Yohei Kono, a retired liberal politician whose name is most often associated with the statement over wartime sex slavery he made in 1993 as the chief Cabinet secretary, has urged Japan to handle its delicate relations with China in a discreet and coolheaded manner to win Beijing’s trust and mend ties.
Asked recently about hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire to apparently packpedal on the 1993 statement that acknowledged the Japanese military’s responsibility in the forced recruitment of women and girls into sexual servitude and apologized to the victims, Kono only said that “historical facts should be acknowledged as such.”
Meanwhile, he opposed Abe’s call for lifting Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, warning such a move would change the fundamental principle of the Constitution and should first be OK’d by the public.
Describing frayed Sino-Japanese relations as being in their “gravest condition since the normalization of ties” four decades ago, Kono said one of the underlying causes of why the Japanese public’s sentiment toward China has also deteriorated is the failure to realize how much effort had been put in by both sides to reach normalization.
“Forty years ago, Japanese and Chinese politicians finally managed to agree on the normalization of ties only after strenuous endeavors from both sides,” Kono said. “Behind the Chinese efforts, including during negotiations toward the ratification of the 1978 Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship, is the decision by the Chinese leadership to put aside the (territorial) issue over the Senkaku Islands and leave it to ‘the wisdom of future generations.’ “
The former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker was apparently referring to the famous words by then-Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping regarding the row over the Japanese-administered, Chinese-claimed islets in the East China Sea.
But the Japanese government, while acknowledging the Chinese decision, has not adequately conveyed to the Japanese people such details of the negotiation process, Kono said.
As time passed with “the next generation’s wisdom yet to be found,” he said Japan came to “take for granted” the status quo of its control over the Senkakus and took the issue too lightly.
Kono, a three-time foreign minister, also criticized former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s poor handling of Japan’s purchase of some of the disputed islets last September just a day after Noda met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
“Mr. Noda apparently thought it better for the state, rather than the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, to maintain stable management over the islets, but for China the purchase itself was the issue when it was unclear what kind of government would come into power next (in Japan),” Kono said.
“If he really thought buying the islands was the better way to go, Mr. Noda should have at least done all he could to explain it thoroughly at the talks (with Hu),” he said. “Even though that would have been unlikely to win China’s nod in any case, going through such a process is what summit diplomacy is for.
“Going ahead with the purchase without having done so — as if to say to China there’s no use arguing — was a diplomatic blunder,” Kono said.
Looking forward, Kono said he is “not pessimistic” about how Sino-Japanese relations might proceed under Abe’s administration. He pointed to Abe’s achievement in salvaging chilled bilateral ties by visiting China at the start of his previous prime ministership in 2006 and agreeing to build a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.”
“It is important, first and foremost, to win China’s trust,” Kono advised. “One must not deal with Japan-China relations hastily as shortsighted projections and remarks would only give rise to a negative spiral.”
He said Japan should deal with China “courteously, cautiously and in a coolheaded manner,” adding it is also necessary to deepen grassroots exchanges between the two countries that, compared with those between Japan and South Korea, remain relatively limited.
“What is most important with regard to the Senkakus is not to change the status quo,” he said, urging Japan should not undertake such moves as stationing government officials there to boost effective control.
Meanwhile, with regard to Chinese President-in-waiting Xi Jinping, Kono said he has met Xi two or three times before the latter became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and has the impression of him as an amicable person who is discreet and listens carefully to others.
On Xi’s remarks that China would not seek regional hegemony, Kono, citing a speech he made at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences in September 2011, said he has in fact called on Beijing to say so frequently as China’s maritime strategy is being seen by neighboring countries as a threat.
“This was what the Chinese side has kept telling Japan, just as Sun Yat-sen said in his famous speech in Kobe a long time ago that Japan should go not for the way of might but the way of right,” Kono said of Sun’s speech on Pan-Asianism in 1924. “And I thought now it’s time for the Chinese side to adopt those words.”