A lantern dedicated to victims of the
earthquake and tsunami
that struck Japan during the Na Lei Aloha
Lantern Floating at
Ala Moana beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, May 30.
It's Imperative for Japan to Look Outward Again
"Even as Japan has been rushing to deal with the earthquake and nuclear accident, the international situation has been rapidly evolving. Ö While other countries are sympathetic to Japanís plight, they are also casting a critical eye on the situation. It has been nearly three months since the earthquake: continued diplomatic stagnation cannot be permitted."
Under intense pressure at home over what many percieve to be his inept handling of Japan's earthquake-tsunami-nuclear crisis, Naoto Kan is looking for support wherever he can get it, particularly from Japan's global allies and neighbors.
"All the leaders expressed words of sympathy for
the earthquake and tsunami. I was reminded again of the strong bond (Japan has)
with countries around the world," Prime Minister Naoto Kan remarked at the G8
Summit in Deauville, France.
During the summit, the prime minister spoke to the
leaders of the other major countries about his determination to rebuild Japan
after the earthquake, and held one-to-one talks with U.S. President Obama,
Russian President Medvedev of Russia and others.
Last week at a summit
in Tokyo with South Korea and China, there were indications that Mr. Kan is
trying to rebrand Japanese foreign relations as "reconstruction
diplomacy." While Japan struggled to respond to the earthquake and nuclear
accident at the Fukushima no. 1 power plant, international relations took a
back seat. But now the government is attempting to kick-start its diplomatic
During a series of meetings and conferences, Japanese
delegates have sought to explain how they handled the nuclear accident, while
those of other nations have expressed support for Japanís efforts to rebuild.
The "strong bond," the prime minister spoke of, or solidarity toward
Japan, has been reconfirmed during the course of this "reconstruction
diplomacy." But on foreign policy issues that were at issue before the
earthquake, virtually no progress has been made. Symptomatic of this was the
top-level meeting with the U.S.
At the meeting, President Obama invited Prime Minister
Kan to visit the United States in September, effectively postponing a visit
that was arranged for earlier in the year. The protracted confusion over
relocating the Futenma
Naval Air Station may have helped convince the Americans that the visit
would fail to move matters along.
[Editor's Note: The inhabitants of Okinawa have been
furious with the American military presence for decades, and for the past few
years, the Futenma
Naval Air Station has been the main focus of Okinawan ire.]
During their meeting, the two leaders agreed to adhere
to the bilateral agreement signed last May to relocate the base within the
prefecture. On the subject of the Trans-Pacific
Economic Partnership Agreement, Prime Minister Kan said that he would
"reach an early conclusion" on whether Japan would participate.
However, neither have much of a chance in the near future of making headway
domestically. Some observers have even remarked that the U.S. postponed Prime
Minister Kanís visit to determine his prospects - as his political base is
shaky after widespread criticism over his response to the earthquake.
During the Japan-Russia talks, Prime Minister Kan
expressed his disappointment about the occasional visits to the disputed
northern territories by senior Russian officials since President Medvedevís
visit to Kunashir Island
in November 2010. The president stuck to his usual response, saying "it is
important to conduct talks in a calm atmosphere."
[Editor's Note: Since the end of World War II, the Kuril Islands
have been occupied by Russia and claimed by Japan.]†
Even as the Japanese government has been rushing
around dealing with the earthquake and nuclear accident, the international
situation has been rapidly evolving. At the G8 summit, Japanís post-quake
reconstruction and financial recovery were cited as risk factors, along with
Greece and Portugalís debt crisis. While other countries are sympathetic to
Japanís plight, they are also casting a critical eye on the situation. It's
been nearly three months since the earthquake: continued diplomatic stagnation
cannot be permitted.
Managing the aftereffects of the earthquake-disaster
is hard work, but it is troubling to see the government continue to turn
inward. Japan must be shrewd enough to leverage the diplomatic bonds
strengthened by the earthquake to help it resolve long-standing problems. The
world wonít wait on Japan forever.
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