January 4, 2008; Volume 04, Number 01

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
Prime Minister Fukuda Visits China
Fukuda’s Meeting and Press Conference with Premier Wen Jiabao
Fukuda’s “Correction”
Fukuda’s Speech at Peking University
Fukuda’s Meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao
Sightseeing Tours for Two Days
Overall Assessment of the Trip
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From Beautiful Edisto Beach State Park. On South Carolina’s Atlantic Shore. Today is Friday, January 4th, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 01, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

Yes, the first program of 2008. And Volume 04 of this Podcast! There were only seven programs in Volume 01, for 2005. Since I only began to record them in mid-November of that year. You can still listen to all of them in the Podcast archives. It’s interesting sometimes to go back and see which issues were important then. But have disappeared. And, which issues have endured.

It’s a lot of text! Taken all together. The Japan Considered Project website’s new search facility allows you to find what you need, though, without having to plow through hundreds of pages of material. So, have a look there in the archives when you want some background on the issues we’ve considered.

I hope it’s useful. Not just for Japan specialist academics. But also for government officials, journalists, and business analysts, whose responsibilities include Japan. As well as the general English speaking public. Growth in the listener and reader audience figures, and in e-mailed comments and suggestions, indicates that at least Somebody’s paying attention. A lot more than I expected, when I conceived this project, in late 2005.

Back here again at Edisto Beach State Park. For a few days of camping and writing. Before the start of the spring semester for my Day Job. Internet access in this part of the State is much more convenient than at Hunting Island. The nearby Edisto Bookstore offers a free-of-charge WiFi cloud that works beautifully. The bookstore is right on the “main drag” here, so to speak. On the way in to Edisto Beach and the State Park. Route 274. Number 574. Just before you pass the Post Office. On the right-hand side. I’ll put a couple of photos in the transcript. Both of the sign. And of the front of the store. There's even a website: theedistobookstore.com

While there, be sure to go inside and have a look around. Ask the owner, Ms. Karen Carter, to suggest a few books describing the region. It seems as though she’s got everything in print related to Edisto Island on her shelves. History, demography, maps, nature in general, current environmental concerns, beach life, novels, ghost stories, and much more.

Ms. Carter told me she started this bookstore twenty years ago. And has been refining her stock of literary resources since. It’s really a remarkable front door for the visitor to go through when visiting Edisto Island. If you’re the kind of person fascinated with bookstores – and who isn’t! – this one will renew your faith in that institution. It’s the Real Deal. That it would take hours and hours to do justice. So go on in and enjoy! Tell Ms. Carter you heard about her on the Japan Considered Podcast.

Camping and writing. Well, “Camping,” of course, has to be in quotation marks. Since life on the road in the Aliner Mobile Studio is hardly like camping. In any normal sense of that term. Nearly all of the luxuries of home in a compact package. All but high-speed internet. Which is a significant “but.” But well worth it! I’ll also put a photo of the Mobile Studio at this campsite in the transcript. Right on the ocean. To make the point. And encourage all of you to visit this beautiful state.

This week again we have a lot to cover. As usual, political and international news from Japan has quieted down for the year-end, New-Year’s holidays. But it seems, at least to me, that a lot’s been going on behind the scenes. Some things that we really must consider on this program. And most important, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda made his long-anticipated visit to Mainland China at the end of December. Press coverage of that event has been fairly good. But there are a few points there too we need to consider. So let’s get right to it. Volume 04, Number 01 of the New Year 2008 program.

Prime Minister Fukuda Visits China

As planned, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, his wife, and their political and bureaucratic entourage, departed Haneda Airport in downtown Tokyo for Beijing on Thursday, December 27th. Arriving in Beijing that afternoon. For four days of meetings and sightseeing. Quite a contrast to his hurried visit to Washington soon after his inauguration.

Fukuda’s Chinese hosts, as we anticipated during the last program, pulled out all the stops. To make Fukuda’s visit appear to Japan’s media and public as successful as possible. Though without making concessions on issues where there were obvious conflicts of substantive interest between the two countries. But then again, neither did Japan! More on that in a moment. Anticipating our conclusion here, the visit was a great symbolic success. And, in Japan’s relationship with its Mainland neighbor, symbols count for a lot.

