19.05.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have travelled abroad again amid growing turbulence at home

In April and early May this year, Japan was particularly active in the current phase of the “Great World Game”. This, by the way, is further proof of the fact that Tokyo has returned to the global game table (after the catastrophe of 1945) as one of the most important participants in all that is happening on it today.

Let us recall the state visit of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the United States in the first half of April. This trip included such landmark events as the US-Japan and then the US-Japan-Philippines summits, as well as the no less remarkable speech delivered by the guest to a joint session of both houses of the US Congress.

From 16 to 20 April, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa took part in one of the ministerial platforms of the G7 configuration on the Mediterranean island of Capri. In addition to the joint event with her G7 colleagues, she held talks with each of them individually and also spoke to journalists at a press conference and answered some of their questions. As far as can be understood, the situation in the Middle East and Ukraine was the main concern of all participants at this event.

A week later, she again embarked on a foreign tour, during which she visited three African countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Madagascar) and two Asian countries (Sri Lanka and Nepal). She was followed (1 May) by Prime Minister F. Kishida himself, who visited France and then Brazil and Paraguay.

The situation for the Liberal Democratic Party, on behalf of which the current cabinet is running the country, is not sitting well at home. For a number of reasons, some of which have been previously discussed in NEO. This, in particular, was reflected in the results of the elections for the three vacant seats in the lower house of parliament, which took place just before F. Kishida and Y. Kamikawa’s departure abroad. All three mandates were confidently won by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, whose leadership has already announced its intention to bring a vote of no confidence in the cabinet of F. Kishida to the parliament for discussion.

Meanwhile, in the LDP itself, against the backdrop of the negative attitude of the population to the current government, for several months now there have been behind-the-scenes talks about the need to take ‘preventive measures’ in the form of replacing the party leader. This is beginning to take on topical importance, as the next parliamentary elections are due in a year and a half. It should be recalled that under similar circumstances and in a similar manner, F. Kishida himself became the head of the party and government in the autumn of 2021.

Several candidates are being considered to replace the new LDP leader, including Taro Aso, who served as Prime Minister for a year at the end of the noughties, and the same Y. Kamikawa. Is it the behind-the-scenes struggle that explains the former’s recent public gaffe, when it was said about the latter that she “cannot be called beautiful”? While in various positions, including her current one, Y. Kamikawa has established herself as an energetic and competent official. This will undoubtedly be of major importance in the (potential) selection of a candidate for the highest state position. In the meantime, F. Kishida and Y. Kamikawa remained in their current positions.

It should be noted that on the eve of their departure, the annually updated “Diplomatic Bluebook” was finalised. The underlying thesis of this document boils down to the meme in Western propaganda about “the risks to which the world order based on freedom, democracy and legally established rules is exposed”. The specific sources of such “risks” mentioned are primarily “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, the escalating situation in the Middle East, as well as some others’. The DPRK and the PRC are further identified as the latter.

However, with regard to China, commentators note the appearance of the thesis on the need to build “mutually beneficial relations with China based on common strategic interests” as one of the key phrases. While “remaining vigilant” about the nature of China’s military development and once again stating the “cornerstone” importance of Japan’s military-political alliance with the United States.

The very fact that this thesis appears in Japan’s main diplomatic document is a strong evidence of its increasingly independent positioning in the international arena. Motivated, among other things, by the uncertainty of the outcome of political turbulence within a key ally, unprecedented for many decades. In these conditions, Tokyo has to rely more and more on itself in the process of securing its national interests.

The same problem of providing the country’s economy with natural resources, which Japan lacks, is once again (as it was a century and a half ago) among the main ones. But the “Global South” is very rich in them, the struggle for positions in which is gradually moving into the focus of attention of all leading world players. And in this struggle Tokyo is beginning to take a “traditional” for itself position of “elbows out”. In this position, the same F. Kishida and three members of his government, including Y. Kamikawa’s predecessor as Japan’s foreign minister, Y. Hayashi.

At the same time, it remains unclear how this position will be reconciled with the aforementioned thesis of “mutually beneficial relations” with China, which has long occupied almost the main positions in the Global South. In any case, the itinerary of recent foreign trips of both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Japan has included “reference points” that are very sensitive for China.

As for the “reference points” in Latin America, the visit of F. Kishida to Brazil, which is the leading country in Latin America, one of the most important in the Global South, and a member of the BRICS association that is gaining authority, hardly needs comment. In November of this year Brazil will chair the G20 summit, the country’s President Lula da Silva, even before the arrival of the Japanese Prime Minister, spoke about the readiness to develop comprehensive relations with Tokyo and, judging by the results of the talks with F. Kishida, his expectations were quite reasonable.

As for F. Kishida’s subsequent visit to Paraguay, a few more words seem appropriate. Since this Latin American country, small in terms of population (7.2 million, compared to 220 million in Brazil) and area, was the only one on the continent to be drawn into the games surrounding the Taiwan problem, it is one of the most dangerous in the modern world order, and it is involved in one way or another. The latter is one of the most dangerous in the modern world order and all world powers are involved in it in one way or another. Including, of course, Japan.

Paraguay, indeed, is a small but the largest of those 12 countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei. And it is very active. It should be noted only that the first international activity undertaken by the current President Santiago Pena after his election (but before the inauguration) was his visit to Taiwan last summer.

Two months later, Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai travelled to Taiwan for the inauguration (accompanied by a lot of international noise). On 20 May this year, he himself will be inaugurated as president. The brief comments on the meeting between S. Pena and F. Kishida held in Asunción  do not say anything on this subject. Meanwhile, the procedure itself promises to be a very remarkable event in international politics.

Finally, it is impossible not to refer to the beginning of F. Kishida’s current trip abroad, which was his visit to France, which included two events. Firstly, along with a number of ministers, including Y. Kamikawa (they are all together in the centre of the front row in the photo), he attended the regular meetings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is a kind of prestigious club comprising 38 (mostly Western) countries.

However, the main content of Kishida’s visit to Paris was not this rather ceremonial event, but his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Together with Germany, France heads the EU. Meanwhile, the struggle between China and Japan for positions in relations with the EU is becoming more and more visible. Actually, the Chinese factor is indicated already in the headline of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s commentary on this meeting.

The same factor made itself felt at once at the moment of the end of the next trip abroad of two top Japanese government officials discussed here. We are talking about Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s trip to three European countries, the main one in this case being France, which started on 5 May.

But this very remarkable tour deserves, of course, a separate commentary.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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