Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Taking in Chinese Pride of Place

On February 2, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro had a long-overdue meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell. In a press conference this past Monday, Ozawa confirmed that Campbell invited him to visit Washington during the Golden Week holidays, preferably with a retinue in tow similar to the one that Ozawa brought with him to China in December. During his stay in the U.S. capital, Ozawa and his people would have the chance meet with various Administration officials and inside-the-Beltway power brokers.

Ozawa explained that he had responded positively to Campbell's invitation, provided two points were made crystal clear aforehand:

1) That those meeting Ozawa would understand that the visit was not in order to discuss policies but to forge a basis for friendly relations between the U.S and the DPJ, and

2) That he would have a lengthy and well-publicized meeting with President Barack Obama.

Tobias Harris, who has taken a long look at Ozawa's seeming jump into the foreign policy arena sees the two demands as contradictory to Ozawa's ultimate goals.
At a press conference Monday he said that policy discussions are the job of the government, i.e. if the US government thinks that it can treat with Ozawa in order to find a breakthrough on Futenma it will be disappointed. Instead Ozawa views a Washington trip as necessary to build relations between the DPJ and the Democratic Party — and accordingly he wants a guarantee that a meeting will be scheduled with President Obama. That strikes me as an odd condition considering that Ozawa stated that he will not be going to discuss policy. Why should the president meet with a party official there on party business? LDP officials may have met with the US president when they visited Washington — Abe Shinzo, for example — but if foreign policy is being made by the cabinet, what business does a party official, even the secretary-general, have making a meeting with the president a precondition of his visit?
Ozawa's probable answer to this seeming conundrum is not so difficult to work out. As the quotes in the Sankei Shimbun's version of Monday's press conference indicate, Ozawa is looking at the visit to Washington through Chinese eyes. In December, the Chinese made their own president Hu Jintao available for a long one-on-one sit-down meeting with Ozawa, who is formally only the leader of the Japanese party with the largest number of seats in the Diet. Hu also accepted being used as a political prop, standing for hundreds of individual handshake and group photographs with Ozawa's traveling party.

If Ozawa were to accept only a short, perfunctory meeting with President Obama, one with minimal publicity, the Chinese would surely feel as though Ozawa were indicating that presidents Hu and Obama were not on the same level.

So Mr. Harris should expect Ozawa to ignore his advice...
If Ozawa is serious about not interfering with the Hatoyama government's foreign policy making, he should make a point of having only brief, perfunctory meetings with administration officials, especially considering that sometime around Golden Week the government will presumably have reached a decision regarding the 2006 realignment plan.
...in favor of keeping his own council.

In the grander scheme of things, one must remember that Ozawa plays for the very long term. The Chinese trust Ozawa, possibly even like him...and it has taken him 25 years to cultivate this relationship. Ozawa is also concerned most of all with defending that which he has already achieved.

Relations with the Obama Administration? A spring chicken, a puff of air, a work not even in progress yet, by comparison.

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