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New Vice FM Akiba to be tested on improving Japan-China relations

  • January 20, 2018
  • , Sankei , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

Takeo Akiba assumed the position of vice foreign minister on Jan. 19, starting a new leadership in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Akiba has been seen as a candidate to become vice foreign minister even when he was still young, and he enjoys the great confidence of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he agrees on the policies of attaching importance to the Japan-U.S. alliance and taking a tough stance toward China.


Akiba’s skills will be put to test in managing the Japan-China relationship, which has shown signs of improvement recently.


At the MOFA change-of-command ceremony on Jan. 19, Akiba gave the following remarks on China, which is becoming both a military and an economic power: “Ten years ago, could we have foreseen what China would look like today? We must work for Japan 10, 20 years from now.” He appealed to the ministry officials on the importance of a long-term vision.


Akiba joined MOFA in 1982. He has served as head of the Foreign Policy Bureau and deputy minister for political affairs. In an unusual appointment in 2006, he was named head of the China Division, despite his not being a member of the “China School” of bureaucrats proficient in Chinese and despite strong opposition from a number of senior ministry officials.


His strength lies in his readiness to engage in tough negotiations and his broad knowledge of international law and security. When he was China Division chief, he did not budge an inch in the negotiations on East China Sea oilfield development, eventually achieving a bilateral agreement in June 2008.


When Abe visited China in 2006, he was the one who came up with the term “mutually beneficial strategic relationship” and was instrumental in rebuilding the Japan-China relationship, which had deteriorated during the previous Junichiro Koizumi administration.


Akiba is averse to unprincipled compromise or change of policy. He came into conflict with Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Diet members who attempted to review the plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station (in Ginowan City, Okinawa) to Henoko, Nago City under the DPJ administration, prompting administration officials to say: “Akiba is one person we will assign to an embassy in a faraway country.”


He shares the position of Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono on the history issues and their tough stance on China. There is a persistent view in the administration that Japan needs to strengthen cooperation with a China growing economically and some hold the opinion that it is actually easier to obtain the public’s understanding of bold deals with China the more the Abe-Kono-Akiba team maintains a tough stance.


Meanwhile, China has continued its military provocations. A Chinese navy submarine cruised underwater in Japan’s contiguous zone in mid-January. Toward the end of his speech at the ceremony, Akiba stated: “Emotions will distort diplomacy. I ask you to formulate policies by engaging in quiet but thorough dialogue.”

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