Fukuda’s Meeting and Press Conference with Premier Wen Jiabao

Fukuda’s first big meeting in China came on Friday. With Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. After two and a half hours of meetings in the morning, the two held a press conference, just before eating lunch together. The press conference was televised live in Japan. And I believe also in China. Though I don’t have specific information on its coverage there. I haven’t seen video of the joint press conference. But a transcript was made available by the Japanese side soon thereafter. And it’s a good thing, since there appeared to be some confusion on at least one critical issue.

Wen spoke first at the press conference. Welcoming Fukuda warmly. Then going through the “thermodynamics of ice” metaphor that’s attained such consequence since Wen’s visit to Japan. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as contrived in Japanese as it does in English. And, I suppose, it’s par for the course in Chinese.

Wen noted that he and Fukuda had agreed that China and Japan should continue to maintain friendly relations. That Chinese President Hu Jintao is looking forward to visiting Japan early in 2008. And that China and Japan have agreed to continue to promote “humanistic exchanges” and economic cooperation.

Prime Minister Fukuda’s opening remarks were equally cordial. Though in good bureaucratic fashion, he did have a list of five points. With his fourth and fifth points touching on two issues of most immediate concern for Japan. Exploitation of natural resources in the East China Sea. And the nature of joint cooperation on the denuclearization of North Korea.

Following their opening statements, the two leaders invited questions from the attendant press corps. Kyodo’s Yonejima got to ask the first question. Like a good journalist, he went straight to the heart of the matter. Asking Wen to comment on the East China Sea gas exploitation issue. China’s plans to improve the global climate. As well as the North Korean issue, including Japan’s concerns over the abduction issue.

Wen responded predictably. With one exception. At the end he said, “We appreciate Prime Minister Fukuda's serious announcement today that he will not support Taiwan's referendum on entering the United Nations.”

Fukuda’s “Correction”

A Xinhua reporter then asked Fukuda a more general, under-hand lob, sort of question about how he sees the future of China-Japan relations developing. Fukuda in his long response stressed the importance of encouraging mutual trust and understanding. Through high-level meetings of the sort he just had with Premier Wen. And private sector person-to-person exchanges.

Then, just before completing his comments, Fukuda returned to the question of Taiwan. It seems that Taiwan’s government is planning to hold a referendum in March that has upset Beijing. A national referendum asking whether Taiwan should apply for U.N. admission under the name of Taiwan. Obviously, a measure that Beijing would oppose. Referring to papers that an aide had handed him, Fukuda said Japan maintains its opposition to the phrase, “Two Chinas.” Or even “One China; One Taiwan.” And therefore that Japan opposes “one-sided attempts to change the status quo.” Then, referencing the referendum, “Earlier, I said to the premier that if it leads to a one-sided change in the present situation, we will not support it.”

Foreign Ministry and Kantei officials then scurried among the press corps explaining the distinctions among “opposing,” “not supporting,” and “not supporting a move that could lead to change in the East Asian status quo.”

All very confusing. Bordering on “inside baseball” diplo-speak. But an incident that, I think, nicely reflects the delicacy of Japan’s relationship with China at this stage. And Prime Minister Fukuda’s desire to improve the atmospherics. While, at the same time, doing his best to avoid being trapped into statements that might damage Japan’s ability to simultaneously maintain good relations with Taiwan.

All’s well that ends well. To coin yet another phrase. And the Chinese side hasn’t made official mention of the point to date. At least, not that I’ve seen. Though foreign media reporting on the press conference suggests somebody has been has been trying to spin Wen’s interpretation to the media. Not altogether unexpected. And Beijing’s media spinners can run circles around their Japanese counterparts. Especially when working the foreign media.

Fukuda’s Speech at Peking University

The rest of Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit to China went pretty much as planned. No surprises. A pleasant, even festive, welcome throughout. An ideal “get acquainted,” “develop friendly personal relationships” symbolic, sort of atmosphere. All to the good.

Another encouraging point. I may be missing something here. Since I can’t read or understand Chinese. And don’t specialize in that part of the world. And don’t have access at the moment to the China experts in our audience. So this impression is based only on the English language news produced in China that I’ve been able to access from here. Based on those observations, though, it seems to me as if the Chinese central government authorities have been using Fukuda’s visit to create a positive image of relations with Japan for the Chinese media audience. As well as for Japan’s attentive public.

