Fear and loathing in the wake of Hu’s visit

As Jun Okumura notes, a poll by Fuji TV’s Hodo 2001 program found that Fukuda Yasuo gained nothing from Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Japan last week.

The poll recorded that nearly sixty percent of respondents disapprove of Mr. Fukuda’s China policy.

Beyond public doubts, Mr. Fukuda’s action (or inaction) during Mr. Hu’s visit have driven conservative commentators into paroxysms of rage over Mr. Fukuda’s supposed pusillanimity in the face of Chinese outrages, especially poisoned gyoza and human rights violations in Tibet.

In Shukan Shincho, Sakurai Yoshiko vented her spleen about the visit, arguing that Mr. Fukuda failed to defend Japan’s national interests in his meetings with Mr. Hu.

She claims that Fukuda pere et fils have worked on behalf of China to the detriment of Japan, Takeo for consenting to a friendship treaty that “ignored national interests” and contributing to the expansion of the Chinese military by providing ODA, Yasuo for his failure to address the East China Sea dispute and for offering technological assistance on environmental grounds. To Ms. Sakurai, the Fukudas are traitors, “injuring Japan’s national interests and betraying the people.”

She also criticized Prime Minister Fukuda for calling the Tibet problem an internal problem, even as other world leaders have criticized China and threatened to stay away from the Beijing Olympics. (Of course, when foreign governments criticize Japan for one reason or another — take the comfort women issue, for example — that is a grave offense against Japan for commentators like Ms. Sakurai.) She also attacks Mr. Fukuda for opposing independence for Taiwan.

Komori Yoshihisa, Ms. Sakurai’s ideological compatriot, also condemned Mr. Fukuda in the strongest possible terms at his blog. Examining the joint statement, he observes that the statement fails to include the words “democracy,” “human rights,” and “liberty,” while using words like “cooperation,” “peace,” “mutual,” and “friendship” numerous times. Mr. Komori attacks the Fukuda-Hu meetings on the basis of Mr. Fukuda’s failure to defend the aforementioned universal values.

I have a particular problem with Ms. Sakurai’s casual invocation of the phrase “national interest.” She uses the phrase as if its meaning is commonly understood, self-evident to one and all. In no country is that the case. Ms. Sakurai has one vision of the national interest, one that views cordial relations with Japan’s rapidly growing neighbor and largest trading partner as not in Japan’s interest, and Mr. Fukuda has another, one that recognizes that Japan cannot afford to neglect China, even if pursuing a constructive relationship entails muting criticism of China’s human rights record, among other things, and prioritizing process over substance. If there is a problem with Mr. Fukuda’s approach is that he has failed to make the case for why Japan needs a constructive relationship and why it cannot adopt the conservative approach to China that entails little more than criticizing China for its failings. As I’ve noted before, the conservative vision of China policy is not a strategy. They offer no constructive, long-term ideas of how Japan can co-exist with a growing China. Their China policy is nothing but rage, rage that has become especially potent since their ideas get little reception at the center of power.

But because there are so few voices in the Japanese media capable of countering the arguments made by conservatives, their rage resonates, stoking public fears about a menacing China.

What choice does Japan have? Antagonizing China is a dead end for a depopulating, stagnant Japan whose regional and global influence is dwindling. The opposite of antagonism isn’t surrender. It is prudent policy for Japan to construct a framework for Sino-Japanese relations within which the two countries can make steady progress on solving bilateral issues and ratchet down the hatreds and fears of the Japanese and Chinese peoples. Japan (and other developed countries) shouldn’t totally ignore human rights issues, but, as William Schultz argues, they should be realistic about what pressuring China on human rights can actually achieve. In focusing on cooperative mechanisms and not mentioning the history issue — which, as Mainichi notes, did not go unnoticed by the Chinese people — Mr. Hu indicated that he acknowledges the value in a stable relationship. Mr. Fukuda clearly shares his vision. But can he convince the Japanese public of the wisdom in his approach?

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