Let me be clear: Japan has no choice but to have cordial and constructive relations with China, the same as for the United States, Australia, India, and other countries in Asia. I have little quarrel with the substance of Mr. Ozawa’s visit, insofar as there was substance. (A summary at the DPJ website contains lots of talk of intellectual and cultural exchanges and declarations of intention to cooperate on issues of shared concern.) And there is certainly nothing wrong with opposition leaders meeting with heads of state.
My issue remains Mr. Ozawa’s style. Apparently it was not enough for Mr. Ozawa to take a low-key visit to Beijing, praise Mr. Fukuda for his own overtures to China and congratulate the prime minister for seeing the wisdom in the DPJ’s China policy, say a few speeches, and go home. Instead, he had to travel with some 400 people (originally intended to be an expedition of 1000, according to Mainichi) and speak in unrealistically effusive terms about the Sino-Japanese relationship.
I prefer statesmanship that prioritizes substance over rhetoric. As President Bush has illustrated time and time again during his presidential term, rhetoric often raises expectations to unreasonable heights. The difficulties still present in the Sino-Japanese relationship — which will be on full display over the next couple of weeks in the lead up to Mr. Fukuda’s visit — do not merit the flights of fantasy in Mr. Ozawa’s Beijing remarks. Speak softly, with an eye firmly to national interests.
I’m also dismayed because Mr. Ozawa has failed to provide a more comprehensive vision for Japanese foreign policy. We’re left to guess on the basis of his speeches and actions: strict constitutionalism (the basis for his opposition to the MSDF refueling mission), strict UN-centrism (the basis for his suggestion that the GSDF can participate, armed, in ISAF), and now, apparently, deference to China. For all the rhetoric from Mr. Ozawa since July, there’s been remarkably little effort on his part (and the part of his DPJ colleagues) to outline a strategic vision for Japan, one that includes a realistic vision for the US-Japan alliance — the Koizumi-Abe LDP has left them plenty of room to do this — that squares with the Sino-Japanese relationship.
I think the DPJ has been poorly served by Mr. Ozawa, whose gaze is fixed squarely on the tactical, on short cuts to power, when what it needs is a strategic visionary who can elaborate a vision for Japan’s domestic and foreign policies that is more than just a rejection of whatever the LDP has argued. It’s not a matter of having detailed plans for every aspect of Japanese governance.
As Mr. Koizumi showed, a vision presented in a compelling and easy-to-understand way can make up for deficiencies in the details.