The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 12, 2009)
Ozawa's group visit to China lacks substance
Many people probably wondered what was going on when they saw dozens of Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao and having their photos taken with him during their visit to China on Thursday.
The group, whose honorary head is DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, comprised 143 party lawmakers from both chambers of the Diet, including some of those elected for the first time in the House of Representatives election in August. The entire entourage, including their supporters, comprised more than 600 people.
The visit was part of the Japan-China exchange program called the "Great Wall Plan" that Ozawa started years ago when he was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
The visit also served as a so-called exchange and discussion mechanism between lawmakers of the DPJ and the Chinese Communist Party. This forum was established based on a proposal Ozawa made during his meeting with Hu in July 2006, when Ozawa was the party leader.
Activating exchanges between political parties is certainly admirable, since opportunities for politicians to have contact with their counterparts have become quite limited.
But we wonder if it was really necessary for so many ruling party lawmakers to visit at a time crucial for budget compilation--the first time the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has faced such a task.
Tough topics dodged
Ozawa held talks with Hu on Thursday, but they reportedly skirted touchy bilateral issues.
Investigations into cases of food poisoning in Japan likely caused by frozen gyoza produced in China have yet to get to the bottom of the matter. In addition, China has refused to hold talks with Japan over concluding a treaty to jointly develop gas fields in the East China Sea. Making matters worse, China is preparing to unilaterally start drilling in the Shirakaba gas field, known in China as the Chunxiao gas field.
According to an opinion poll jointly conducted in November by The Yomiuri Shimbun and a weekly magazine published by China's official Xinhua News Agency, about 70 percent of Japanese respondents said they do not trust China. It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest these pending issues have cast a shadow on Japanese people's feelings toward China.
During his talks with Hu, Ozawa reportedly said discussions between governments tend to end up as mere formality. Ozawa stressed that each and every issue could be put up for discussion at party-level talks.
Ozawa should have practiced what he preached from the outset of his talks with Hu. The DPJ heavyweight should have set an example by exchanging opinions frankly with the Chinese leader.
To his credit, Ozawa did express concern over China's military buildup during his meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie on Friday. Such candid dialogues are essential.
Don't forget Washington
Japan-U.S. relations are in turmoil as the fallout continues from the Hatoyama administration's handling of the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture. Summit talks between Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama, which the Japanese leader wanted to hold in Copenhagen on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks, now look unlikely to go ahead.
Worryingly, the Ozawa-led group's visit to China likely gave the impression, both in Japan and abroad, that the DPJ-led government is leaning more toward China. This could have negative repercussions on Tokyo's relations with Washington.
Maintaining friendly relations between Japan and China is certainly important. But cordial ties alone will not be enough to resolve the many complicated issues between the two nations.
Bearing this in mind, interparty exchanges should be promoted through more practical visits by smaller groups.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 12, 2009)