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Kazamidori column: Kishida’s diplomacy and mistrust of China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy”

Kishida Fumio (left) and Motegi Toshimitsu in Singapore in 2010. (Photo courtesy of the office of Kishida Fumio)

By Akiyama Hiroyuki


Summit meetings are not just for national leaders to confirm the matters decided by working-level officials but also for them to speak their minds one-on-one. The leaders will make future decisions based on what they felt through the honest exchange of opinions.


This spring, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio was quietly told by the leader of a Southeast Asian nation: “I will never forgive China. We trust Japan.”


Kishida met in person with the leaders of five Southeast Asian nations and India during the period from late March to early May. The aforementioned comment was made by one of those leaders.


China is taking advantage of its military and economic predominance to coerce other nations into accepting demands. The nation’s diplomacy is often called “wolf warrior diplomacy” after the title of a Chinese action movie.


Recently, China’s “zero-corona policy,” intended to thoroughly contain the novel coronavirus, inflicted damage on the economies of its neighbors. It was understandable that the aforementioned leader of a Southeast Asian nation revealed anger toward China around that time.


The comment by the Southeast Asian leader reminded Kishida of his visit to Indonesia and Singapore in December 2010, when the LDP was an opposition party. He visited the two countries with Motegi Toshimitsu, who is currently LDP Secretary-General.


It was the year when Japan was overtaken by China and fell to third place in global ranking by gross domestic product (GDP). Kishida witnessed China’s large-scale international investments and Indonesia’s and Singapore’s heightened expectation for Chinese investment. Kishida and Motegi thought, “China would take control of all Asia if we didn’t do something to change this situation.”


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continued to deepen its economic dependence on China. An employee of a Japanese company assigned [to an ASEAN nation] says, “China has ASEAN under its thumb.”


During the recent visit to Southeast Asia, Kishida sensed in the region a wariness of “following China just for economic benefits.” Twelve years ago he never would have imagined such a sentiment. 


Kishida’s summit diplomacy is underpinned by his “ability to listen,” in which he takes pride as a politician. Important is how he utilizes what he hears and senses during summit meetings in making his next moves.


During the long holiday period that ran from late April through early May, Kishida visited Italy and the UK directly from Southeast Asia. He told the leaders of the two European nations what their Asian counterparts really think. Information on the realities of faraway countries is valuable. Kishida served as a bridge between Europe and Asia.


Members of Kishida’s inner circle say, “He starts by listening to others and doesn’t have a bossy attitude.” They believe that for foreign leaders, Kishida is more trustworthy than the leaders of such superpowers as the U.S. and China.


The Kishida government pursues a “realistic diplomacy for a new era.” It explains, “It is not realistic for one nation to secure its own peace and stability by itself.” A realistic diplomacy aims to create a desirable environment by serving as a mediator between nations. 


The Ukrainian crisis has remined the international community of the danger of hegemonism. Kishida defines China’s activities in the Indo-Pacific region as “an attempt to change the status quo by force” like actions carried out by Russia. So he lobbies the rest of Asia and Europe to prevent solidarity between Beijing and Moscow.


Kishida says, “Ukraine may be East Asia tomorrow.” Europe, which had looked at China from an economic perspective, has begun to realize another face of China. The leader of a European nation told Kishida, “China may invade Taiwan.”


China is the biggest security concern for Japan. There is even the projection that China will surpass Japan and the U.S. in military power in East Asia around 2030.


Even though Japan mistrusts the “wolf warrior,” Japan can’t deal with the “wolf warrior” unless it revitalizes its economy and beefs up its defense capabilities with the U.S. Kishida believes that a “weak economy affects diplomacy.”


Kishida will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden on May 23. They must not only share their views on China but also present specific measures to deter China. Otherwise, Kishida’s ability to listen will end up a mere passive stance.


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