Japan Embracing China?


Since Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan came to power last year, Japan’s foreign policy appears to have shifted from being US-centric to more Asia-centric. Hatoyama has also talked about an East Asia Community. Is this realistic?

Hatoyama’s foreign policy goals are interesting. I don’t think his foreign policy has shifted from one side to another—I think what he’s trying to do is find a balance somewhere between the United States and Asia. Asia certainly features a lot more than it perhaps has done in Japanese foreign policy, although since Junichiro Koizumi, if you look at subsequent Liberal Democratic Party prime ministers, they were very actively trying to re-engage with Asia and China and make amends for that period under him when things were going fairly badly. In a sense, Hatoyama is carrying on that trend. But he’s also harking back to the ‘good old days’ of his grandfather’s time, when there was clearly a pro-China policy.

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So, I think he’s trying to play both camps and balance the various issues with the United States and getting himself into hot water. At the same time, he’s trying to re-engage with Asia and find a balance between the two. This isn’t easy, but I think he’s doing his best. Of course, this notion of the East Asia Community is nothing new; he’s trying to reinvent concepts that have been used before. The most recent iteration of this was the East Asia Summit a few years ago, which failed for all sorts of reasons. He’s following a theme that makes sense and that many people have thought should be in place anyway in Northeast Asia in terms of a financial community, leading to a political and security community.

When Hatoyama talks about these concepts, he talks about a common currency and the need for a security framework, but it’s still a little bit vague at the moment. I think maybe he’s feeling his way with this idea and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to put the flesh on the bones. And from the point of view of China, both Hatoyama and the principle are welcome, but I think there’s caution there for obvious reasons.

Interpretation of history has long been a sticking point between China and Japan. Do you expect the recent agreement by historians that Nanjing was an act of Japanese aggression to allow bilateral relations to move forwards?

There’s been a great deal of media coverage of the results of this joint history project, and I’ve looked at both the Chinese version and the Japanese versions. Symbolically, it’s the culmination of a project that was put in place a few years ago, when Shinzo Abe became Japanese prime minister and, in fact, the project was finished about a year to 18 months ago. The academics on both sides had finished their work, but they were waiting for the right time to publish the results. Clearly the right time was a point at which a new government was in place in Japan.

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