If true, that too is a good sign. Always better to see Beijing waving Pompoms in Japan’s direction, than it is to see them waving, what in the South we call, “the Bloody Shirt.” Beijing’s central government posture toward Japan has changed suddenly in the past, though. Largely, I suspect, for domestic political reasons. So, let’s hope the current central government positive attitude lasts well beyond the 2008 Olympics. And the Shanghai International Exposition, planned for 2010. And that Beijing continues to believe they have more to gain from friendly relations with Japan, than they have to gain from hostile relations. And vice versa.

Beijing’s new posture toward Japan was reflected in Prime Minister Fukuda’s speech at Peking University on Friday afternoon, the 28th. After his meeting with Premier Wen. Fukuda was warmly received at Peking University, China’s leading university, by the student audience. And, I believe, this speech too was televised live. Not only in Japan but to at least some of China’s television audience.

A good thing if it was, since it’s one of the more substantive speeches of this sort that I’ve read for a long time. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a Japanese language version up on their website right away. And in only two days, they even had an English language version up and running. I’ll put a link to the latter in the Podcast transcript. Since it really is worth the effort to read what Fukuda had to say to his Chinese audience.

The English language transcript of the speech runs well over 5,000 words. Quite long and detailed. His main point, though, was that at this stage of history, Japan and China must cooperate to create what he called “a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.”

Now, a phrase like that isn’t all that noteworthy. Nearly every prime ministerial trip abroad requires something of the sort. But this time, Fukuda took the time to spell out what he had in mind. He began with the usual platitudes about the possibility of mutually beneficial cooperation. And the need for better mutual understanding. And how Japan and China live now in a “borderless world.” But for his Peking University audience, Fukuda provided more specific suggestions for realizing those opportunities under each heading. And that was noteworthy. It suggests some thought had been given to subject. More than just phrase-making.

Fukuda’s no rabble-rousing orator. Wouldn’t make much of a television evangelist. He’s methodical and precise. Almost more like a bureaucrat than a politician. But this time his precision, and the obvious effort he invested in this speech, served him well. And Japan well. Since the speech in the future will be read far more often than heard or viewed.  

Fukuda also addressed directly the issue of historical memory. An issue China has raised repeatedly since the end of World War Two. And that we’ve considered frequently on this program. But Fukuda’s interpretation of the significance of history was considerably longer than simply events since the 1930s. A point he undoubtedly meant to drive home with his visit to the birthplace and temple of Confucius on the last day of his visit. And his repeated mentions of the significance of Confucian culture for Japan.

Fukuda even touched on the importance of increasing mutual trust and understanding in the area of security relations. Mentioning the visit of China’s missile destroyer, the Shenzen, to Tokyo Bay at the end of November last year. The first such visit to Japan by a PRC military vessel. And Japan’s plans to reciprocate with a military vessel visit of their own to China this year. Fukuda then mentioned the need for greater military “transparency,” though only quickly and politely.

In all, I believe we’ll see the text of Fukuda’s speech to the students of Peking University on December 28th, 2007, time and time again in the future. Even after Japan has a new prime minister. Referenced by both Japanese and Chinese observers. It really is well worth a read. And I urge you to access the transcript of this program on the Japan Considered website, then click on the link to the English language version the Gaimusho translators and web gurus have provided us. We can only hope this time that there are no misunderstandings about the translation into Chinese. I can’t imagine there will be.

Fukuda’s Meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao

Following his address to the students of Peking University on Friday, the 28th, Fukuda met with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the official Chinese Guest House. After a half-hour business meeting, President Hu hosted an elaborate state dinner to welcome Prime Minister Fukuda. Japan’s media observers have highly evaluated China’s decision to treat Fukuda to an official meal. And have noted that it hasn’t happened for more than twenty years. Symbols again. But, again, actually important.

In public statements following the dinner, President Hu took pains to mention the contribution Fukuda’s father, Takeo Fukuda, made to good relations between China and Japan during his premiership. Fukuda and Hu agreed that it’s really time now to settle outstanding irritants in the bilateral relationship. Like the East China Sea gas exploitation issue. And that President Hu would visit Japan early this year. Nothing startling. But that alone represents significant progress in this important bilateral relationship. No surprises and lots of smiling is a good thing here!

Sightseeing Tours for Two Days

Formal Summit Meeting business completed, Prime Minister Fukuda spent Saturday and Sunday sightseeing in China. Well, highly directed, purposeful sightseeing, to be sure. But sightseeing nonetheless.

