The annual foreign policy survey, pt. 1

Nikkei reports today on the results of the Japanese government’s annual survey of public opinion on Japan’s foreign relations. The results are not particularly surprising. Nikkei leads by reporting that the ratio of respondents (57%) who thought that Japanese-South Korean relations were bad was the highest since the survey began in 1986 — this likely reflecting the influence of the “Kenkanryu” (the hate-Korea wave).

Nikkei also notes that the survey found a big jump in the percentage of respondents who thought Japan’s relations with Russia were bad (eleven percentage points, to 68.2%), attributed by Nikkei to Russia’s shooting of Japanese crab fishermen earlier this year. The survey also found that the ratio of respondents who thought Japan’s relations with China were good remained low, hovering around 20%.

What surprises me, however, is that when asked about North Korea, respondents said they were more concerned about the abduction of Japanese citizens (86.7%) than the nuclear problem (79.5%) or the missile problem (71.5%), this despite the survey’s being conducted from 5th to 15th October, as North Korea tested a nuclear weapon and the international community weighed the best response. I find this number shocking. I knew that the Japanese people felt strongly about North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s, but to feel more concerned about that — which is a question of righting past wrongs — than about a very clear and very present danger is mildly unsettling.

This probably reflects efforts by Abe Shinzo during his time as chief cabinet secretary to call attention to the kidnapping issue, but perhaps Gerald Curtis was right: maybe the government needs to back down slightly on this issue and focus the public’s attention on more current problems with North Korea. Naturally the survey shows that the public is concerned about North Korea’s burgeoning arsenal, but that should be the foremost concern, not the abductions issue, which is a relatively minor symptom of the major problem that is the DPRK.

In any case, the government survey is quite substantial, so I will provide more analysis as I make my way through it.

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