May 25, 2007; Volume 03, Number Number 19

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
North Korea Launches a Couple More Missiles
Recent Developments in the Relationship With China
Gas Field Exploitation Negotiations
Japanese Expectations for China’s Role in North Korean Denuclearization
Global Efforts to Limit CO2 Emissions
Japan’s Hopes for U.N. Security Council Permanent Membership
Significance of the 2008 Olympics
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From Iron Station, North Carolina. In the Beautiful Piedmont Region of our Northern Neighbor. Today is Friday, May 25th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 19, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

On the road again for this week’s program. The Japan Considered Podcast Mobile Studio is parked in beautiful North Carolina. Providing an ideal environment within which to consider Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. No internet access here, though. Have to drive to a less remote location for that. It seems to work well enough, once there. I’d hoped by now for a couple of equipment upgrades for the Mobile Studio. But it appears that will take a year or so. Couldn’t get the proposal through the Budget Committee here … Hmmm.

I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Each week at this time – or most weeks, anyway – we consider events in the news of longer-term significance for understanding Japan’s domestic politics or conduct of international relations. Many of the topics we consider haven’t received much attention in the English language news from Japan. Which I hope makes them even more useful.

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This week again we’ve got a lot to cover. Even just focusing on international relations. We’ll begin with a quick look at Japan’s response earlier today to North Korea’s most recent missile firings. Then we’ll turn to recent developments in Japan’s relationship with Mainland China. Including negotiations conducted today in Beijing over exploitation of the gas fields in the East China Sea. So let’s get right to it.

North Korea Launches a Couple More Missiles

This morning, Japan time, news hit the wires that North Korea once again had launched missiles into the sea that separates Japan and North Korea. Initial reports were sketchy. But within a few hours it was clear the missiles launched were not of the ballistic sort. The kind that could pose a threat to Japan. Rather, they were of the land-to ship variety. With a range of around 100 kilometers. Maybe 200. But no more.

As soon as Japan learned of the launches, Prime Minister Abe met with reporters to assure them that the missiles posed no threat to Japan’s security. That they appeared to be part of more routine military exercises. That similar launches had been made at this time last year. Abe added that Japan’s government didn’t feel it was necessary to take any special countermeasures in the wake of the launches.

Soon thereafter, unnamed Government of Japan sources speculated that North Korea’s latest missile initiative had more to do with Pyongyang’s concerns with South Korea than it did with Japan. Today, South Korea also launched its first Ageis-equipped war ship. A significant improvement in South Korea’s naval capabilities. So, the North Korean missiles may have been touched off in response to this event.

Other sources speculated that Pyongyang might also have been reacting to Seoul’s recent suspension of food aid to the North. Suspension the South Korean regime had imposed for lack of North Korean progress on denuclearization. All speculation, of course. But speculation that certainly makes more sense than anything related to Japan. These anonymous sources also revealed that Japan’s government had known since yesterday, Thursday, that the launches would occur. Therefore they were able to monitor the event closely. Though they didn’t disclose the source of the information.

So, is this a non-event? Well, it seems to be near that, anyway. At least, as far as Japan is concerned. If so, why bother to mention it here? Well, I think it has some significance for our understanding of Japan’s conduct of international relations. Perhaps for what didn’t happen, more than for what did.

It seems significant to me that the Abe Kantei didn’t take the opportunity of the North Korean missile launch to enflame public opinion on national security issues. To intensify Japan’s sense of insecurity. In order, obviously,  to strengthen public support for the Abe Administration’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s own military capabilities.

It would have been easy enough to do. In fact, the issue was almost custom-made to serve that purpose. Clearly, the event itself wasn’t serious enough to present a genuine, immediate threat to Japan. A threat of the sort that might inspire widespread, destructive, public panic if handled improperly. Or, that might result in the incumbent Administration being accused of doing too little to protect Japan from external threat. So it was a safe issue in that respect.

Yet, there had been an undeniable missile launch. North Korea has been developing nuclear technology that makes its missiles quite frightening. And stalling on commitments to suspend development of that technology. Frightening especially, the Kantei could have argued, to the only nation on earth that’s experienced nuclear attack. It wouldn’t have required a very sophisticated political PR team to develop and implement such an operation.

