The race to succeed Koizumi is heating up. Both the ruling LDP as well as the main opposition party Minshuto are pushing their candidates for the fight over the right to rule Japan. In the heat to succeed Koizumi, Japanese politicians have been focusing on a hot issue – Japanese relations with China, its largest neighbor.
The LDP’s front-runners, Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, have both taken a hardline stance against China, the latter more than the former, to whip up popular support with the public but more specifically with their core supporters within the party. Candidate FM Taro Aso reiterated Tokyo's concern over the fast-rising Chinese defense budget. "The real problem is a lack of transparency -- we don't really know what it's being used for," Aso told a political talk show on Fuji Television. The Japanese government's official line is that China poses no threat, but a report issued last week by a think tank linked to the Defense Ministry termed Beijing's growing military strength a "major destabilizing factor" in East Asia. Aso said the Yasukuni issue should not be a barrier to a Japan-China leaders' summit, a stance endorsed on the same show by chief Japanese cabinet spokesman Shinzo Abe.
But what is behind the scene is just as important if not more. While Aso talks tough, other LDP heavyweights quietly disagrees with their Prime Minister and reach out to China in defiance of the Koizumi-Aso-Abe hardliners. Former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura visited Beijing for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao who said that he is ready to hold talks with Japanese leaders as long as they make a clear-cut decision to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine which honors Japan's World War II war criminals.
Japanese sports organizations have also launched their own diplomatic efforts. Koji Kimura (general director of the Japan Table Tennis Association and a veteran ping-pong player) said he will pass on to the next generation the friendship cultivated in the past 50 years in an effort to contribute to the hard-won bilateral relations in a revival of “Ping Pong” diplomacy that has won the approval of the influential Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan. In addition, nearly 80 percent of the Japanese believe that their country needs to improve relations with China, according to a survey released by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on March 29.
Business is also making efforts to protect its own interests. Business leaders such as Kakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), have been trying to persuade Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni to avoid hurting economic ties with China. Meanwhile, Japanese efforts to diversify its investments to ASEAN as a caution against increasing dependence on China has resulted in considerable gains for ASEAN in the first half of 2005.Japan's direct investment in China rose 19.8 percent to a record US$6.53 billion last year despite anti-Japanese demonstrations in China last April. As reported in the Japanese media on 4 April 2006, Japan’s premiere trade organization JETRO noted that Japanese investment accelerated in the latter half of last year as companies that had remained cautious earlier in the year because of anti-Japan demonstrations regained confidence in China's market. Sadako Ogata, head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency also spoke out in Beijing that China's development is in Tokyo's interest.
In a bid to dispel concerns about the rise of China emanating from the Australian-hosted trilaterals between Australia, US and Japan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Monday (3 April) that China's development was peaceful, open and cooperative in nature. Wen made the remarks at the welcoming banquet hosted by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The art of pleasing Washington and Beijing is something that Australia can teach Japan a trick or two. Australia should know. Just after it hosted a trilateral barely concealing the agenda of strength in unity in managing regional power changes (of which Beijing is a focus, as Washingtonso frankly put it), it offers portions of its 20 000 tons of uranium exports (to be doubled in 2010) to China. Australia has pleased both Pacific masters in the shadow play of international politics.
China's development is peaceful, open, cooperative: Premier Wen (People’s Daily, 3 April 2006)
Japan FM calls China a military threat (People’s Daily, 3 April 2006)
Hu offers talks with Japanese leaders upon stoppage of shrine visits (People’s Daily, 1 April 2006)
Aso says he can't understand why Hu won't talk (Japan Times, 5 April 2006)
China stresses "ping-pong diplomacy" amid chilling China-Japan relations (People’s Daily, 4 April 2006)
Japan Invested Record $6.53 Billion in China in 2005 (AP and Washington Post, 4 April 2006)
Backlash continues over Hu's Yasukuni Shrine remarks (Asahi, 5 April 2006)
Japanese investment into China hits record high (FT, 3 April 2006)
Ogata says China's development in Tokyo's interest (Kyodo, 6 April 2006)
Chinese premier arrives in Fiji on first ever Pacific islands visit (CNA, 4 April 2006)