Japan from the inside out

Ozawa Ichiro’s foreign affairs

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 29, 2008

OZAWA ICHIRO, the president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s leading opposition party, is considering a trip to South Korea to visit Lee Myung-bak on 22 or 23 February, just before Mr. Lee’s inauguration as president, according this Kyodo report. Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo also might drop in on Mr. Lee, but he would visit around the time of the inauguration itself.


The Japan Times eagerly suggests in its headline that Mr. Ozawa might upstage the prime minister by being the first to visit Mr. Lee. (The newspaper’s political orientation is such that they would be delighted if that happened.) Upstaging Mr. Fukuda might well be the DPJ president’s reason for making the visit, but the way Mr. Ozawa and the party behaved when he visited China in early December suggests another possible outcome: the visit could blow up in their faces like an exploding cigar.

Mr. Ozawa’s mentor was the late Tanaka Kakuei, the Boss Tweed of Japanese politics. Mr. Tanaka took a special interest in China, and this interest is shared by his protégé. The DPJ president regularly leads groups on goodwill tours of the country. During his tour last December, the group met with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Here’s the BBC report on his visit; the headline reads, “Ozawa beats Fukuda to China visit”, as if the article belonged in the sports section rather than the Asian news category.

Starting at the Beginning

This story begins when the Dalai Lama visited Japan last November on a tour to raise the awareness of the Chinese oppression of his Tibetan homeland. DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio held a joint press conference with him during his stay here.

You don’t need a fortune cookie to figure out how the Chinese responded. They wrote this letter to the DPJ, which is still up on the website of their embassy in Japan. Here’s a translation from the Japanese of the good parts:

We express our great surprise and strong dissatisfaction with Secretary-General Hatoyama’s statement of support for the Dalai Lama at the press conference.

Under the guise of religion, the Dalai Lama is an anti-Chinese political exile working to break up the country.

Ozawa Ichiro, the president of your party, will lead a large delegation to visit our country early next month.

We most firmly request that you extend all due respect to China’s position toward Tibet so that a similar event does not happen again, and that relations between the DPJ and China can continue to develop soundly in the proper direction.”

The DPJ’s Response

As it happened, Uyghur human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer, who had spent six years in a Chinese jail, and who was forced to divorce her activist husband by the Chinese government, was also in Japan at the time. She had been invited to attend a study conference organized by Makino Seishu, one of the DPJ’s founding members with Kan Naoto and Hatoyama Yukio. A former lower house member, Makino has for years been an outspoken advocate for the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, and of democracy in Asia.


Ms. Kadeer (shown in the second photo with the Dalai Lama) soon found herself disinvited by the conference. A room for the meeting had been reserved since August in a building used by Diet members, but the party applied some pressure to Mr. Makino to avoid offending the Chinese. She did wind up addressing a study conference, but it was not one with direct DPJ involvement. That get-together was sponsored by three LDP members of the Diet instead: Nakagawa Shoichi, Eto Seiichi, and Hiranuma Takeo.

Those who attended heard about the Chinese imprisonment and execution of Uyghurs and their justification of their behavior by insisting it is part of the global war on terrorism.

Mr. Hatoyama admitted the letter had been delivered to the party, and that party leaders thought it best for the conference to be held at a different location. And so Mr. Ozawa’s Beijing junket remained on the schedule. He did miss a few days of the special Diet session extended to discuss the new bill for Japanese support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, but the DPJ boss is not one to let legislative affairs interfere with his other interests.

Mr. Ozawa Goes to Beijing

Alas, Mr. Ozawa didn’t do himself any favors in Japan with his behavior. The DPJ leader can be arrogant at times, particularly when he thinks he has the upper hand in a situation. Indeed, The Economist of Great Britain has in the past referred to him as a bully. But his behavior when he met with President Hu bordered on fawning obsequiousness, according to several sources quoted in the 20 December edition of the weekly magazine, Shukan Shincho.

Photographs of the meeting show the often haughty Japanese politician beaming and sitting up straight in his chair like a child anticipating a special treat. Reports suggest that in contrast to his normally calm and deliberate speaking style, Mr. Ozawa’s voice was high-pitched and squeaky, even quivering at times, as he spoke to President Hu. Instead of the standard bland diplomatic boilerplate, he offered President Hu thanks that came across to some as unctuous toadying.