Well, it just wasn’t done. Instead, the Abe Kantei, and all other government commentators on the subject, have done their best to minimize the threat. To  put it into less bellicose perspective. Now, that’s encouraging! And, I believe, sets a good example for other countries in Asia as well.

Recent Developments in the Relationship With China

Speaking of other countries in Asia, during recent weeks we’ve heard quite a bit less about Japan’s relationship with China than we did earlier in the year. That doesn’t mean the relationship between these two giant powers has become any less important. Of course not. Rather, it means that right now, neither side sees any advantage in encouraging news coverage of recent events. And that itself is interesting.

China, it appears, has recovered at last from its disastrous miscalculation concerning the Yasukuni Shrine Visits. A miscalculation that seriously constrained Beijing’s opportunities for diplomatic maneuvering. Throughout the whole unexpectedly long Koizumi premiership. Maneuvering, it must be said, at which Beijing has proven itself a far more skilled player than Tokyo could even dream of being. Was the great diplomatic cost of the Yasukuni Shrine Visit Operation worth the domestic political advantage reaped by its Beijing architects? It hardly seems possible. But I’m no expert on China’s domestic politics.    

It seems reasonable to conclude that no bilateral relationship is more important for China today than that with Japan.

Japan: one of their closest neighbors. Japan: certainly still the Asian nation most successful in coping with, and taking advantage of its relationship with, the West. Japan:  a great potential source of the capital and technology so desperately needed to maintain China’s prosperity. Prosperity upon which the legitimacy of the current political regime increasingly depends. Japan: a formidable potential military adversary. Should the occasion arise. So, all told, it seems reasonable to conclude that Japan is at the top of Beijing’s lists of both dangers and opportunities.

China too, if only for reasons of geographic proximity and historical ties, is extraordinarily important for Japan. Add to that the economic potential of China’s vast market. And the surprising expansion of China’s military budget during the past two decades. The case on the Japanese side requires no more elaboration.

Gas Field Exploitation Negotiations

One of the more immediate and visible issues for Japan within its relationship with Mainland China concerns exploitation of the natural gas deposits discovered in the East China Sea. Unfortunately, those deposits were discovered in a region whose ownership is contested by Japan and Mainland China.

We’ve discussed this East China Sea gas issue before on this program. Since nearly the beginning, in fact. It’s the sort of international dispute designed to give even the most skilled and well-intentioned diplomats the shakes. Neither international law nor customary practice provide indisputable, universal decision rules to follow. Definite compromises must be made by both sides for peaceful resolution of the problem. And it’s hard for the international representatives of any state to compromise when the issues under negotiation include questions of sovereign territory.

That’s certainly true here. There’s the obvious desire of both countries to gain the economic benefits of any gas eventually pumped from the site. But there’s also the problem of justifying at home the concessions necessary to make the agreement. And doing so in a way that the incumbent leadership’s political adversaries won’t be able to use the concessions to discredit their leadership.  That’s as true for Mainland China as it is for Japan.

Well, the eighth round of bilateral negotiations over the issue were held today, China time, in Beijing. That’s just a half-day ahead of us here in the U.S. Eastern time zone. Expectations in the Japanese press had been high that the Chinese side would present a new proposal that might lead toward compromise.

I realize that this press speculation may have been encouraged by Government of Japan PR efforts to pressure Beijing to present a compromise plan. But there’s also some justification for those expectations. Prime Minister Abe and Premier Wen agreed during their April meeting in Tokyo that substantive progress should be made on the issue “by fall” of this year. Also, State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, a usually reliable source of information on China’s international plans, recently told a visiting Japanese parliamentary delegation that he expected China to present a new proposal. So, the Japanese expectations have been based upon at least some substance.

Well, those expectations were disappointed. The negotiations ended with no progress beyond what Kenichiro Sasae, head of the Japanese delegation, described as “better understanding” of each other’s positions. The Chinese side in their public report described the negotiations as “beneficial.” But with little elaboration beyond that. This appears to me to be the diplomatic way of saying there was little progress to report. At least, not any that either side is willing to make public at this time.

