted to Unit 731 in the harshly anti-Japanese educational systems in China and South Korea. That neither Abe nor his handlers grasped the significance of the photo – or didn’t care – demonstrates the distance between Japan and its neighbors when it comes to wartime issues. +=+

“It wasn’t until the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued a report in early May branding Abe a “nationalist” and warning that the controversy over historical issues could damage U.S. interests that Abe and the LDP went into serious damage control. Abe now says he fully accepts the apologies issued by previous administrations. In some respects, none of this should be surprising. Abe has long exhibited strongly conservative, if not nationalist, tendencies. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a wartime industry minister who was arrested on suspicion of war crimes; Kishi was never charged and later became prime minister. At a recent ceremony marking the anniversary of the return of Japanese sovereignty after the war, Abe was among the first to raise his arms in an unscripted – and somewhat startling — “Banzai” salute to the Emperor and Empress. +=+


Yasukuni Shrine


Member’s of Abe’s Cabinet and Party Visit Yasukuni Shrine

In April 2013, a group of 168 Japanese lawmakers—most of them members of Abe’s political party—visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 leading war criminals of World War II. Their move followed donations by Abe and three cabinet ministers' weekend visits to the shrine. [Source: Xinhua, April 30, 2013 \\//]

Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji. It memorializes almost 2.5 million Japanese, including women and children, who died in wars since 1868. The overwhelming majority — about 2.1 million — died in World War II. What makes the shrine so controversial is the fact that it honors hundreds of convicted war criminals, including 14 so-called Class A criminals, such as executed war-time leader Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who authorized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Their spirits have been "enshrined" there since 1960s and 70s. Shrine organizers stress that many thousands of civilians are honored. China and South Korea however see the shrine as glorification of Japanese atrocities. The 14 "Class A" war criminals were the men who ordered and oversaw Japan’s brutal war in China and South East Asia, which left millions dead and included widespread massacres of civilians, rape used routinely as a weapon and the use chemical and biological weapons by the Japanese against civilians. [Source: BBC, Washington Post]

The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported: “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent remarks defending his cabinet and parliamentarians' visits to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine have aroused strong criticism from the international community. Abe questioned the definition of "aggression,” which he described as vague both academically and internationally, saying it depends on from which side one looks at the situation. On the following day, the prime minister told a parliamentary panel that it is only natural to "honor the spirit of the war dead who gave their lives for the country", and that "our ministers will not cave in to any threats." \\//

“Urging Japan to have a correct understanding of history, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Wednesday it would be difficult for her country and Japan to move in a future-oriented manner if Japan holds incorrect perceptions of history. Park added that if Japan continues its rightward tilting, its relations with many Asian countries will bog down, which is not desirable for Japan as well. In protest against the visits, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has called off a planned visit to Japan, while his ministry summoned Japanese ambassador in Seoul Koro Bessho for representation. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's government newspaper Democratic Korea published an article on Sunday saying that the incumbent Japanese government is more conservative than previous ones, adding the Abe administration twisted and denied the history of Japanese aggression. \\//

“The Washington Post published an editorial on Saturday, saying Abe showed a lack of respect for history in his recent controversial remarks. After reviewing the "brave steps" taken by Abe to reform Japan's economy, the article suggested his controversial remarks over Japan's wartime aggression could put all the progress at risk. "Yes, history is always being reinterpreted. But there are such things as facts. Japan occupied Korea. It occupied Manchuria and then the rest of China. It invaded Malaya. It committed aggression," the article said.It also contrasts Japan's unwillingness to acknowledge historical facts with Germany's honest attitude in this regard. \\//

“The Wall Street Journal said that Abe's comments on shrine visits have further aggravated tensions with its neighbor countries.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that the essence of issues regarding the Yasukuni Shrine is how Japanese government and leaders understand and treat the country's history of invading other Asian countries. If Japanese leaders regard aggression, expansion and colonial rule by the country's former militarists as "a proud history and tradition," and attempt to challenge the results of World War II and post-war order, Japan can never escape its historical shadow and there will be no future for Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, Hua told a regular news briefing. \\//


G8 leaders in Shima, Japan


Abe Sends Special Representative to North Korea

In June 2013, J. Berkshire Miller wrote in The Diplomat, “While not altogether shocking, the visit of one of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top aides to North Korea last month drew strong criticism from Seoul and raised eyebrows in other capitals, including Washington and Beijing. While the Japanese government has remained coy about the outcomes of the trip, it is clear that the mission’s primary focus was on Abe’s pledge for a permanent resolution to the abduction issue. Abe’s envoy, Isao Iijima, has a history with Pyongyang and was instrumental in facilitating the return of five Japanese abductees during former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s landmark visit to North Korea in 2002. [Source: J. Berkshire Miller, The Diplomat, June 2, 2013 <=>]

