Japanese Leader Buffs International Image: S. Koreans Distrust Effort Because of War

By Witter, Willis | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 24, 1997 | Go to article overview

Japanese Leader Buffs International Image: S. Koreans Distrust Effort Because of War


Witter, Willis, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


TOKYO - In his climb to the top, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto often fumed at the image of Japan as a rich but otherwise faceless lightweight in global diplomacy.

As a telegenic leader who enjoys meeting fellow leaders, Mr. Hashimoto has set about polishing Japan's international image through what some are calling the "Hashimoto Doctrine."

The prime minister never actually used the term. That was up to officials in Japan's Foreign Ministry, who managed to plant the term in both domestic and foreign news media before a major policy speech by Mr. Hashimoto in Singapore last week.

"I don't know whether it could be called the Hashimoto Doctrine or not," said one Foreign Ministry official, adding that the prime minister takes a "personal interest" in efforts to develop closer ties with neighboring countries.

Mr. Hashimoto used his Singapore speech to lay out a blueprint for Japan's role in the Asia-Pacific region that offered a little something for everybody.

For Washington, Mr. Hashimoto sounded a ringing public endorsement of the U.S.-Japan alliance as the "infrastructure for stability and economic prosperity in the Asia-Pacific."

Said one U.S. official: "We're just pleased all the way around that Hashimoto has gone out so strongly and publicly defended the treaty."

In the past, Japan had largely confined its praise to closed-door meetings with its neighbors.

To the rest of Asia, the message was clear, said Ronald Morse, a professor at Reitaku University who has served in the U.S. State and Defense departments.

"Because Japan will not have to become a military power to defend itself, it can be a friendly neighbor," Mr. Morse said. It means plenty of continued Japanese foreign aid and investment, cooperation in non-confrontational areas such as the environment and combating terrorism, and it even allows Japan to engage in a high-level security dialogue with its neighbors, he said.

To an extent, it also allows Japan to ignore past military atrocities such as the Korean "comfort women" forced into prostitution for Japan's wartime military forces, or Chinese civilians massacred at Nanjing.

Today, Mr. Hashimoto begins a two-day summit with South Korean President Kim Young-sam at the hot-springs resort of Beppu, on Japan's southern main island of Kyushu.

It will be the fourth meeting between Mr. Hashimoto and the South Korean president since he became prime minister a year ago.

Even with Mr. Hashimoto's personal touch, the weekend is likely to be rockier than his visit this month to five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Compared with South Korea, Southeast Asia's hostility to Japan over its wartime past has been muted by time, distance and the annual $14 billion in Japanese development assistance to the region.

Feelings in Korea are closer to the surface because of Japan's annexation of the peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and its attempt to absorb the people as second-class citizens and extinguish their language and culture.

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Japanese Leader Buffs International Image: S. Koreans Distrust Effort Because of War
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