In just the past six weeks, with Japan plunged into a political vacuum following the virtual declaration of resignation by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, several incidents have occurred that have shaken the world: the simultaneous fall of stock prices in Japan, the United States and Europe; the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol; and the midair collision between a U.S. military surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

In Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been embroiled in a storm in a teacup over choosing Mori’s successor as party president. The lame-duck Mori administration has been unable to take any initiatives on world peace or international economic stability, and Japan’s foreign policy has stagnated.

Regarding problems directly related to Japan’s security, such as the Taiwan issue and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the government’s approach has been conspicuously passive. Tomorrow, the LDP will elect a new party president, who will almost certainly become the next prime minister. But will the new administration be able to demonstrate leadership and take new initiatives?

The midair brush between a U.S. electronic-reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter proved to be the first major diplomatic test in East Asia for the new administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which sees China as a strategic rival. This incident brought into relief the fact that China, which is boosting its national defense and aims to expand its influence in Asia, is the biggest security problem for the U.S.

The time is approaching for the U.S. to reach a conclusion on the problem of the sale of advanced weapons, including submarines and Aegis-equipped vessels, to Taiwan. China hardliners in the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration reportedly have been encouraged by the midair-collision incident. The incident is almost certain to exert an influence on the Bush administration’s review of its military strategy, especially its policy toward East Asia.

Developments in U.S.-China relations will have a major impact on Japanese diplomacy, too. If U.S.-China relations become tense, relations between Japan and China will inevitably be influenced. At the core here is the Taiwan problem.

Former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui asked Tokyo earlier this month to issue him a visa so that he could visit Japan to receive treatment for heart disease. In a press conference, Lee said that he had no political objective in entering Japan and appealed to the Japanese government to show resolve.

Fearing that moves toward Taiwan’s independence would gain momentum, the Chinese Foreign Ministry attempted to restrain Japan, saying that China is “firmly opposed to any acts that would divide China.”

After considerable hesitation, the Japanese government decided to issue the visa. But Japan’s shilly-shally diplomacy had the effect of inviting criticism from both Taiwan and China.

The coordinated three-country approach to North Korea that has long been taken by Japan, the U.S. and South Korea has also entered a difficult phase with the advent of the Bush administration. In talks with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung recently, Bush supported Kim’s magnanimous Sunshine Policy toward Pyongyang but also made clear his doubts about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has also suggested a revision of U.S. policy toward North Korea and has shifted to a cautious approach in the U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

A revision of U.S. policy on North Korea, it is said, would include the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Framework Agreement by which North Korea agreed to freeze nuclear development in exchange for the construction of light-water reactors, missile consultations and a reduction of the threat of conventional weapons.

What Pyongyang really wants is an improvement in its relations with the U.S., but officially it has tried to restrain Washington by stating that “we would have nothing to lose from scrapping the bilateral agreement.”

Depending on the content of Washington’s review of its North Korea policy, negotiations between Japan and North Korea for the normalization of diplomatic ties could be affected. Japanese-North Korean talks resumed at the ambassadorial level in April 2000, after a break of seven years, but they broke down after only three rounds over the problems of compensation for past acts and the suspected abduction of Japanese citizen. Observers believe that North Korea is watching the outcome of the Bush administration’s policy review.

It is important that the three-country coordination setup should not collapse. At senior-official consultations among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea in late March, the statement that the views of Japan and South Korea would be taken into account in a policy revision was made in order to maintain the cooperative arrangement.

In late March, the White House jolted the world by officially announcing that the U.S. did not support the Kyoto Protocol, which makes it obligatory for countries to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to slow global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol, which is due to go into effect in 2002, requires ratification by more than 55 countries and also by countries that account for 55 percent of the emissions of leading developed nations. However, without the participation of the U.S., which accounts for 36 percent of the total emissions of leading developed nations, the effect of the protocol in reducing emissions will be greatly diminished.

The Australian government also recently reiterated its policy of not ratifying the protocol ahead of the U.S. It is clear that Japan must make efforts to bring the U.S. back into the framework of the Kyoto Protocol.

The simultaneous decline in stock prices in Japan, the U.S. and Europe in March was triggered by two factors: grave uncertainty about the future of the Japanese economy and the slowdown of the U.S. economy. In Japan-U.S. summit talks on March 19, the disposal of nonperforming loans was a major item on the agenda, and Prime Minister Mori promised a quick response.

Irritation at the stagnation of the Japanese economy has increased sharply on the U.S. side. At the beginning of April Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan said that the economic situation of the second-largest economy in the world cannot go on “without impacting the rest of us.” And Lawrence Linsey, an economic adviser to Bush, remarked that “the Japanese leaders know what to do. It is a matter of political will.”

In other words, Linsey was emphasizing the need for action. In the field not only of economic problems, but of diplomacy and security too, they are words that Mori’s successor would be wise not to forget.

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