US-Japan Pow Wow on China

Japan’s Seiji Maehara gets a warm welcome in Washington. He’s always a popular man with defence hawks here.

Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara packed the room at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week in Washington.  So much for ‘Japan passing.’  More importantly, in addition to meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Maehara enjoyed an extended meeting with Vice President Joe Biden as well—hardly usual treatment for a foreign minister.  But Maehara isn’t just any foreign minister—he has long been well-liked by defence hawks in Washington, particularly as he represents long-dovish Japan, and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to boot.

Delivered in English with Q&A in Japanese, his speech reminded me more of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Japan—particularly the ‘values-based diplomacy’ agenda of former LDP prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso—than the DPJ.  It was interesting that while his speech seemed all about implicitly calling out China, in its praise of democratic and free market regimes (in particular Indonesia), the word ‘China’ came up only four times (three in the same segment, and once to note that China was now one of the three largest economies in the world).  The audience, when given the chance, asked some pointed questions about Japan’s views of China.

Meanwhile, Monday began the annual Japanese Foreign Ministry (MOFA) mid-career leaders ‘retreat’ to Washington.  Reportedly the first day was all about China.  Indeed, two China specialists within MOFA are part of the 17-member group—one based in Beijing, one in Tokyo—and several US China hands were present at the opening reception.  I sense much joint planning in advance of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington later this month.  Elizabeth Economy, who argued for such coordination in her polemic in the Nov/Dec issue of Foreign Affairs, should be pleased.