Beyond the lack of progress on the specific issue under negotiation, there were a couple of positive developments. The negotiators agreed to meet again, next in late June. And agreed that subsequent negotiations should be held at least once a month. That’s a lot better than leaving the table with no plans for the next round.

Also, the negotiators made some more progress toward establishing the accident “hot line” we mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Japan’s Coast Guard and China’s State Oceanic Administration will set up the emergency communications network. To be used in case of an accident involving the growing number of vessels from both countries cruising around the disputed area. That’s useful indeed.

Japanese Expectations for China’s Role in North Korean Denuclearization

Japan also maintains hope that Mainland China will continue to cooperate in the effort to persuade North Korea to abandon its development of nuclear weaponry. China shares a border with the reclusive North Korean regime. They maintain diplomatic relations. North Korea has for long relied upon Beijing for supplies of fuel and food. Supplies without which the very survival of the state would come into question. So, all told, Mainland China is in a good position to encourage North Korea to be more cooperative in the current round of negotiations.

Just last week, Prime Minister Abe’s special adviser on the North Korean abduction issue, Kyoko Nakayama, visited Beijing to encourage the Chinese leadership to intensify pressure on North Korea to be more forthcoming on the abduction issue.

China, as we’ve discussed in the past, finds itself in a difficult position. The Beijing regime is eager to be accepted by the rest of the world as a responsible great power. Any responsible great would find abduction of innocent citizens of other countries inexcusable behavior. But, truth be told, Beijing’s influence over the unpredictable North Korean Kim regime is limited. Threats even from Beijing run great risks. China could ill-afford to see their Communist neighbor collapse into political chaos which would lead to massive outflows of refugees. They fear loss of reputation in the international community if North Korea openly defies their demands. So they can’t afford an open snub from the unpredictable Chairman Kim. Sooo, things are not so simple for China when it comes to North Korea.

Global Efforts to Limit CO2 Emissions

During the past few weeks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has intensified his support for an international agreement to combat global warming. By limiting the emissions of the greenhouse gases thought to contribute to the gradual rise in the earth’s temperature. Especially carbon dioxide. Japan, he says, will lead efforts to reach an international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. That agreement is scheduled to expire in 2013. This, it appears, will be included in the LDP’s platform for the Upper House elections. Under the label of “Utsukushii Hoshi 50.” Or, “Beautiful World 50.” Abe’s objective is an agreement that will reduce greenhouse gasses by 50 percent by the year 2050.

Now, how does this affect Japan’s relationship with Mainland China? Well, in a number of ways. Perhaps most significant, Abe insists that China must be included in any new greenhouse gas emissions agreement. Along with the United States and India. Otherwise it won’t be effective. Since China is the world’s second-largest producer of greenhouse gasses, right behind the United States. China and India, you’ll recall, were excluded from the Kyoto Protocol as developing nations. A situation Abe argues is not longer appropriate.

So, this greenhouse gas reduction proposal puts Japan on the side of the Angels, so to speak. Places them on high moral ground in international discussions. They can encourage China to participate in the new initiative. And China will find itself on the defensive. Having to argue that it remains a poor, under-developed nation, that still deserves an exemption. Point for Japan.

Japan also happens to be a leader in the technologies designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. Technologies and equipment Japan hopes to sell to China and to other nations. Add to this Japan’s long-term commitment to reducing reliance on fossil fuels through expansion of nuclear power generation, and you have a win-win situation.

So, it’s likely we’ll hear more in the future about the need for an international commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses that includes Mainland China during Japan’s bilateral discussions with Beijing. With Beijing explaining why that’s difficult.

Japan’s Hopes for U.N. Security Council Permanent Membership

But another important issue in Japan’s bilateral relationship gives Beijing considerable advantage. That is Japan’s hope for reform of the United Nations system. Reform that will give Japan permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council.

Japan has urged such reform since the 1990s. And has made it an important official foreign relations objective. They have a good point. U.N. Security Council permanent membership was determined immediately after World War Two. No Axis powers were included. Including, of course, Germany and Japan. The global environment has changed considerably since then. Japan has been one of the United Nations’ most faithful supporters. Including financial contributions greater than those of any nation other than the United States. And active participation in international aid and peacekeeping operations, when asked.

