Japan's Koizumi: From Great Politician
to Great Statesman?
By Ralph A. Cossa
Global Beat Syndicate
TOKYO—Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has
demonstrated that he is a brilliant politician. His resounding victory
in the Sept. 11 lower house Diet elections has provided him with the
mandate needed to now demonstrate his brilliance as an international
statesman as well, and he seems to realize that. In his summit talks
here November 22, he proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin that
Japan and Russia jointly develop the long-disputed “Northern
Territories”—four small islands just north of Japan that have caused
Tokyo to refuse to sign a World War II peace treaty with Moscow. This
new approach could end a six-decade deadlock.
he does step down next year as promised, he will have to be proud of.
He has improved the economy, has moved Japan steadily toward becoming a
“normal nation,” and a step closer to a much-deserved seat on the UN
by any measure, Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul are
considerably worse today than when he assumed office. While his Korean
and Chinese counterparts must share the blame, primary responsibility
rests with Koizumi, and the opportunity to reverse steadily worsening
relations are chiefly up to him—if he is willing to be as bold a
diplomat as he has been a politician.
their wish for a Koizumi electoral defeat, leaders in Beijing and Seoul
now appear intent on waiting him out, allowing relations to continue to
deteriorate and, when possible, exploiting anti-Japan sentiments for
political advantage. Meantime, Mr. Koizumi persists in his
controversial annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which contains the
spirits of 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class A war
criminals from WWII.
this year, Koizumi delivered a strong anti-war message, calling
attention to Japan’s militaristic past and pledging “never again.”
Unfortunately, the symbolism of the visits has completely overshadowed
the message, making it easy for his detractors to exploit the visits.
one last chance next year to stop exercising his right to visit
Yasukuni. He should announce that, out of respect for his neighbor’s
sensitivities, he will not visit Yasukuni, and then call on Chinese
President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to meet
with him in a three-way summit to discuss both history and the future.
But that will only achieve the greater good if the leaders of China and
South Korea are prepared to make an equally bold diplomatic gesture
that allows all three countries to focus on the future instead of being
continually blinded by the past. Mr. Putin’s response to Koizumi’s
proposal to resolve the Northern Territories dispute serves as a model.
regards history, Mr. Koizumi should personally endorse a recent
textbook entitled “The Contemporary and Modern History of Three East
Asian Countries” jointly produced by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese
scholars, which provides a balanced history of relations among the
three states. Koizumi should pledge that every library in every school
in Japan will receive multiple copies of the text.
leaders of Korea and China should make the same pledge and also
articulate to their own publics the positive things Japan has done to
promote economic development in their countries over the past 60 years.
Since the end of WWII, no country has a better record of promoting
peace and prosperity than Japan.
more balanced view of the history of both halves of the last century
would go a long way toward healing the wounds of history jointly
suffered by the people of China, Korea, and Japan, as would a toning
down the rhetoric and a depoliticizing the history issue in all three
Koizumi should take the critical next step by announcing his decision
to curtail future visits in return for a three-way summit, and
Presidents Roh and Hu should stress the positive things Japan has done
in helping the economic miracles in South Korea and China, and pledge
to move their trilateral relations constructively forward.