With mixed messages being the current specialty of Japan's new
government, today's meeting between US Secretary of State Colin
Powell and the controversial Japanese foreign minister will be
Makiko Tanaka, the first woman to serve as Japan's chief
diplomat, comes to the US ahead of Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi's visit in less than two weeks.
And while both are enjoying sky-high popularity ratings at home,
Japan's Asian neighbors are skittish about the prospect of a more
nationalistic Japan under its unconventional new prime minister,
while the West seems similarly uncertain of where the man with the
hip hairdo plans to lead his country.
Since becoming prime minister less than two months ago, Mr.
Koizumi has made a string of eyebrow-raising announcements.
He says he will visit Tokyo's Yasakuni shrine, dedicated to
Japan's war martyrs, later this summer. Some say the memorial was
used in the past to stir up nationalist sentiments, and Japan's
neighbors see the shrine as glorifying the country's wartime past.
Koizumi says that Japan will not reverse its decision to approve
a middle-school history textbook that glazes over portions of the
nation's militaristic history. And he says Japan should change its
pacifist Constitution to allow for participation in "collective
security," which would present a major departure from the domestic-
only Self-Defense Forces Japan has limited itself to for more than
half a century.
And at the same time that Koizumi has sent out conservative waves
on what are seen as nationalistic, if symbolic, issues, the world
has had an equally difficult time reading Ms. Tanaka.
Tanaka refused to meet with US Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage when he came here last month to discuss the Bush
administration's plans for a national missile defense program,
saying she was stressed out and unprepared.
Shortly after, she visited China - the most vociferous opponent
of President Bush's decision to explore missile defense
Then the Japanese foreign ministry leaked remarks Tanaka
allegedly made with the German foreign minister about the need to
reassess the US-Japan security alliance, saying that relations
between the two countries were at a "turning point" and expressing
opposition to US missile defense.
On the most basic level, Koizumi looks keen to please Bush's
security realpoliticians in Washington, while Tanaka seems intent
to be on the same page as Beijing, hoping to bring along European
leaders who are also chilly toward pursuing missile defense for
fear it will spark a new global arms race.
Analysts say both Tanaka and Koizumi are still too fuzzy on their
own security stratagem for anyone to determine whether there is a
real schism between them.
Koizumi the candidate told reporters two months ago that he
thought relations with the US should be Japan's No.1 priority;
Koizumi the prime minister says he would not rule out opposing US
missile-defense proposals outright.
What is clear is that the new faces of decisionmaking in Nagata-
cho - Tokyo's equivalent of Capitol Hill - are being watched rather
warily by their neighbors abroad.
"The one country's objectives which are not clear is Japan. Japan
is rewriting its textbooks and it is building up its military
capability," says Ron Morse, a political scientist at Reitaku
University in Tokyo. "Japan is doing everything that will upset
China, Korea, and the region."
"The question in the Bush Administration is, 'Is Japan a loyal
ally? Why is it doing this?' " adds Mr. Morse.
It may be motivated by widespread yet amorphous desire to change.
Japan has been haunted by a mixture of economic and political
malaise, which, until Koizumi's election, consistently filled
newspapers with depressing analyses of Tokyo's diminishing status
on the world stage. …