Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his first news conference of the year, argued that Yasukuni is not a diplomatic issue, rebutting claims that Japan is being isolated in Asia because of his repeated visits to the war-related Shinto shrine.
Naturally, freedom of speech in Japan allows for a variety of opinions on the issue, but the claim that Japan is being isolated just because of the absence of top-level dialogue with China fails to paint the broader picture of Japan’s diplomacy in the region.
In December alone, the prime minister took part in the inaugural East Asia Summit, the ASEAN-plus-three conference and the Japan-ASEAN summit, expressing Japan’s position to his counterparts. The joint statement issued at the Japan-ASEAN summit urged the parties to deepen and expand their strategic partnership and reaffirmed that the two would cooperate on the basis of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, international laws, and other universal values and global rules.
Compared with the European Union, regional economic cooperation in Asia has both deepened and expanded on a step-by-step basis. It has been decided that the next East Asia Summit will be held on Cebu Island in the Philippines, and that the chair and host will rotate among the ASEAN members. ASEAN will take on a role similar to the one played by the smaller European powers of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in deepening European integration in the early phase.
The East Asia Summit is also a good example of the expanded Asian integration process. India, Australia and New Zealand joined the members of the ASEAN-plus-three process, where participants pledged at the first meeting to play an important role in building an East Asian community and keeping the process open and transparent.
Given that Russia took part in the first day of the summit, the East Asia Summit may develop into ASEAN-plus-seven, or even ASEAN-plus-eight, if the United States takes part in the future.
The summit was held on the basis of discussions by ASEAN foreign ministers in the Philippines in April and July in Laos, and participation of the three countries reflected not only economic interests, but security concerns as well.
China is a signatory to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which calls for such principles as “respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states,” “abstention from threat or use of force,” and “peaceful settlement of international disputes.”
To realize an East Asian community, participants need to share common values such as democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. It must not be forgotten that some Asian countries harbor doubts about China’s validity as a partner in the region because of its single-party communist rule and recent expansionist behavior.
It is meanwhile significant that India, which has a large population rivaling China’s and is similarly emerging as a major economic power, has taken part in the East Asia summit.
India, another signatory to the TAC, has carried out changes of power through democratic elections, has high self-sufficiency in food and boasts rich human resources in the information technology sectors. This country also has an atmosphere of stability that China lacks and offers a new alternative to Asian countries as they try to avoid geopolitical risks.
China argues that Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni have hampered top-level dialogue with Japan. But Yasukuni does not appear to be the real reason, because Beijing recently denied Democratic Party of Japan President Seiji Maehara, who has been critical of Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits, a meeting with President Hu Jintao after Maehara expressed alarm about China’s military buildup.
All countries need domestic reforms as they deal with globalization, and the leaders of countries where domestic problems mount tend to foment nationalist unrest to divert attention from doubts about the legitimacy of their regimes.
Of course dialogue with close neighbors like China and South Korea is desirable, but a lack of dialogue with countries that do not respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries or that try to interfere in others’ domestic affairs does not mean Japan is being isolated. On the contrary, countries that need to divert domestic public frustration in a political manner will face isolation.