On Saturday, after an unexpected breakfast with Premier Wen Jiabao, and game of catch, Fukuda visited the Tianjin Binhai new industrial development zone. A region that plays host to quite a number of Japanese manufacturing firms. That account for over eight billion dollars in Japanese investment in China. Tianjin is north of Beijing. And happens to be the home town of Wen Jiabao. There Fukuda toured a joint manufacturing venture Toyota has with China’s First Automobile Works. Together with Hiroshi Okuda, a former Toyota president, and chairman of Nippon Keidanren. Recently tapped by Fukuda as a Kantei adviser.

On Sunday morning, Fukuda left for Shandong Provence. There he was able to visit the ancestral home and birthplace of Confucius, and the temple dedicated to the worship of his memory. Fukuda expressed strong personal interest in Confucius and his teachings. And again went to pains to explain how heavily Confucian thought has influenced Japan. An event unimaginable in the era during which China’s Communist Party did what they could to rid China of Confucianism’s pernicious influence. Also, Fukuda’s attention to the Confucian roots of Japanese culture undoubtedly helped to make the point that Japan and China have a history of relations that extend back far beyond the 1930s in time.

By Sunday afternoon it was time to head for home. One can’t help but conclude that Fukuda will find mending Japan’s relations with China a cinch compared with the complexity of the domestic political problems he faces upon his return to Tokyo.

Overall Assessment of the Trip

Sooo, what’s the overall assessment of Fukuda’s visit to China? Virtually all commentators to date have been positive in their evaluations. And they’re probably right. Left-leaning media and pundits. Right-leaning media and pundits. Pro- and Anti-LDP media and pundits. Foreign and domestic. All seem to agree that Fukuda did quite a good job. The trip failed to produce progress on the ticklish East China Sea issue that some observers had hoped for. Or on any other substantive bilateral dispute, for that matter.

But it certainly did establish a better foundation for friendlier relations with their huge Mainland neighbor than Japan has had in many years. If not decades! It provided Prime Minister Fukuda with an ideal opportunity to present his views on the bilateral relationship directly to at least some of China’s population. It demonstrated clearly that those in Beijing’s central political leadership who favor more cooperative relations with Japan are ascendant. At least for now. And suggests that Fukuda has won himself some “wiggle-room,” so to speak, at home. Having satisfied Cabinet critics of the tougher line toward Mainland China pursued by Fukuda’s immediate predecessors, Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe. We’ll just have to wait and see if this warmer environment helps to produce agreement on more substantive issues that must be faced in the future. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Concluding Comments

I’d hoped during this first program of 2008 to consider the back-room political maneuvering going on these days in Tokyo. Some of it potentially very important. But the Old Clock on the Wall, as they used to say in radio, tells me we’re out of time. No more Marathon Programs! The Japan Considered Podcast’s first New Year’s Resolution.

It now seems unlikely that we’ll see the early dissolution of the Lower House and snap general election that some observers had been predicting. It also seems likely that we’ll see passage early this year of the anti-terrorism bill by two-thirds majority in the Lower House. A development many observers considered unlikely just a month or so ago. We’re also likely to discover that the world won’t come an end when the Ruling Coalition implements this Lower House legislative override. Ruling Coalition opponents won’t like it. But that’s no surprise.

On the other hand, a series of politically tone-deaf moves by the Fukuda Cabinet during December has drastically eroded popular support for the Cabinet. And even for the LDP! Mis-management of the hepatitis C tainted blood issue, for one. And most significantly, that hardy perennial, how to cope with the missing pension records scandal. I’ve yet to see more current public opinion polls in numbers significant to form an assessment. The success of the China Summit should help. At least for a while. If it’s handled properly back in Tokyo.

But more important than all that, I think, is the growing divide between the LDP’s Traditionalists and Popularists. A subject I’ve discussed for months on this program. There’s still little speculative coverage in the mainstream press. But a number of Japanese “insider-type” newsletters and scandal sheets now regularly speculate on the possibility of a significant split within the LDP. Significant, that is, in the number of LDP Diet members who may leave the Party. And, the number of DPJ Diet members who may join them. I’ve been watching this with interest for some time now. And we really do need to consider it in some detail on the next program. So, let’s hope no big issue gets in the way.

No bluegrass clip available here in the Mobile Studio this time. An unforgivable oversight as I prepared to leave home. But next week for sure. So, goodbye all, until next week.