Japan’s diplomatic ability to stabilize the international order will be tested more than ever before. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has to tackle various issues with a determination to shoulder heavy responsibilities.
The prime minister delivered his speech at the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly, which has been carried out through the broadcast of prerecorded videos.
In light of the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus, the prime minister expressed his intention to support access to therapeutic drugs and vaccines also for people in developing countries, including those in Southeast Asia and Africa. The prime minister said, “Japan will proactively lead international efforts … in collaboration with other countries.”
It is significant to extend Japan’s health and medical systems to low-income countries in an effort to contain the infectious disease. It is important to develop local medical institutions and to foster human resources.
The emphasis on promoting international cooperation when conflict between the United States and China is becoming more intense is very timely.
In his speech, the prime minister said, “We must not allow challenges against the rule of law,” and called for the promotion of the “free and open Indo-Pacific” initiative.
The initiative, proposed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a common strategy shared by Japan and the United States. The key to dealing with China’s hegemonic activities is to cooperate with as many countries as possible.
The base for Japan’s diplomatic and national security policies is the Japan-U.S. alliance. Cooperation between Japan and the United States is essential for Asia’s stability. The Suga administration must strive to build firm relations with the United States.
During Suga’s telephone talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it was appropriate for the prime minister to express concerns, with China’s provocative actions around the Senkaku Islands in mind. While maintaining the improving relations with Beijing, the government must keep pushing China to refrain from self-righteous behavior.
Two major issues Suga inherited from the previous administration are the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea and the negotiations with Russia over the northern territories.
In his speech, while calling on countries to cooperate in resolving the abduction issue, the prime minister said that he is “ready to meet with [Workers’ Party of Korea] Chairman Kim Jong Un without any conditions.”
An unconditional meeting had also been proposed by Abe, but North Korea did not respond. Territorial negotiations with Russia, in which Japan switched its stance from seeking the return of all four islands at once to the return of two islands, have also stalled.
If the prime minister is to follow a “total reassessment of Japan’s postwar diplomacy” as put forward by the previous administration, Suga has to come up with new strategies on the pending issues. The prime minister must carefully prepare the strategies and aim for steady progress.
Travel among world leaders has been disrupted by the infectious disease. For the time being, it is important for the prime minister to strive to build trusting relations with the leaders of other countries through repeated talks over the phone and online.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 27, 2020