Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is sticking to his guns in supporting the United States, even on the contentious Iraq war.
One predecessor, however, believes he should diversify more on the diplomatic front.
Although giving high marks to Koizumi’s strong friendship with U.S. President George W. Bush, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said: “Currently, Japan’s ties with other nations other than the U.S. are like dotted lines. We should at least try to make those dotted lines into solid ones as well.
“Japan needs to have more politicians who can establish close relations with other nations — those who can truly engage in diplomacy and not just seek out their own concessions,” the former prime minister said in a recent interview.
Hashimoto, who held the top office from 1996 to 1998, believes Japan’s presence in the international community is sagging, especially at a time when the world appears to be increasingly in turmoil following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the war in Iraq.
Because Hashimoto has personal connections with European leaders, Koizumi last month sent him to the continent, where he briefed French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Japan’s decision to dispatch Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq.
Hashimoto hoped to bring France and Germany into the Iraq reconstruction efforts, and to help mend the two nations’ deep rift with the U.S. over the war.
His mission succeeded in this regard. Hashimoto said he won pledges from the European nations to launch a joint training program for Iraqi police.
“Europe should be using Japan (diplomatically) at this difficult period,” he said, indicating Tokyo can serve as a U.S.-Europe bridge.
On other Middle East matters, the Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight criticized the government for damaging relations with Iran by not heeding Tehran’s overtures over the Azadegan oil field.
Japan had preferential negotiation rights for developing the Azadegan oil field. When those rights expired in June 2003, Tehran gave Tokyo a second chance to clarify by Dec. 15 its position on the stalled negotiations. But Japan also let that deadline pass, due mainly to pressure from Washington, which believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
“It is very regrettable that the relationship with Iran that Japan had long worked so hard to build was completely damaged by the current administration,” Hashimoto said, stressing it is in Tokyo’s interest to maintain good ties with Iran, which is a key source of oil for the country.
Despite his close relationship with European leaders, Hashimoto, like his predecessors and successors, strongly upholds the Japan-U.S. alliance. It was under his administration that Japan issued new defense cooperation guidelines with the U.S. in 1997 that enable the SDF to lend support to the U.S. military in the event of an attack on Japan and in emergencies “in areas surrounding Japan.”
Acknowledging his responsibility in ushering in a new era of defense cooperation, Hashimoto said, “It was not right for Japan to continue holding the U.S. responsible for the defense of Japan. Japan’s stance should be that of cooperating with the U.S. as much as possible, and we have made efforts in that direction in the past years.”
But in the aftermath of 9/11, Japan now must also be prepared to combat terrorism on its own, he said.
Hashimoto supported the government’s move to deploy a state-of-the-art Aegis destroyer for the U.S.-led antiterror campaign in Afghanistan in 2002, believing such a mission would help Japan gather intelligence to guard itself against terrorism.
He believes such a mission does not constitute an act of war, which Article 9 of the Constitution bans, but instead is an activity that falls under Article 73.
This article stipulates that the Cabinet shall “manage foreign affairs,” which Hashimoto said gives the government the responsibility of protecting the lives and assets of Japanese people anywhere in the world.
“We have to realize that security does not come free,” he said. “But at the same time, we must make sure SDF troops aren’t sent into combat.”
Hashimoto, however, supports the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq to engage in humanitarian aid. “Unless we send our troops to help the Iraqi people rebuild their country, they will continue killing one another,” he said. “Iraq has become an extremely dangerous place.”
He is quick to emphasize the importance of allowing SDF personnel to defend themselves if necessary.
“We need to tell them, ‘You must make your own judgment and defend your life. If there emerges any trouble, the government will take full responsibility.’ “
Asked what course the nation should follow in 2004, Hashimoto said, “Japan must make efforts to create friends and allies, and for that, it must not be in a position to be a mere guest (in the international community).”
Japan can help other countries in its own way, especially in such efforts at the fight against parasitic diseases and environmental protection, he said.
Japan surpassed these hurdles in the course of becoming a developed nation, especially immediately after the war and during its rapid economic growth in the 1970s, Hashimoto said.
“By sharing our failures, like pollution woes and the ways to overcome them, we can provide unique contributions to many countries.”