Two of the magazine’s sources were members of his own party, and they were not shy about speaking on the record. Watanabe Hideo said he found the whole scene too embarrassing to watch, and added that everyone in the traveling party should be ashamed of themselves. Oe Yasuhiro described Mr. Ozawa as behaving as if he were pledging fealty to a feudal lord in an old-fashioned tributary relationship.

Mr. Watanabe recalled that Mr. Ozawa had once given a press conference in which the DPJ president claimed that Japan was too biased toward the US and too fawning toward China. He quoted Mr. Ozawa as saying, “I will say what should be said to both China and the US.” He also remembered that Mr. Ozawa once criticized two-track diplomacy by saying that the conduct of foreign relations is the exclusive right of the government.


It should be noted that both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Oe were members of Mr. Ozawa’s now defunct Liberal Party. That generally conservative grouping was part of the Liberal Democratic Party’s ruling coalition during the Obuchi Keizo administration. When other LDP members blocked Mr. Ozawa’s readmission to the party (to which he belonged for almost 30 years), he converted that into an opportunity to cross the aisle and join the opposition DPJ.

The two men are now among Mr. Ozawa’s harshest critics, perhaps because the latter seems to have blithely jettisoned his former political beliefs after becoming the leader of the generally more left-of-center DPJ.

Criticism from a Chinese Observer

Also criticizing Mr. Ozawa was the staunchly anti-communist Chinese-born journalist and critic, Shi Ping (third photo). Mr. Shi (who recently took Japanese citizenship) observed that the Ozawa-Hu meeting was given front-page coverage in the People’s Daily the next day. The article quoted Mr. Ozawa as using language that was both fulsome and excessively flowery to thank Hu for meeting him. In Japanese, his words were rendered this way.


“The Japanese people are deeply moved that China’s supreme leader has favored friendly relations between Japan and China with his great interest.”

Mr. Shi characterized the Japanese visitor’s attitude as that of a Ginza hostess trying to curry favor with her customers. He thought that Mr. Ozawa’s approach was tantamount to positioning Japan as a Chinese vassal state, and that the description used by the People’s Daily was identical to those the paper prints when provincial Chinese government officials go to the capital to call on President Hu.

He also wondered how Mr. Ozawa could claim to represent the entire Japanese people, much less describe them as being deeply moved.

The account of the Ozawa-Hu meeting is noted with little more than a photograph in the English edition of the People’s Daily. Here is the Japanese version, which uses language more restrained than that described in the magazine interview. Mr. Shi, however, is talking about the Chinese-language version of the article, and the People’s Daily is known to change versions of their coverage depending on the language of the edition.

Is Seoul Next on the Travel Agenda?

But now Mr. Ozawa wants to visit South Korea in advance of Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit. What will he and the future South Korean president talk about?

The Kyodo article suggests one topic—Mr. Ozawa’s recommendation last week that voting rights be extended to Korean citizens resident in Japan for local elections. These Koreans citizens are the descendents of those ethnic Koreans who were either brought to Japan or came voluntarily to work.

In fact, what Mr. Ozawa actually said earlier this week was that he has favored for some time extending the right to vote in local elections to people with permanent resident permits, and that his party would introduce such legislation in the Diet later this session. The ethnic Koreans who would receive the right to vote are estimated to total about 600,000, while the figure for all foreigners with permanent resident permits, ethnic Koreans included, number about 950,000.

His suggestion was immediately seconded by the leader of the New Komeito Party, Ota Akihiro. This was significant because New Komeito is the junior coalition partner of the governing LDP. There has been speculation that Mr. Ozawa hopes to pry New Komeito loose from its ties with the LDP and entice them into a new governing coalition with the opposition parties.

New Komeito is the political arm of the lay Buddhist group, Soka Gakkai. A large number of their membership is thought to be ethnically Korean.

