The prime minister will leave for China on Thursday, 27 December, meet with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on 28 December, and return to Japan on 30 December. As Asahi notes, Mr. Fukuda has a difficult task ahead of him, as Japan and China struggle to resolve the lingering East China Sea gas field dispute and find a way to deepen cooperation on green technology. (On the other hand, what a relief that Beijing and Tokyo are wrangling over these issues rather than not talking or, worse, trading barbs over history.)
Nevertheless, Mr. Fukuda’s trip will not be the grand visit that was Mr. Ozawa’s: there will be (or should be) fewer speeches and more talks on resolving differences and building a framework for cooperation over the longer term. While a successful summit will by no means solve all of his problems, it could give him some momentum going into the climactic showdown over the refueling mission and the start of the regular Diet session. Whether China will be obliging remains to be seen. As Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura made clear this morning, although negotiations are moving forward at different levels, agreement remains elusive.
These will be decisive weeks for the prime minister. He needs to rise above the fray, to look less harried and more in command of the situation (even if in reality he isn’t). His premiership isn’t doomed yet, but its shelf life could shorten considerably if he does not begin setting a course for his government. Beijing may be a good place to start.