“Thus far, the clandestine trip has sparked more questions than answers. First, was Iijima’s visit a tool for clearing a diplomatic path for a summit meeting between Abe and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un? Second, how much of this trip is aimed at stemming Pyongyang’s recent provocations and vitriolic rhetoric? And, finally – why go for a “rogue” diplomatic approach rather than maintain a united stance alongside South Korea and the United States? <=>

“Abe was asked the first question during a session in the Diet shortly after the trip and would not dismiss the possibility of a visit to Pyongyang: “If a summit meeting is deemed as an important means in considering ways to resolve the abduction issue, we must take it into consideration as a matter of course in negotiating with them. Our fundamental objective is to resolve the abduction issue, including the return of all abductees, revelation of the truth and the handover of the perpetrator to Japan.” <=>

“The fact that Abe is bringing this issue up during a time of heightened tensions with the North is not a complete surprise. While it is true that Abe has traditionally taken a hard-line stance against Pyongyang and especially on the abduction issue, this should not be interpreted as his desire to conduct a policy of containment. On the contrary, Abe’s personal investment in the abduction issue has motivated him to take more pronounced risks with the aim of resolving the long running saga. In fact, during his “Japan is Back” speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past February, Abe carved out a precious minute of his talk to address the abductions: “Now, if you look at the lapel of my jacket, I put on a blue-ribbon pin. It is to remind myself each and every day that I must bring back the Japanese people who North Korea abducted in the 1970s and ’80s.” <=>

“The answer to the second question seems a bit more straightforward. Iijima’s visit appeared to explicitly avoid further poking of the North for its dangerous rhetoric over the past few months. However, this is not to imply that Abe wishes to disconnect from these issues and retrench behind the US-Korean lead. This brings us to the final question – why take a unilateral approach? There are a few interesting angles here. Abe has taken the position that the diplomacy is focused on a purely bilateral irritant and thus does not directly implicate South Korea and the U.S. This is not entirely true, however, as significant engagement between Japan and North Korea has the potential to upend a coordinated trilateral approach towards Pyongyang’s growing provocations and nuclear weapons program. <=>


Abe with Obama at the White House


Abe’s White House Dinner on Relations with the U.S.

In April 2015, Abe gave a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, the first such address by a Japanese prime minister. On Japan’s relations with the U.S. Abe told Time: preserve the national interests of Japan, first of all, I’d like to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. Japan became an ally of the U.S., whom it fought against in the past war. I think this alliance has largely contributed to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”[Source: Hannah Beech, Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 17, 2014 <^>]

In February 2015, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama hosted Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie Abe, at state dinner at the White House. Associated Press reported: “Barack Obama’s state dinner for the prime minister of Japan offered guests a haiku, some R&B and the chopsticks for the deft. The president welcomed his guest of honor, Shinzo Abe, with a toast over sake that included a poem about spring, friendship and harmony, declaring himself to be the first president to recite a haiku at a state dinner. Abe, in return, went with R&B: he quoted the song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough to convey the strength of the bonds between the US and Japan. The first lady, Michelle Obama, found another way to pay tribute to the guest nation, wearing a purple, sleeveless gown by Japanese-born designer Tadashi Shoji. [Source: Associated Press, February 29, 2015 <|>]

“With fewer than 200 guests, it was Obama’s smallest state dinner, and it had a decidedly low celebrity quotient. Star Trek luminary George Takei was back for his first state visit since the Clinton administration. TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, mastermind of the hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, was a first-timer. Asked about her chopstick skills, Rhimes waggled her hand uncertainly. Takei, by contrast, said he’d grown up with chopsticks. Takei’s husband, Brad, wondered what the big deal was. “Is that exotic for the White House?” he asked.Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson turned up with R&B singer Ciara, fresh from attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner over the weekend with his grandmother. Former vice president Walter Mondale, who also served as ambassador to Japan, arrived at the White House as a seasoned veteran of state dinners, estimating he had been to 30.<|>

