Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 21:21 | SYDNEY
Saturday 28 Mar 2020 | 21:21 | SYDNEY


Malcolm Cook

11 June 2008 08:30

Being in Japan at the same time as PM Rudd is very insightful. I have been quite critical of the new Rudd Government's approach to Japan (hopefully not obtuse though) and I stand by my remarks. However, I am now also more sympathetic to the challenges Canberra faces in engaging with Tokyo at the moment. Rudd's visit is getting little coverage here. The three papers I bought this morning (two local English language ones and a Japanese one) failed to mention the visit, while the TV news is providing blanket coverage of a mass killing on Sunday in central Tokyo.

Foreign policy (excepting the preparations for the G-8 Summit, where Rudd will be Fukuda's invited guest) is not getting much coverage as Japan's domestic politics are paralysed with the Fukuda Government facing a possible censure motion in the Upper House, an unprecedented move in post-war Japanese democracy. Fukuda has been fighting for his political life since before our November elections and has had little time to focus on Australia or even pick up the phone and call Canberra. This paralysis also means that Fukuda and his government is in no position to offer anything bold on the stalled FTA.

Even in foreign policy though, the Rudd visit is being crowded out. He may have well passed Turkish President Gul in Tokyo's airways on Sunday as Gul was leaving Japan after his first visit as President. Japan also hosted the G-8 energy ministers and those of India, South Korea and China (not Australia though) to help prepare for the G-8 Summit. Japan and North Korea will soon be having their first senior officials meeting of 2008, and a new round of the Six-Party Talks is in the offing. Fukuda's LDP party also just lost control of Okinawa, making the US base reallocation there much more tricky. Finally, China is accepting Japanese aid to deal with the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, offering a new opening in China-Japan relations.

The Rudd visit seems to be hitting the right notes and is well planned out. Alas, it may not really be cutting through though, unlike the whaling spat in December and Rudd's first trip to Asia (minus Japan).