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‘Seiron’ Column: Japan’s ‘considerate’ diplomatic approach undermines national interests

  • 2016-01-19 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: January 18, 2016 – p. 7)


 By Shigeki Hakamada, professor at University of Niigata Prefecture


 The Japanese way of conveying its diplomatic stance irritates me on many occasions. This is because our behavior and remarks, which are greatly influenced by our own culture, are alien to most foreigners. I am keenly irritated by Japan’s way of dealing with such issues as the inscription of the Nanjing massacre on the UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register, the perception gaps over history with China and South Korea, and the territorial dispute with Russia.


 Japan’s reticence and consideration to others often lead to misunderstanding, as these are not well understood by the international community. In other words, a diplomatic approach that pays too much consideration to others and prioritizes not hurting their feelings results in undermining the national interest.


 For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly condemns Japan as “the only country not accepting the results of World War II.” Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Vladimirovich Morgulov noted in an interview with Interfax: “Russia has never negotiated with Japan over the territorial dispute. This was settled 70 years ago, and the four northern islands legitimately moved to our control based on the result of World War II. Japan is denying accepting this objective, historical fact.”


 The remark is based on what then President Vladimir Putin said in September 2005: “The southern Kuril Islands became a part of Russia based on the results of World War II and this is acknowledged by international law.” This denies the basic agreement signed by Japan and Russia that the sovereignty of the four islands remains unresolved, but Japan does not explain in detail why Russia is wrong in a way that its own people and the international community can understand.


 Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida responded to Morgulov’s remark: “That is unconstructive and runs counter to the facts and to what Prime Minister Abe and President Putin have agreed to.” He did not go beyond that. Is this explanation sufficient for others to understand Japan’s position? The international community would conclude that what Russia says makes more sense.


 The Japanese believe that if someone talks rubbish, it is not sophisticated to react to it seriously. They think they should respond to it in a more mature fashion. How Japan reacted to Russia’s territorial claim perhaps demonstrates that Tokyo is practicing the “diplomacy of consideration” to realize Putin’s visit to Japan and thus trying not to ruffle others’ feelings.


 As I mentioned in the beginning, the documents related to the Nanjing massacre are inscribed in UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register and the statues of a girl, which symbolizes the “comfort women,” are being erected across the U.S. These examples prove that Japan fails to convey an accurate message on the issues. I believe that Japan’s conventional diplomatic approach is the cause of the problems. Its aloof attitude of not picking up the glove forced it to make an apology over the comfort women issue, though it was not satisfied.


 Japan needs to offer detailed explanations and rebuttals if it is criticized, however false or vulgar the accusation. That is what other countries do. Taking a mature attitude of not picking up the glove does not work in the international community. Japan should send a message in plain language and with crystal-clear logic when dealing with Russia. (Abridged)

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