“Guest chef Masaharu Morimoto, of TV’s Iron Chef fame, and the White House culinary team served up a meal fusing American and Japanese influences, including caesar salad tied up with mizuhiki paper cord, American wagyu beef, and cheesecake made with tofu and soy milk.Tables in the East Room sported the new White House china the Obamas unveiled this week, featuring stripes of a “Kailua blue” hue inspired by the Pacific waters that are dear to the Hawaiian-born president and the Japanese as well. Even the after-dinner entertainment was aimed at bringing together the two cultures. Cast members from the film adaptation of Jersey Boys were performing selections from the jukebox musical, which was popular in Japan. <|>

“The White House state dinner has become an especially rare commodity under this president. This is just the eighth state dinner for Obama over more than six years in office. That’s the smallest number since the six dinners that Harry Truman played host to over eight years in office, according to the White House Historical Association. Obama has at least one more dinner in the offing, for China in the fall.” <|>


Michelle and Akie with Obama's digs


Abe on Relations with China

On Japan’s relations with China Ave told Time magazine: “Because there is a problem that exists, the doors for communication between the two nations should not be closed. Japan always keeps our door for communication open. I’d like China to take the same attitude.” [Source: Hannah Beech, Nancy Gibbs, Time, April 17, 2014 <^>]

In November 2014, Abe told the Washington Post: “The China-Japan relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships. As far as the economy is concerned, we do have an inseparable relationship. Because we are neighbors, there are many problems. But because we do have problems, we should have a dialogue with each other without attaching any preconditions.”

According to The Guardian: “Since 2012, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been frozen over the islands issue. Both sides have repeatedly scrambled fighter jets in response to perceived incursions, raising tensions so high that observers have feared the possibility of armed clashes. Chinese state media have repeatedly cast Abe as a closet militarist. In January, a Chinese envoy called Japan the “Lord Voldemort” of east Asia; Japan’s ambassador to the UK called China Voldemort in return. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, November 10, 2014 <~>]

On the territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea: “Japan considers the Senkaku Islands [known as the Diaoyu by China] as Japan’s inherent territory. Unfortunately, Chinese government vessels are repeatedly violating Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku. China has been acting the same [way] also in the South China Sea, and many ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nation] nations have strong concerns about [these maritime disputes].” <^>

Abe has not signalled that Japan will change its fundamental stance on the islands and has not agreed to Chinese demands that he cease visits to Yasukuni shrine for the war dead. Beijing saw Abe’s December 2013 visit to the shrine as a symbol of military aggression and a refusal to acknowledge the brutality of Japan’s occupation of China during the second world war. <~>

Abe: Chinese Need for Conflict Is ‘Deeply Ingrained’


Abe and Xi Jinping

In February 2012,Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post, “China has a “deeply ingrained” need to spar with Japan and other Asian neighbors over territory, because the ruling Communist Party uses the disputes to maintain strong domestic support, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview. Clashes with neighbors, notably Japan, play to popular opinion, Abe said, given a Chinese education system that emphasizes patriotism and “anti-Japanese sentiment.” Abe’s theory on the entrenched motivation behind China’s recent naval aggression helps explain why he has spent more effort trying to counter the Chinese than make peace with them: He thinks the fierce dispute with China over an island chain in the East China Sea isn’t going away anytime soon. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post, February 20, 2013 :::]

“Abe spoke about China in what aides described as unusually detailed terms, laying out challenges that Chinese leaders might face if other Asian countries, unnerved by Beijing’s maritime expansionism, decide to reduce trade and other economic ties. China’s government would be hurt by such moves, Abe said, because without economic growth, it “will not be able to control the 1.3 billion people . . . under the one-party rule.” Abe also laid out his plans for deterrence, which include boosting military spending and strengthening ties with Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and other nations that share concerns about Beijing. Abe said the U.S. presence in Asia is “critical” to deter China from taking territory controlled by other countries. :::

“What is important first and foremost,” Abe said, “is to make [China] realize that they would not be able to change the rules or take away somebody’s territorial water or territory by coercion or intimidation.” Abe’s assessment of China sounds like a version of the one that experts in Beijing give of Japan, which they say has shifted to the right on foreign policy and security issues in a bid to recover clout and pride lost during two decades of economic stagnation. Abe’s criticism of Chinese education is also notable because, during his first stint as prime minister six years ago, he revised a law to encourage a more patriotic curriculum in Japan’s classrooms. :::

“While historical animosities are at the root of Japan’s territorial dispute with China, the maritime conflict is relatively new. During the interview, Abe portrayed China’s actions as part of a 35-year shift that began when the Communist Party opened its once-controlled economy. China’s government has since had to abandon the hope of nationwide economic equality — “one of its pillars of legitimacy,” Abe said — forcing it to create “some different pillars,” including rapid economic growth and patriotism. “What is unfortunate, however,” Abe added, “is that in the case of China, teaching patriotism [is equivalent to] teaching anti-Japanese sentiment. In other words, their education policy of teaching patriotism has become even more pronounced as they started the reform and opening policy.” :::

