In addition to haranguing Japan on whaling, they argue
Rudd has added insult to injury by snubbing Japan on his coming world tour. The Prime Minister seemingly can find the time to traverse the entire globe but not to visit Japan. The cold-shoulder is made more disturbing for Tokyo by the inevitable comparison it creates with Australia’s relationship with Beijing and the constant reporting of Sinophile Rudd as China’s new golden child. It is certainly no secret that early visits are symbolically important, since they give a strong indication of who and what the new leader considers to be important. In the arena of foreign relations and diplomacy, impressions matter and Australia has had few prime ministers more aware of this basic fact. All of which makes Rudd’s Japan passing even more curious.
They further argue that Mr. Rudd’s focus on China is misguided due to Japan’s commitment sound Australia-Japan relations and its enduring significance as a regional economic power.
Back when Mr. Rudd followed Mr. Fukuda into power last year, I expressed my hopes that “with Fukuda Yasuo replacing Mr. Abe, and the Mandarin-speaking Mr. Rudd replacing Mr. Howard, the ‘deputy sheriff,’ the ‘quad’ may be no more. Both Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Rudd seem to believe that their power is best spent promoting cooperation in Asia, not deepening security cooperation among democracies conveniently located on all sides of China.”
I still think that these leaders’ thinking on Asia policy is the way of the future, but I was clearly mistaken in expecting that Australia and Japan might begin articulating a new approach in the immediate future. The fault is not Mr. Rudd’s alone. What would a visit to Tokyo now accomplish? The Fukuda government, completely distracted by mounting domestic problems and possibly on its last legs, has made little progress articulating a new Asia policy or a new grand strategy in which to embed it.
So yes, Mr. Rudd should have made a stop — and should put some effort into thinking about both countries can balance their China ties with their links to the US. But he can’t be blamed too much for passing up a photo-op with an enfeebled Mr. Fukuda.