Abe seeks diplomatic points via trilateral summit

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/19 21:13:39

Abe seeks diplomatic points via summit

According to a Kyodo News report last week, the Japanese government is planning a Japan-China-South Korea trilateral meeting in late July and asking for opinions from the other two governments. South Korea is quite active, whereas China has not yet made a response.

If this trilateral meeting is held successfully, it will not only be the first such meeting in Japan in six years, but also be the first visit to Japan by Chinese and South Korean leaders since the second Abe administration started at the end of 2012.

Improvements to a varying degree in trilateral ties among China, Japan and South Korea have been seen since May, creating a favorable atmosphere for the restart of a trilateral leaders' meeting. Last year, China-South Korea relations took a sudden turn for the worse with the deployment of the THAAD system at the later stage of the Park Geun-hye administration, and the Abe government's acts on historical and the South China Sea issues pushed Japan-South Korea and Japan-China relations back to different extents.

Though the impeachment of Park was the direct reason for laying aside the trilateral meeting in 2016, instability in trilateral ties was also a significant factor.

In contrast with the situation last year, the THAAD deployment was halted after Moon Jae-in took office in early May. In addition, the new administration showed prudence about the "comfort women" agreement with Japan. Strained China-South Korea and Japan-South Korea relations were thus relieved temporarily.

Meanwhile, Beijing-Tokyo relations improved as Secretary General of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Toshihiko Nikai was sent to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation as Abe's special envoy and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi visited Japan in late May.

Besides, a trilateral meeting will bring enormous political dividends to the Abe administration.

Similar to Japan's diplomatic practice, the new South Korean president also plans to visit the US as his first official overseas destination. Moon will visit the US from June 28 to July 1 and hold a meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump for the first time. His preferred choice as next destination - China or Japan - will weigh delicately on geopolitics in East Asia.

Therefore, Abe is eager to hold a trilateral meeting in order to secure a nominal official visit by Moon ahead of China even though the two leaders plan to meet during the G20 Summit in early July.

And judging from the fact that consensus about resuming "shuttle diplomacy" between the two countries was stricken when Abe met with a special envoy of Moon in May, Abe is going to pay an official visit to South Korea next year.

In the meantime, 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China and China will hold the next presidency of trilateral meetings. It is highly probable Abe will pay a state visit to China next year.

Considering that Japan will have the LDP leadership election and Upper House elections in the second half of 2018, Abe's diplomacy will have greater authority within his party and the Abe administration will win more public support if the prime minister is able to realize visits to China and South Korea - the two most important neighbors of Japan.

Trump's unclear Asia-Pacific policy is also forcing Abe to turn to a trilateral meeting to mend ties with China. The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Trump in April set the tone of stability for future bilateral ties. Though US Defense Secretary James Mattis reiterated America's attitude on the South China Sea during the Shangri-La Dialogue in early June, actual actions by the Trump administration have been rather limited. This means that the Trump administration seeks to deepen ties with China while promising its Asia-Pacific allies to keep "containing" China.

Of late, Trump's exit from the Paris climate accord and ex-FBI Director James Comey's testimony in the Senate hearing have swamped the Trump administration in mire.

Now Trump can spare no attention on the US Asia-Pacific allies. Therefore, the Abe administration has to reconsider its relationship with China, for Japan is left with limited influence in the Asia-Pacific with the absence of US support.

A trilateral meeting among Japan, China and South Korea is indeed able to promote dialogue and understanding at high government levels. But the meeting will be of no practical sense if it is pure pro forma, which may be one of the reasons that China has not yet made a response.

Because a China-Japan leaders' meeting is possible during the G20 Summit in early July, the hard-won trilateral meeting in late July will be far less meaningful without tangible outcomes.

Since the Abe administration has been showing a positive attitude toward the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road initiative since May, it should take actions as early as possible to show sincerity to improve ties with China. Otherwise, does it make any sense to hurriedly invite Chinese leaders to a meeting in Tokyo?

The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology, Toyo University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
Newspaper headline: Abe seeks diplomatic points via summit


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