In a recent book Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was dubbed “The Man Who Turned Diplomacy into Fighting.” Even after a diary by a former head of the Imperial Household Agency was revealed, describing Emperor Showa’s displeasure over Yasukuni Shrine’s decision in 1978 to honor Class-A war criminals, Koizumi has insisted that a visit to Yasukuni remains a matter of the heart for any individual.
Among Japan’s postwar prime ministers, one man whose approach to Asian neighbors was virtually opposite of Koizumi’s is Nobusuke Kishi. He was a founder of the Liberal Democratic Party faction that Koizumi belonged to and is a grandfather of Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a leading candidate to succeed Koizumi.
In contrast to Koizumi, Kishi, within a year of becoming prime minister in 1957, made two trips to 15 Asian and Pacific countries to bring messages of reconciliation, thereby making it possible for Japan to secure a revision of Japan’s security treaty with America. He became the first Japanese prime minister to visit most of them. The first journey included Burma (now Myanmar), India, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Thailand and Taiwan. The second one included then South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines.
Kishi did this out of a conviction, as cited in his memoirs, that Japan must speak as Asia’s voice when meeting with American negotiators. Therefore, he made the first Asian journey before visiting the United States in June. Such a view is in stark contrast to Koizumi’s insistence that a stronger relationship with Washington would naturally lead to friendlier ties with Beijing and Seoul. Some U.S. policymakers are voicing concern these days that any further erosion of Japan’s relationship with her neighbors could damage American interests.
In each country he visited, Kishi apologized for the wartime damage caused by Japan, thus easing anti-Japanese sentiments. For instance, at a luncheon at the Australian Parliament, he declared: “Notwithstanding the passage of time, it is my official duty, and my personal desire, to express to you, our heartfelt sorrow for what occurred in the war.”
Back home, Kishi himself revealed little of his references to the war. Therefore, the Japanese public was not fully informed of the impact his visit had. However, the apologies were widely reported in other countries’ media and by foreign diplomats stationed in those capitals. The New York Times noted that no senior Japanese official had ever conveyed such apologies in so many different countries. The disparity in what was communicated to domestic and foreign audiences produced a perception gap in how Japan and foreign countries regard historical issues, a point that still needs to be addressed by Japan today.
Kishi’s timely diplomatic initiatives also contributed to resolving the issue of war reparations, particularly in those difficult cases involving normalization of diplomatic ties. Eventually reparation agreements were signed with Burma (now Myanmar), the Philippines, Indonesia and South Vietnam.
Kishi’s discussions with Asian leaders were surprisingly candid. He expressed gratitude to Taiwan’s Chiang Kai-shek for his magnanimous policy of “repaying malice with virtue” after the war, then “took the liberty” of boldly advising the president to “show the people of Taiwan greater affection.” He repeated this message three years later, to which Chiang replied: “When the happy day comes that we can return to the mainland, I intend to repay the people of Taiwan in multiple tenfolds. Please understand this.”
Face-to-face meetings between national leaders are opportunities to engage in such frank exchanges.
When faced with crucial decisions, Kishi often adopted a suprapartisan approach, coordinating his efforts with the opposition parties and the business community. On the question of rectifying the defects of the 1952 Security Treaty, the thrust of Tokyo’s position was based on the demands initially made by the Japan Socialist Party.
At a Diet session, JSP Chairman Mosaburo Suzuki pointed to the desperate resistance of Okinawan residents to U.S. military rule, demanding that the government negotiate with Washington to have the “unequal treaty” revised. This push from the JSP led to the replacement of the one-sided pact under which the U.S. was not obliged to defend Japan with one based on mutual obligations. The new treaty also included a “prior-consultation” clause that opposition legislators and others had demanded.
Following up on his Asian visits, Kishi dispatched former Development Bank of Japan President Ataru Kobayashi to Indonesia and Kogoro Uemura, who later became Keidanren chairman, to South Vietnam, to negotiate agreements on war reparations. Compare these achievements with the divergence of political and economic relations under Koizumi, a situation that has compelled Nippon Keidanren Chairman Hiroshi Okuda to secretly meet twice with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Tensions were riding high in 1960 on the ratification of a new Japan-U.S. security pact. The JSP had changed its position and opposed the treaty on the grounds that it still gave the U.S. too many concessions. The Japan Communist Party, labor unions, and student unions organized mass protest rallies outside the Diet. When Kishi rammed the treaty through a Diet session May 20, opponents of the bill were infuriated. On June 15, University of Tokyo student Michiko Kanba died in a clash between riot police and demonstrators, sparking an angry outcry.
JSP Upper House member Shizue Kato appeared on national television 15 times following the incident, and wrote articles for the major dailies. Apologizing to the nation for having been too cowardly to speak up for what she believed was right, she argued that more problematic than the forced ratification was the danger of becoming isolated from the U.S. She appealed to protesters not to resort to violence. These remarks — by a politician who had received the highest votes in the nationwide constituency for the Upper House election — had an immense impact on the media and the people.
Neither China nor the two Koreas were among the 15 countries Kishi visited. Japan did not have diplomatic ties with them at the time. Today’s leadership should follow in Kishi’s footsteps and build relationships of unwavering trust with China and South Korea. This is also the way to win America’s respect and confidence.
Although Kishi’s overtures toward Asia may have been motivated in part by expectations of securing an Asian market and by domestic political factors, he shared with his predecessors Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and Ichiro Hatoyama, who normalized relations with the Soviet Union in 1956, a deep-felt desire to protect Japan through diplomatic initiatives and to build a peaceful state.
On Tuesday (Aug. 15), 61 years after Japan’s surrender in World War II, Koizumi brought a predicted showdown to a head by visiting Yasukuni Shrine. Abe remains the only LDP presidential candidate to express support for the prime minister’s shrine visits. So the key question now is: Is Abe following Koizumi’s “diplomacy of fighting,” or his grandfather’s road to reconciliation?
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