To promote national interest in diplomacy, it is essential to set goals, establish basic policies to achieve them and work out overall strategies, while keeping in mind the links between individual goals and between those of nations and regions. However, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi lacks such strategies. He needs to restructure Japan’s diplomacy toward Asia from a global perspective.

Conspicuous among diplomatic problems Koizumi faces are Sino-Japanese relations aggravated by his visits to Yasukuni Shrine. He must distinguish his visits to the shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead, from the diplomatic problems they are causing. He is no ordinary citizen; he is a prime minister who bears the heaviest political responsibility in Japan.

In 2005, Japan’s trade with China is likely to surpass that with the United States. It is clear that Japan and China depend on each other for their prosperity. Nevertheless, Sino-Japanese relations are very chilly. Japanese and Chinese leaders have not reciprocated official visits, holding occasional summits on the sidelines of international conferences in other countries.

Unbalanced Sino-Japanese political and economic relations affect other relations between the two countries, which in turn have a major influence on Asian affairs.

In recent months, China’s actions have threatened Japan’s sovereignty. Top Chinese officials repeatedly rebuked Japan over its perceptions of history, a Chinese nuclear submarine invaded Japanese waters, and China is moving to exploit natural-gas fields in the East China Sea close to Japan’s exclusive economic zone. China should refrain from encroaching on Japan’s maritime rights and agree to a Japanese request for talks to settle the problems.

A recent public opinion poll by the Cabinet Office shows that the proportion of respondents that feel affinity toward China has fallen to a record low 37 percent — less than half of the 78 percent 25 years ago. In the governing Liberal Democratic Party, some lawmakers are calling for abolition of Japanese official development assistance to China as Sino-Japanese relations continue to deteriorate.

Improving relations with China is the top diplomatic challenge for Koizumi, but he has lost considerable diplomatic freedom as a result of his obsession with the Yasukuni visits. His persistence in returning to Yasukuni will give China a stronger diplomatic card.

At his New Year’s news conference Jan. 4, Koizumi said he would make a suitable judgment on the Yasukuni issue. This was far from a satisfactory message to China and other Asian nations that are sensitive to problems of historical perceptions. He apparently does not realize that China’s attitude is likely to change according to Japan’s diplomatic stance.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, in one of his books, explained why he stopped paying his respects at Yasukuni after 1985. At his request, top Japanese business executives sounded out Chinese leaders for their views on Nakasone’s Yasukuni visits. The leaders said the visits hurt the feelings of Chinese people, putting general secretary Hu Yangban in a difficult position.

Nakasone wrote that he gave up his Yasukuni visits, thinking that if an intelligent, pro-Japanese leader such as Hu should fall from power because of domestic criticism from conservatives, it would be Japan’s and the world’s loss.

Nakasone, who established close ties with the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, wrote that one requirement for a prime minister is to establish a rapport with foreign leaders. Hu was one leader with whom he established such relations.

Japan’s diplomacy toward North Korea has been thrown into chaos by leader Kim Jong Ill’s crafty strategies for survival.

Koizumi achieved a diplomatic coup with his surprise visit to Pyongyang in 2002, signing the Japan-North Korean declaration, which was aimed at settling in a comprehensive manner the issues of Japanese abductees and North Korea’s nuclear-arms development. The declaration was to have paved the way for Japan-North Korean diplomatic normalization, but North Korea has since reneged on its commitments.

Should Koizumi lose his cool in his quest for further achievements, he would play into Pyongyang’s hands. He should try to strengthen solidarity with the U.S. and South Korea and, with the support of China and Russia, lay siege to Pyongyang in the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear-arms development. Toward that end, Japan must pursue cooperation with China, which chairs the talks.

This year, an Asian summit will be held with the participation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China and South Korea, at a time when regionalism is growing. China is leading the pack in concluding free trade agreements (FTAs) with other Asian countries. Japan is falling behind because of its difficulty in ironing out complicated domestic interests.

In December, the government established basic policies regarding FTAs and moved to start negotiations this April with ASEAN, with a view toward concluding a pact early. The government thus realizes that FTAs will contribute to a more favorable international environment for building an East Asian Community.

The tsunami disaster touched off by a giant quake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on Dec. 26 killed more than 160,000 and left millions homeless. Japan has pledged $500 million in aid to the stricken nations. Japan’s international emergency relief teams and nongovernmental organizations are already conducting relief activities.

The government has also decided to dispatch to the affected areas Self-Defense Forces troops experienced in disaster relief activities at home and peacekeeping activities abroad. Japan should give maximum aid with maximum speed. By doing so, Japan will make itself visible as a nation doing its share in reconstructing the Indian Ocean region, transcending nations, races and religions.

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