Diplomatic tightrope: (Japan’s Foreign Minister) Machimura should watch what he says.

The Asahi Shimbun

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura seems to have the gift of the gab. His volubility and spirited language stand in stark contrast with the restrained, guarded tone in which his predecessor, Yoriko Kawaguchi, usually spoke. But some of Machimura’s recent utterances were over the top and cannot be dismissed easily as empty political rhetoric.
In a recent speech, for instance, Machimura said Japan’s relationship with China is in bad shape because there are people who visit Beijing and unnecessarily flatter Chinese leaders. “Why do they have to humiliate themselves so much by kowtowing to China? I don’t understand these traditional champions of friendly Japan-China ties,” he said.
Machimura was talking about a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who supposedly disclosed to Chinese officials that the foreign minister had known in advance that Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi would cancel her planned meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and leave Japan ahead of schedule. While he didn’t name the lawmaker, it seems that Machimura was referring to Lower House member Takeshi Noda, who recently visited China.
After returning home, Noda appeared before the LDP’s General Council and denied making such a disclosure in China. Referring to Machimura’s criticism about going to excessive lengths to be nice to Chinese leaders, Noda said diplomacy is certain to fail if the country lets its feelings show. Noda’s arguments are quite reasonable.
As head of the Japan-China Society, Noda visited China in an effort to mend the rift in bilateral relations, which have been badly soured by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine and other sticky issues. Alarmed by the deterioration of relations, Noda apparently tried to help clean up the mess created by the government’s disastrous diplomacy. Calling his diplomatic act as unnecessary flattering is uncalled for.
Machimura also rebutted criticism by Japan’s neighbors that some Japanese history textbooks glorify past militarism.
People who write textbooks are lefties, he said. “Only left-leaning textbooks are adopted by the Japan Teachers’ Union. If I use a golf metaphor, the textbooks written by these people are almost out of left bounds. They cannot be glorifying militarism,” he said.
Machimura characterized the oft-criticized textbook published by Fusosha Publishing Inc. as representing a middle-of-the-road position and added the criticism about Japanese textbooks is based only on political slogans and prejudices.
This may well be Machimura’s heart-felt opinion. After all, he once served as education minister and thus is familiar with the textbook controversy. Even so, phrases like lefties are provocative. It serves no useful purpose if he is trying to defend the content of Japanese history textbooks.
On the same day as this speech, Machimura made more controversial remarks at a meeting of his advisory panel on Japan’s development aid strategy.
“Some people criticized the prime minister’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine as signs of militarism, but that’s absurd,” he said. “We should be proud of the fact that Japan had been eagerly supplying official development assistance, even by issuing deficit-covering bonds, and that we were the largest aid donor in the 1990s.”
It is a fact that Japan is not a militarist country. It is also true that Japan has been pouring a great deal of effort into aiding developing countries. By linking the two facts with dubious rhetoric, Machimura created the impression that he does not think Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni should be criticized because Japan has provided a huge chunk of ODA.
Machimura is now busy lobbying for Japan’s bid to win a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council and is working hard to arrange a meeting between Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao by the end of the year. Koizumi is also scheduled soon to hold a meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.
We welcome politicians who speak in plain and frank language. But Machimura must bear in mind that as the nation’s top diplomat he is responsible for ensuring there are no diplomatic repercussions as a result of his off-the-cuff remarks.
–The Asahi Shimbun, June 9(IHT/Asahi: June 10,2005)

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