Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrapped up his four-day European trip on Wednesday after meeting with leaders from Germany, France and Italy, as well as the EU. What's the significance of Abe's overseas tour, given that he is recently caught up in the right-wing school donation scandal? What are Abe's diplomatic goals for his trip? Global Times reporter Zhou Jiaxin talked with two experts on these topics.
Lü Yaodong, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Abe's trip to Europe was planned before the donation scandal came to light. With the scandal currently snowballing in Japan, Abe realized that he needs to have the crisis under control.
Before his visit, Abe said he would focus on two topics. The first is about the North Korea nuclear issue and Abe attempted to exaggerate the regional crisis into a global one. And the second is Japan's opposition to protectionism. Given the US' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the emergence of protectionism after US President Donald Trump pushes the "America First" agenda, Japan desires to take the lead in free trade and control the discourse of counter-protectionism. It can be argued that Abe's latest visit is a rehearsal for the G7 summit scheduled in May.
The US' withdrawal from the TPP has been a blow to free trade advocated capitalist economies. Against this backdrop, Abe cannot wait to seize the chance to change the post-war system, engage in international affairs more frequently and boost its influence in the global arena.
Earlier in 2015, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida proposed at G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Germany to add maritime issues to the conference's agenda. By then, he did not mention the South China Sea disputes, but his suggestion was in fact aimed at the South China Sea.
As the host of G7 in 2016, Tokyo deliberately put the South China Sea issue on the agenda.
This time, Abe tried again to hype the issue during the just-concluded visit before this year's G7. Japan wants to forge some European countries into a so-called alliance of maritime power against China. And some NATO countries including France have been persuaded.
So to speak, Abe's diplomatic trip has met his expectations. After the US begins embracing isolationism, Japan's parliament ratified the TPP trade pact and vowed to urge "signatory countries to swiftly" pass the bill in December. Japan also seeks breakthroughs in the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. If these two pacts are to be adopted, Japan will play a bigger role in championing free trade.
Japan has already made maritime security a part of the agenda at G7. But whether the conference will be aimed at China, those G7 members will consider their ties with Beijing. Nevertheless, China must be aware that those countries are without doubt on Japan's side in terms of containing China through maritime issues.
Chang Sichun, associate research fellow with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
The scandal-ridden Abe is in desperate need of a "diplomatic show" to shore up his approval rate at home.
In face of Trump's "America First" and the Brexit negotiations, Japan and Europe both have sensed a possible crisis in the future of international trade. Hence, Abe tried to cozy up to European countries by promoting ideas of free trade while seeking to enhance industrial and technology cooperation, in order to jointly dissolve the emerging threat of protectionism since Trump took office.
Meanwhile, Abe wants to garner more political discourse in global economic governance and international affairs through Japan-Europe cooperation, and thus, achieve his political ambition.
During the visit, Abe continuously proposed to put the South China Sea issue on the G7 agenda. It's typical for Abe to meddle in the maritime disputes and try to exaggerate the issue. His goals are very apparent.
For one thing, Abe's deliberate exaggeration of the divergences in the South China Sea is aimed at containing China and its emergence in overseas influence. For another, upholding the "China threat" banner provides Abe an excuse to deepen Japan's security cooperation with other countries and seek a comprehensive breakthrough in its diplomacy.
When offering the EU countries his goodwill during the visit, Abe attempted to invite them to join the frontline of containing China.
However, those countries only wish to enhance their trade partnership with Japan in response to Trump's protectionist policy. The real intentions of the two sides are different. In the end, Japan can hardly become a firm partner of the EU to resist Trump's protectionism and the EU won't turn into Japan's new ally to contain China.