--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1
EDITORIAL: Noda needs to rebuild Japan's diplomacy.
Newly elected Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is Japan's new public face.
Noda has a duty to undertake the onerous challenge of fixing Japan's broken diplomacy as well as its dysfunctional internal politics, which is plagued by a raft of intractable problems.
For the three months since Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, first announced his intention to resign, Japan's diplomacy has been stagnant.
The prime minister's visit to the United States, scheduled for the first half of September, has been postponed.
Dates have not been set, either, for the prime minister's visit to China, which should start fresh efforts to improve the bilateral relations strained by a diplomatic row over the disputed Senkaku Islands, or for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's trip to Japan under a bilateral agreement on regular mutual visits of the two countries' leaders.
Fortunately, however, a series of important international conferences are scheduled to take place in the weeks through November, starting with the United Nations General Assembly meeting, to be held in late September. They also include this year's East Asia Summit, which will be the first to be attended by the United States and Russia as formal members, and meetings of the leaders of the Group of 20 major countries and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
These events will offer great opportunities for Noda to put Japanese summit diplomacy back on track.
As he prepares for these meetings, Noda should develop his government's comprehensive foreign and security policy agenda and present it to the public as soon as possible.
The global balance of power is in flux due to economic turmoil in major industrial countries and the rise of emerging nations.
The wave of democratization in the Arab world and new trends in international terrorism should also claim the attention of the international community.
Japan now needs a grand vision and a grand strategy based on clear ideas about its future and role in the world.
During the Democratic Party of Japan's leadership race, there was little debate among the candidates on diplomatic issues.
Even more troubling, Noda's political resume doesn't include much diplomatic experience. While he has attended some international economic conferences like meetings of finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of Seven richest countries, he is basically a novice in diplomacy, with his diplomatic prowess an unknown quantity.
But he created an international stir before becoming prime minister by expressing controversial views about Japan's wartime past, symbolized by his argument that the Class-A war criminals are no longer war criminals, and by making remarks that provoked China.
In voicing concerns about China's military buildup and naval expansion in the region, Noda recently said China may "whip up nationalism" by making moves that bother Japan.
News media in both China and South Korea have already labeled him as a "hawk" or "hard-liner."
But it is probably not Noda's intention to go about planting seeds of diplomatic conflict.
It would be wise for him to send out a clear diplomatic message by at least declaring that he will not visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where the Class-A war criminals are enshrined along with the general war dead, while he is in office.
Next year will see leadership elections and the change of guard in many major countries, including the United States, Russia, China and South Korea.
Under the heated political climate of an election year, the leaders of these nations will inevitably be very sensitive to public opinion at home.
As a result, they may be tempted to make more political moves and gestures aimed at the domestic audience.
That could complicate the environment for diplomatic efforts.
The DPJ-led government has lost much of its credibility through diplomatic blunders.
The government of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama badly mishandled the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, an American military base located in the middle of a densely populated city in Okinawa Prefecture.
The Kan administration botched its response to the collision between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku Islands in September 2010.
Japan has seen so many leadership changes in recent years that foreign media now like to make fun of its "revolving door" or "merry-go-round" of prime ministers.
Noda has pledged to "say what must be said without restraint" for candid and straightforward conversations with his foreign counterparts.
We hope he will build relationships based on mutual trust with foreign leaders through thoughtful words and actions.