By Senda Koya
Komeito is wracking its brains over the distance it should set with China. Since its founding in 1964, Komeito has built close ties with the Communist Party of China (CPC) and taken pride in its role as a bridge in building friendly ties between Japan and China. But the bilateral relationship has turned sour despite the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. Moreover, there are no signs of the situation improving. With the Japanese public turning a harsh eye on China, the party is pressed to step away from its “pro-China” stance for a time.
During a stump speech in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district on Aug. 15, Yamaguchi Natsuo openly condemned China for conducting military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island economy. It was rare for the Komeito leader to criticize China’s action so strongly.
Komeito is said to have close ties with China due to its historical background. When the party was inaugurated, it included in its action policy the official endorsement of the “People’s Republic of China” and the normalization of diplomatic ties to comply with the wish of then Soka Gakkai President Ikeda Daisaku. Soka Gakkai is Komeito’s main support base. In July 1972, then Komeito leader Takeiri Yoshikatsu visited China to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai, and they built the foundation for the two countries to sign a joint statement that September.
In January 2013, when Japan-China ties were said to have deteriorated to their worst in the postwar period, Yamaguchi delivered a personal letter from then Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a bid to find a way to hold dialogue.
Komeito’s emphasis on its close ties with China has had an impact on the Japanese government’s actions. When the Lower House adopted a resolution condemning China’s violations of human rights this past February, strong language, such as “human rights violations” and “condemn,” were deleted from the resolution out of consideration to Komeito.
But the tide is changing in the wake of Komeito’s lackluster performance in the recent Upper House election. It won dramatically fewer proportional representation votes in the election than it had in the general election last October. This has stoked fears within the party leadership that it must “win over conservative voters” in addition to Soka Gakkai supporters.
At an Aug. 2 press conference, Yamaguchi said, “Komeito is proud of having taken part in restoring dialogue [with China] and cherishes this 50th anniversary [of the normalization of diplomatic ties],” thereby expressing the desire to improve the Japan-China relationship.
At the same time, he expressed the difficulty that he feels [in improving the ties], saying that “public sentiment in both nations is not necessarily favorable.”