Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is doing a good job — much better than expected. She has made few blunders since she assumed the post Feb. 1, aside from the trouble over the inept bureaucratic handling of the Shenyang Japanese Consulate incident involving North Korean asylum seekers.

Defying bureaucratic resistance, she has come up with a drastic action plan for ministry reform based on the recommendations of her advisory panel. She also has appointed someone from outside the ministry to direct the Economic Cooperation Bureau, breaking a long tradition of naming career foreign-service officers to high-level positions.

Using her good command of English and administrative skills developed as a trade ministry official, Kawaguchi has had a series of successful talks with foreign dignitaries. She has attended all the international conferences requiring her presence, meeting with U.S., European, Chinese, South Korean and other officials on diverse problems — from the Mideast conflict and Afghan reconstruction to relations with North Korea.

Kawaguchi is the first Japanese foreign minister to have visited Myanmar and to have met with the country’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

At the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Kawaguchi assisted Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in presenting Japan’s independent, non-Western perspective.

However, the basic outline and vision of the Koizumi administration’s diplomacy remains vague. Japan must clearly describe its basic diplomatic strategies and demonstrate a determination to implement them. The strategies must be developed by overhauling past policies to deal with vast changes in the international environment since the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Consideration must be given to global security, coordination of economic policies, redistribution of capital resources and development that protects the environment. While maintaining consistency among policies, Japan must fine-tune them to reflect religious, ethnic and cultural differences in other countries. Furthermore, priority must be given to protecting Japan’s national interest.

These strategies must be worked out and presented to Kawaguchi by aides to Koizumi and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda in coordination with private-sector and ruling-party advisers.

Unfortunately for Kawaguchi, a thorough review of Japan’s basic diplomatic stance has not been made. Kawaguchi and Foreign Ministry bureaucrats are busy working out tentative solutions to individual problems.

Amid fast-changing political and economic realities, nations are competing with one another to protect their long-term national interests by analyzing the merits and demerits of globalization. Although regional integration is progressing steadily, most countries are determined to protect their national sovereignty. Nationalism is growing.

With changes occurring rapidly in the international environment since 9/11, Japan’s past practice of resorting to makeshift measures will no longer work. Close scrutiny is required of international antiterrorism measures; security policies involving Northeast, Southwest and Central Asia; economic problems linked to ethnic and religious conflicts; efforts to eradicate poverty; and improvements in education.

In addition, consideration must be given to sharing responsibilities with advanced and developing countries for improving the Earth’s environment and to enhancing ties involving economic cooperation and implementing Japan’s structural reforms.

Diplomatic policies are based on a nation’s economic and military power, relations with its neighbors, leaders’ abilities, national intellectual levels and traits and strengths in cultural development. At issue is national power — an area in which Japan does not excel. Therefore, it would invite ridicule if it overreached for ideals.

Nevertheless, Japan should, within the limitations of its national power and existing conditions, present convincing proposals to the international community. It should not hesitate to present to any country those alternatives considered most effective for protecting Japan’s long-term national interest.

For example, Japan should offer advice and make proposals on the necessity for a U.S. military presence in the country and for cooperation with U.S. security strategies from an independent, long-term perspective. It should do so while recognizing that the Japan-U.S. defense alliance is the most important component of Japan’s security.

Among the many difficult questions facing Japan are:

* How far should Japan cooperate with the United States in the expected military action against Iraq and how should it deal with international reaction to its support of the U.S. campaign?

* How can Japan play a convincing role in settling the Palestinian issue?

* Should Japan adjust its diplomacy when North Korea changes its attitudes toward the United States and Russia?

* How should Japan deal with China’s moves to forge free-trade agreements with other Asian countries?

* Why doesn’t the Koizumi administration push agricultural reform if the status quo is blocking free-trade agreements between Japan and other Asian countries? (Singapore is the only country so far to have an FTA with Japan.)

* How should the Foreign Ministry promote global economic cooperation now that Kawaguchi has appointed a former trade ministry official as the ministry’s economic cooperation chief to coordinate official development assistance — despite objections among ministry bureaucrats?

* Should Japan continue ODA to China, which is using the aid to reduce economic gaps between different regions in the country? (China is offering economic aid to other countries while strengthening its military power.)

* Shouldn’t a cash-short Japan promote ODA to the poorest countries on a priority basis, thereby reducing aid substantially to an ungrateful China?

* Should Japan continue apologizing to Asian countries for its wartime brutalities of more than a half-century ago?

At the same time, Japan should challenge Washington’s self-centered policy on currency and its tough demands that Japan implement reforms and promote economic recovery. Separately, the U.S. is sticking to its unilateralist position regarding the Kyoto Protocol and missile defense systems while asking other countries for support its war against terror.

Washington should acknowledge that defective U.S. accounting systems have led to a spate of corporate financial scandals that have caused stock market declines worldwide. Japan should express its support of international accounting standards, while pushing structural reform.

The Koizumi administration is likely to overcome political difficulties this fall by implementing a Cabinet reshuffle. As it pushes fiscal and tax reforms, the administration should restructure Japan’s international strategies and improve Japan’s international reputation.

Japan, which has no nuclear arms and is prohibited by its Constitution from using arms to settle international disputes, should feel free to air its opinion to other countries. It is incumbent on Japan to keep expressing itself as a member of the international community.

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