Few would argue that Japan should be excluded from permanent Security Council membership – in principle. But implementing that principle encounters a number of obstacles. Foremost among them is what to do with the current permanent members. None of them have volunteered to relinquish their status willingly. Should the number of permanent members be expanded, including the right of veto, it’s bound to weaken the Security Council’s ability to reach decisions over difficult issues. It’s been hard enough to get things done with only five permanent members. And, if the Security Council’s permanent membership is to be expanded, which countries are to be included – and excluded? Talk about thorny problems!

But for Japan, the most immediate obstacle to permanent U.N. Security Council membership is the presence on the Security Council of Mainland China as a permanent member. This gives China the right to veto any change in Japan’s status. Therefore, comments from Beijing on this subject are watched carefully in Japan.

For example, late last month, during Golden Week, Parliamentarian Masahiko Komura visited Beijing as chairman of the Japan-China Parliamentarian’s League. He had a friendly meeting with State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, an influential figure in China’s foreign relations hierarchy. According to Komura’s comments to Japan’s political journalists, Tang told Komura that it was only a matter of time before Japan could realize its objective of permanent U.N. Security Council membership. When Komura asked Tang if he could repeat his comments to the Japanese media, Tang qualified his statement with the understanding that Japan would have to continue its pattern of peaceful development since the end of World War Two, and its contributions to East Asian development. Within that context he agreed.

Well, the cynical observer might conclude that Tang hadn’t said anything significant at all. Since Beijing could withhold approval by arguing that Japan wasn’t either doing enough for East Asian development, or that it wasn’t continuing its pattern of peaceful development. Not beyond the realm of responsible speculation! Speculation supported by negative reaction from Beijing to recent passage of the constitutional revision referendum law. And expressions of concern over plans to revise the constitution. Including Article Nine.

Nonetheless, State Councillor Tang’s statement to Komura over dinner in Beijing was received optimistically in Japan. We’ll have to see how all this works out.

Significance of the 2008 Olympics

One final thought. This mentioned anonymously by a long-time observer of both China and Japan, and the relationship between them, during a recent telephone conversation. That is the importance of the 2008 Olympics for Beijing. According to this observer, I have under-estimated the importance of a successful Olympics for their 2008 hosts. Further, he suspects that a desire to minimize bilateral friction prior to that event has contributed significantly to China’s recent more conciliatory behavior.

Interesting point. One we should be sure to include here. Certainly, China needs the cooperation of Japan’s corporations during the elaborate preparations required to host such an event. Construction technology; communications technology. And the rest of it. And, realistically speaking, many of the international guests for the 2008 Games will come from Japan. It would be disastrous for China’s Olympic planners should Japanese tourism be restricted during the event.

Certainly Beijing has made mention of the Olympics an important component of their recent diplomatic activities. In late March, Lower House Speaker, Yohei Kono, was asked to form a “Parliamentary League in Support of the 2008 Olympics.” Kono, long a reliable friend of Beijing, created the organization. With broad, supra-partisan membership. Though the core leadership group may have an anti-Abe political tinge. Especially among its senior LDP members. Chinese Premier Wen, during his recent visit to Tokyo, also invited Japan’s emperor to attend the Olympics opening ceremony. An invitation that Japan’s political journalists described as unexpected by the Japanese side.

So, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that a successful 2008 Olympics is more important for the Beijing regime than it may appear. And that Beijing is more willing to cooperate with Tokyo to assure its success. But if that’s true, what will happen once the 2008 Olympics are over? Well, there’s the Shanghai Expo scheduled for 2010. Hmmm. I’ll try to keep you posted. And keep in touch with specialists on Chinese domestic politics.

Concluding Comments

Well, once again we’ve come to the end of our time this week. Even a bit over. But the topics we’ve considered deserve the extra attention. And more. I had a terrific John Duffey bluegrass clip for you this week. But forgot to bring it along from home when we hit the road with our mobile studio! Sorry about that. I’ll put it up next week for sure. And it’s worth the wait. Please continue to send your e-mail comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. I read them all, and answer as many as possible. Even when traveling. G-mail’s great that way. Just an internet connection away. So,

Goodbye all. Until next week.