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Yoichi Shimada

【#238】Former Minister Maehara’s Speech Lacks Strategic Thinking

Yoichi Shimada / 2014.03.19 (Wed)

March 17, 2014

      In Washington on March 12, Seiji Maehara, a former foreign minister and a member of the House of Representatives from the Democratic Party of Japan, delivered a speech titled "Japan's Foreign and Economic Policies: Assessment of the Abe Administration." At a time when China and South Korea are waging an international information war against Japan, not only incumbent cabinet ministers but also politicians who had been at the center of decision-making process and had access to classified information are required to speak and act strategically, whether they are in the ruling or opposition camp. I would like to check whether Maehara was strategic.

Though faring well on territorial and collective defense issues...
      While citing a historical background, Maehara clearly argued that the Senkaku Islands are Japan's inherent territory and that it is China which has raised tensions in the East China Sea. He also called for paying attention to China's response to North Korea's armed attacks on South Korea over the recent years (sinking the South Korean naval patrol vessel Chonan and shelling the South Korean island of Yonpyondo). Japan and the United States immediately supported South Korea then. "Most importantly," Maehara said, "we should not forget what China did during this time, which was to support the position of the North Koreans."
He also criticized South Korean leaders in a mild wording for lacking perspective, citing his discussions with them in Seoul. "I repeatedly explained … that once we become able to exercise collective self-defense, this will actually contribute to the security of South Korea. However, my explanation fell short of earning their understanding." This argument is well formed.
      On the comfort women issue, however, Maehara failed to show spirit in rebutting distortions to defend Japan's honor. He failed to touch upon even the most important fact that Japanese military did not recruit these women coercively.

Remarks on Yasukuni are rated worse than disappointing
      Comparing with the present Abe administration, Maehara also boasted that the past DPJ government adhered to the “Murayama Statement” which apologized for Japan’s aggression and colonial rules and the “Kono Statement” which virtually admitted coercive recruitment of comfort women. Moreover, he bragged that key officials in the DJP government such as the prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary and the foreign minister refrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine where Class A war criminals are collectively honored.
Nevertheless, he fell short of touching on an important fact that Japan-South Korea relations soured fast under the Noda DPJ administration as the South Koreans unreasonably took up the comfort women issue again. It was unfaithful for Maehara to indicate that the bilateral relations worsened on the inauguration of the Abe administration.
      On Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, even the Foreign Ministry has embarked on an organized international campaign emphasizing that the visit represented nothing other than the prime minister's wish to respect the war dead who fought for the country. Why must the former foreign minister visit Washington only to come up with the weaker tone on the problem at such time?
      Maehara also quoted Prime Minister Abe's top aides as saying: ""Although the U.S. Government said they were disappointed with Prime Minister Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, no one under the Republican Administrations had made such misinterpretation or tried to find fault there. It is rather the Japanese side which was disappointed by the Americans. The United States is getting afraid of saying the right things to China." Maehara then said the remarks of the aides were wrong at a time when Japan and the United States were required to demonstrate their unity.
Nevertheless, he fell short of warning the U.S. statement of disappointment that encouraged China and South Korea. He might not have been conscious that Japan should be united before Japan and the United States are so. The Obama administration's statement of disappointment has faced criticism even in Washington, prompting the U.S. side to launch efforts to put an end to the friction. Maehara's untimely compromise offer amid such efforts could embarrass the U.S. side. Overall, I have no choice but to rate Maehara’s speech as worse than disappointing.

Yoichi Shimada is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Fukui Prefectural University.