Wednesday 05 Aug 2020 | 02:32 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 05 Aug 2020 | 02:32 | SYDNEY

Japan has a right to be worried about us


Malcolm Cook

20 March 2008 16:10

In his post on Australia and Japan, Sam dismisses Japan’s concerns with the new Rudd Government as Japan acting like a 'jilted lover'. While Kenichi Ohmae’s op-ed in the SMH today likely reaffirmed to Sam his view that Japan is being petulant, I think if you take a few more things into consideration, Japan’s worries are more reasonable and call for a stronger response from Canberra than saying a bilateral summit is in offing sometime in the future.

All foreign capitals with Australian interests are looking at the new government in Canberra and trying to judge how it is different from the old one that had been there for 11 years. It is up to the Rudd Government to explain itself clearly to our diplomatic partners, especially the more important and the more worried ones. My colleague Rory Medcalf wrote an early blog entry from India noting it is not only Japan that is worried. Japan, under the Howard Government, had a well-defined and well-received position in Australian strategic thinking. The US was our most important partner and Japan, another US ally in the Asia Pacific and our largest export market, was the second most important. Many I talk with in Japan are now worried that Japan’s position in the new Canberra is uncertain, with the fear being that China will replace Japan as our second most important partner and the most important in Asia — leaving Japan where?

These furrowed brows definitely deepened when Rudd’s first major trip was announced. Our Prime Minister will visit the US (still our most important ally and strategic guarantor), Great Britain (our historical motherland led by a like-minded government), Bucharest (to discuss our major deployment to Afghanistan), and China. You can fill in the blank.

However, brows were already furrowed, as Japan barely featured at all in the ALP election campaign, with the only major speech touching directly on Japan offering lukewarm support for the joint declaration on security cooperation signed by Howard and Abe, with the qualifier that a Labor Government wouldn’t support its elevation to a defence pact. Japanese law rules this eventuality out anyway. During the APEC meeting in Sydney, Rudd met both President Bush and, with much greater fanfare, President Hu. As far as I remember, Prime Minister Abe did not get a meeting with Rudd, despite APEC being a Australia-Japan joint creation under the Hawke and Keating governments. Since the election, the major focus on Japan has been, due to unfortunate timing, the whaling issue, and Foreign Minister Smith’s one-day stopover in Tokyo focused a lot on this issue of uncommon interest.

So should Nagatacho and Kasumigaseki really be satisfied with Rudd coming to Japan to attend the G8 summit as a guest of Japan, with a bilateral sideline, and the promise of a true bilateral summit sometime in the future? I think not. Rather, I think it is pretty clear why Japan is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the new government in Canberra and its mixed messages. It is up to us to show Japan soon that its worries are misplaced, not to reaffirm them, even if this is not the purpose of our actions.