Japan’s citizenship laws are based on the legal concept of ius sanguinis, or nationality on the basis of family origin. This contrasts with the legal concept of ius soli, or nationality on the basis of the place of birth. In other words, the ethnic Koreans who were born and grew up in Japan, speak only Japanese, and often have never set foot on the Korean Peninsula, do not have local voting rights unless they become naturalized Japanese citizens.

Should Ethnic Koreans Have Japanese Voting Rights?

It is not the business of foreigners to recommend to the people of another country with a democratic system to whom they should or should not extend the right to vote. That includes me, who, as the holder of a permanent resident permit in Japan, would gain the right to vote if the proposed legislation were submitted and passed.

But to briefly summarize the pros and cons, those in favor would say that most of the ethnic Koreans born in Japan are virtually indistinguishable from a native-born Japanese with the exception of their passport. Those opposed, however, would assert that citizenship choice is in very real terms a pledge of allegiance. Though Japanese citizenship is relatively easy for ethnic Koreans born here to obtain, those who choose not to do so are pledging their allegiance to another country. In some cases, that country is, de facto but not de jure, North Korea rather than South Korea. Why should people who make that choice be able to vote in Japanese elections?

The Japanese public is of course aware of how easy it is for ethnic Koreans to obtain Japanese citizenship, so Mr. Ozawa deliberately tried to soften the impact of his proposal by including all permanent visa holders rather than specifying Koreans. Doing so would have the drawback of enfranchising some people with a deficient working knowledge of the Japanese language.

But why is this the business of future Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and why should Mr. Ozawa feel the need to discuss this issue him? Does he intend to fawn before the South Koreans too? Does he seriously think this will earn him goodwill from the new government in Seoul? Or is he simply running in a pointless one-man race to meet Mr. Lee before Prime Minister Fukuda does?

The Onus in Foreign Relations is Not on Japan

Many foreigners urge Japan to improve its relations with China and South Korea. The unspoken premise of their urgings is that the Japanese are somehow to blame for the state of the respective bilateral relationships not being as good as it could be. It is as if the Chinese and the Koreans were anxiously pining for Japanese friendship with open arms, while the Japanese are unable to respond because they cannot overcome some obsolete notion of tribal superiority.

If anything, the reverse is true. Both China and South Korea have partly defined their contemporary identity by demonizing Japan for its past behavior; China continues this policy even as Japanese generosity underwrites to a significant degree China’s economic growth. And if anyone in the region cannot overcome the obsolete notions of the past, it is the Koreans. Some members of their government and media seem to encourage anti-Japanese attitudes out of a spiteful desire to indulge the uniquely Korean sense of han, or grudges over past wrongs.

There is very little positive to be said about today’s China, other than the fact that some Chinese know how to make a lot of money. They are manipulated by a brutal, oppressive regime contemptuous of the concept of human rights.

Those who have eyes cannot fail to see that the Chinese are intent on reestablishing their ancient hegemony in the region in an East Asian version of manifest destiny. Meanwhile, North Korea has turned itself into the political equivalent of a suicidal religious cult.

If any politicians or diplomats in the region need to adapt to contemporary political realities, it is those of China and the Korean peninsula. They are the ones who need to readjust their behavior and attitudes toward Japan, whose actions—unlike theirs—have been exemplary for the past sixty years. To assert otherwise is to view the world through the wrong end of the telescope.

To suggest that the Japanese need to change their outlook and behavior toward their neighbors is to suggest that the Japanese need to conduct a regional foreign policy based on appeasement. Such a suggestion cannot have been made by clear-headed observers.

Is it the case that Ozawa Ichiro has fallen under the spell of appeasement? Why else would his party placate the Chinese after their leaders had the effrontery to talk to the Dalai Lama or a representative of the Uyghurs? Why else would Mr. Ozawa behave in front of the new Chinese emperor like a pupil being given a gold star at a student assembly? Why else would he travel to Seoul to discuss the voting rights of Korean nationals in Japanese elections?

Events over the past six months have demonstrated that it is not as likely as it once seemed that Mr. Ozawa will become Japan’s prime minister–or that if he does, his term in office will not be appreciably longer than that of, say, Abe Shinzo, without Mr. Abe’s unheralded accomplishments.

