TOKYO: Japan is seen continuing to face difficulties in improving ties with China and South Korea after Wednesday’s reshuffle of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet, in which Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was kept in the post.
Kishida hopes that keeping Hayashi as the country’s top diplomat will advance the Japanese leader’s “new-era realism diplomacy,” announced late last year.
Kishida has worked hard to keep Japan’s ties with China amicable, attaching importance to their economic relations, while keeping check on Beijing by trying to promote the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative.
But tensions are now running high, following recent developments linked to Taiwan.
China hit back after foreign ministers of the Group of Seven major powers, including Japan, criticized in a statement early this month Beijing’s aggressive military moves in the Taiwan Strait, resulting in the cancellation of a meeting of the Japanese foreign minister and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, which had been slated for Thursday last week.
Japan plans to continue seeking opportunities for dialogue with its neighbor.
A key test is whether China will send a dignitary to the state funeral for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to be held two days before the 50th anniversary on Sept. 29 of the normalization of ties between the two countries.
Improving relations with South Korea is also a pressing issue for Japan given the severe security environment.
Despite being on the same page over the need to improve ties amid the threat of North Korean nuclear and missile development, however, Tokyo and Seoul are far from resolving thorny bilateral issues such as that of Koreans who were requisitioned to work for Japanese companies during World War II.
The South Korean government has said it will come up with a desirable solution, but it must race against time as the two countries’ relations will deteriorate even further if assets of Japanese companies seized by South Korean plaintiffs in lawsuits related to the wartime labor issue are converted into cash.
Another challenge for Japan is how to ensure stable energy supplies in the face of Russian threats in the field as Japan and its G-7 partners plan to continue putting pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Next year’s G-7 summit is slated to be held in May in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, which was flattened by a U.S. atomic bomb in the closing days of World War II, with Kishida set to chair the meeting.
The Japanese prime minister intends to make realizing a world without nuclear weapons, his goal in life, one of the main topics at the meeting.
But it is unclear whether he will be able to gather support for nuclear disarmament, which is in jeopardy partly because Russia has threatened to use nukes in its war in Ukraine.