Abe said China’s tactics at sea are yielding “strong support” domestically. Those tactics, some analysts say, also could prove financially lucrative if China gains control of shipping lanes and access to rich fishing territory, and extracts hydrocarbon reserves.But Abe warned that China’s sparring with its neighbors could backfire, potentially undermining trade partnerships and causing skittishness among foreign investors.“Such behavior is going to have an effect on their economic activity at the end of the day,” he said, “because it will lead to losing the confidence of the international community, which will result in less investments in China. I believe it is fully possible to have China to change their policy once they gain that recognition.” :::

Abe’s First Meetings China’s Xi Jinping


Abe and Xi on TV in Japanese bar

Abe met briefly with Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which China hosted in Beijing in November 2014. It was the first bilateral meeting since they both assumed office at the end of 2012. The Guardian reported: Abe and Xi “met in Beijing for their first formal talks since 2012, marking a diplomatic breakthrough after years of soured ties over competing territorial claims in the East China Sea. Abe was in China, along with other world leaders, to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit’s economic leaders’ meeting During an awkward handshake before the meeting, both leaders looked dour and resigned, a clear indication that feelings between the two countries remain raw. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, November 10, 2014 <~>]

Abe said he asked Xi to establish a hotline aimed at preventing armed clashes over conflicting claims by the countires to a string of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkakus by Japan. But a Japanese official said the islands were not specifically mentioned during the meeting, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported. Abe said before the trip that he hoped to develop relations by “going back to the original spirit of a mutually beneficial strategic relationship”, according to the Japan Times. “My wish is to improve Japan-China relations, and that wish hasn’t changed since 2006, during my first administration.” <~>

The meeting “was on the cards for a couple of reasons”, Ronald Huiskin, an expert on east Asian security at Australia National University, told The Guardian. Firstly, he said, the APEC meetings had given both governments a high-profile public relations opportunity, and neither wanted to appear excessively “negative and hardline”. Secondly, Chinese authorities had “gotten about as much out of Tokyo from the recent icy period as they were going to get”. “Beijing has raised the bar with Tokyo in terms of what kinds of humiliation the Japanese will be willing to endure to see a stable relationship with Beijing,” he said. “It’s fairly obvious that Abe has done the running to try to get at Beijing. I don’t think Xi Jinping has wasted as much time saying we have to make offers and draw a line under this particular episode. Whether this leads to anything of substance, who knows.”

Meeting between Abe and Xi Jinping in 2015


Abe with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India

By April 2015, Abe and Xi had met four times, mostly in the sidelines of major international meetings attended by world leaders. At a meeting at the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta on April 22, 2015, Reuters reported: Abe told reporters after the meeting that the two leaders agreed to work for better relations and contribute to regional stability by promoting "mutually beneficial strategic ties". Noting that Sino-Japanese ties had begun to improve when he met Xi in 2014, Abe said: "We want to make the improving trend in the bilateral relations solid." [Source: Linda Sieg and Kanupriya Kapoor, Reuters, April 22, 2015]

“The meeting took place despite a speech at the Asian-African summit by Abe in which he warned powerful nations against imposing on the weak, an implicit reference to China. He also made an allusion to Tokyo's remorse in the past over World War Two without issuing a fresh apology. Earlier, lawmakers from Abe's ruling party and the opposition visited a Japanese war shrine in Tokyo that is seen in China as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism.

Nevertheless, the two leaders met for about half an hour, signaling the desire of both nations to mend frayed ties and promote a cautious rapprochement. "The confrontation between China and Japan has eased and China and Japan have restored their diplomatic dialogue," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "No matter what, China and Japan don't want to return to the previous state of fever-pitch confrontation," Shi said.

Abe urged Xi at their meeting to work together to ease tensions in the East China Sea, where they have rival claims to tiny Japanese-controlled islets, Kyodo news agency reported. In a sign that the past still rankles, Xi was quoted by state-run China National Radio as telling Abe that he "hopes the Japanese side takes seriously the concerns of its Asian neighbors and issues a positive message of facing squarely up to history". Abe told Xi that he would uphold past apologies including a 1995 landmark statement by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama, Kyodo reported. But Abe has also said he wanted to issue forward-looking remarks in his own words, sparking concern he wants to water down past apologies.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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