But if he does become prime minister, the reports of his recent behavior in China and the justification for his possible visit to South Korea do not bode well for Japanese foreign policy under an Ozawa administration.

12 Responses to “Ozawa Ichiro’s foreign affairs”

  1. Ken said

    Pres. Roh said in a program of TBS during his stay in Japan in June ’03, “I do not think it good to hold our nationality in foreign country. I hope our brethrens to contribute to their living society. It is strange that those who escaped from Korea War claim about the unification of Korea. Bullets do not fly to Japan, do they? They do not have such right to suggest about it. I never trust them. They are demanding Japanese voting rights with calling themselves Koreans though they do not perform military duty. Those are contradicting, aren’t they? It is stupid, isn’t it? It is a cherry picking. They were leading favored life while we were confronting hardship. Koreans in Japan are Korean-Japanese. They are not Koreans.”

  2. RYO said

    In many ways, Japan is the Israel of the Far East. At least, that’s what came to mind when I read the sub-heading: “The Onus in Foreign Relations is Not on Japan”.

  3. Aceface said

    Talk about Rebiya Kadeer,Have anyone read Shukan Bunsyun article on Dec.20?
    Lots of Uyghurs living in Japan are now moving to the states because of heavy infiltration by spies from Chinese embassy.

  4. Durf said

    Re pinyin spellings of kanji: Bookmark this site (just happens to be the easiest one to spot in my collection; I’m sure there are many other similar tools out there) and stick a post-it note in the back of your Kenkyusha “Green Goddess” so you can dig up pinyin spellings for simple characters like those. This guy would be Shi Ping in any modern Chinese context.

  5. na-san said

    This is one of the best report on Japanese politics I have ever read in English. Great job. You are doing a hundred times better than any Japanese diplopmats. Although, I am worried that you might have started getting some attacks ( you wrote about Sokka gakkai) I strongly wish you could keep your work going on.

  6. Aceface said

    Threat from Soka Gakkai? Ampontatan had already made his numbers of statement on supporting Shinzo Abe,the ultimate risk on J-blogsphere!

  7. Craig said

    I find your commentary on Japanese politics fascinating and your positions in general perfectly understandable, but I take issue with one statement: “It is not the business of foreigners to recommend to the people of another country to whom they should or should not extend the right to vote.” (You explained the particular context well, it’s the categorical declaration that we should turn a blind eye that bothers me. Respecting differences is one thing; I would like to think this is another.)

    If the right to vote is a human right (as I would say it is), then it’s certainly everyone’s business. Else how could we criticize the status of human rights in China? (“Not our business” sounds too close to the Chinese government’s emphasis on national sovereignty for my tastes.)

  8. ampontan said

    Craig: You make an excellent point about China. I had democracies on the brain when I wrote that. In fact, I’ll probably edit the post…

  9. bender said


    The right to vote is about who within the country gets to rule. Democracy means “people rule”, right?

    If you’re an outsider (=foreigner), as a principle, you don’t get to participate, whether or not the country is a democracy. That’s how nation-states work. Countries can chose to let outsiders in, but that is completely up to the rulers within the country to decide. If this is negated, a country loses its independence.

  10. na-san said


    I am so sorry for the late response.
    I am not sure if you live in Japan or any where else, but if you can find anyone who actually has been with the SG, I would suggest you to talk to them. It will be difucult to believe that it is a Japanese buddist sect, especially when it comes to asian history.

  11. Aceface said

    I’m a Japanese.

    I think SG’s historical view on Asian history is pretty much following the conventional Japanese liberal line like Asahi and Iwanami.They are also sympathetic on issues like rights to vote for Zainichi Koreans because SG has many Korean members in both Japan and South Korea.
    Not that I agree with everything,but I don’t find that particulary wrong.

    The days of SG seen as media taboo is now over.

  12. Ken said

    “Should Ethnic Koreans Have Japanese Voting Rights? But why is this the business of future Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and why should Mr. Ozawa feel the need to discuss this issue him?”

    Korea submit the legislation to give all Koreans in foreign countries voting rights to all elections in Korea

    Ozawa’s conspiracy to be voted from Korean in Japan in return for giving voting rights in Japan to them results in failure.

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