The Yomiuri Shimbun
It can be said that Foreign Minister Taro Kono made a steadfast diplomatic debut, committed to safe driving at the start.
Kono, in his first overseas visit since he became foreign minister, attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related foreign ministers’ meetings in the Philippines and held talks with his counterparts, including those from the United States, China and South Korea.
At his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and at the foreign ministerial meeting of Japan, the United States and South Korea, Kono agreed with his counterparts to increase pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile development, by steadily carrying out the additional U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against the country.
To ensure the effectiveness of reducing North Korea’s foreign currency earnings by banning its exports of coal, iron ore and other products, it is vital for the international community to unite in strictly implementing the resolution. Of particular importance is encouraging China to get involved in the embargo, as it accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade.
During his talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Kono and Wang confirmed the policy of reinforcing a relationship of trust and beefing up high-level dialogue between the two countries.
In response to Kono expressing concerns about Beijing creating military footholds in the South China Sea and so forth at a meeting of ASEAN-related foreign ministers, Wang criticized Kono by saying that he was frankly disappointed by Kono’s remarks. Kono responded by saying, “China needs to learn how to behave as a major country.”
From ‘heretic’ to mainstream
Kono’s expressing concern over China’s attempt to “change the status quo by force” was reasonable, and the content of his rebuttal to Wang was also appropriate. It is important for Japan to try to improve its overall bilateral relationship with China from a broad perspective, while properly making requests concerning China’s self-serving actions.
At the foreign ministerial meetings of Japan and South Korea, both sides agreed to build future-oriented relations.
Over the issue of wartime comfort women, Kono said it is “important to steadily implement” the 2015 bilateral agreement on the issue. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said that most South Koreans cannot accept the agreement, and their talks ended without progress.
What Kang asserted only reflected the domestic situation within South Korea, thus leaving Seoul with no justifiable grounds to refuse to implement the bilateral agreement. Japan should continue requesting to the bitter end that South Korea abide by the agreement, with which both sides intended to realize an “irreversible resolution” to the comfort women issue.
Both China and South Korea had apparently harbored excessive expectations for Kono, as Yohei Kono, his father and a former speaker of the House of Representatives, is a soft-liner and was the very person involved in drafting a key official statement on the comfort women issue. It is appropriate that the younger Kono has made remarks in line with the basic policy taken by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Kono’s pet opinions include the need to review the nation’s nuclear fuel cycle policy, and to halve the amount of the country’s official development assistance. As he had also criticized the Foreign Ministry without mincing his words, some were worried about Kono’s remarks and actions. But he has, for now, put a lid on displaying his unique character.
He will be urged to graduate from the role of “heretic” in political circles by becoming aware of the gravity of his responsibilities as foreign minister, and by devoting himself to realistic diplomatic activities in the days ahead.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 9, 2017)