Newly appointed Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Wednesday night. Photo: AP/Eugene Hoshiko
politics

Tension between Japan, neighbors will test Motegi's diplomatic skills

12 Comments
By Ryotaro Nakamaru

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's appointment of a new foreign minister comes as Japan is embroiled in a bitter feud with South Korea over wartime history and export controls, while a decades-old territorial dispute with Russia has little chance of being settled soon.

Despite such challenges, those close to Toshimitsu Motegi, a Harvard-educated lawmaker known for his sharp wit and English-speaking ability, say he was eager to take the job after serving as Japan's top representative in trade talks with the United States for the past five months.

"I want Mr Motegi to make full use of his negotiating skills," Abe told a press conference after he reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday.

Motegi has his work cut out. South Korea the same day filed a claim with the World Trade Organization against Japan's tightening of rules concerning exports of some materials needed by South Korean companies to manufacture semiconductors and display panels.

Seoul says the measures, along with its removal from Tokyo's "white list" of trade partners that enjoy expedited regulatory procedures, are "discriminatory" and retaliation for South Korean court rulings ordering reparations for forced labor between Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and its 1945 surrender in World War II.

The implications of the row were amplified when Seoul announced it is pulling out of a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo that helps them deal with missile threats from North Korea.

Motegi's predecessor and newly appointed Defense Minister Taro Kono could not reach a breakthrough despite frequent meetings with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha.

In addition to the feud with South Korea, Motegi is tasked with jumpstarting stalled negotiations to resolve a dispute with Russia over the sovereignty of four islands lying off Hokkaido.

The lack of progress on the matter of the Russian-held islands, collectively called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has kept the countries from signing a formal peace treaty more than seven decades after the end of the war. Abe says he wants to achieve the goal while he is in office.

Motegi will also need to manage the security alliance with the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed for Japan to make a bigger contribution, and negotiations next year on how much Japan pays for American bases on its shores may become a source of friction.

Tobias Harris, a Washington-based analyst and senior vice president at business strategy consulting firm Teneo Intelligence, says the cabinet reshuffle gives Abe a strong foreign policy team that may be an improvement on the previous lineup.

"Moving Kono over to the Defense Ministry means he'll still be working with U.S. officials on a lot of issues, and given how much Motegi has been engaged in trade talks with Lighthizer, it seems like a good stepping stone," he said, in reference to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The departure of national security adviser Shotaro Yachi, a career diplomat who is one of Abe's closest confidants, may create a weak link, though Harris points out that the 75-year-old "wasn't going to be around forever."

Shigeru Kitamura, Japan's top intelligence officer, was named as his replacement despite concerns that the former National Police Agency bureaucrat is inexperienced in foreign policy.

Abe will need a watertight team to tackle other issues including efforts to retrieve Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as countering China's growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

Japan is also seeking to boost its visibility internationally by playing a role in easing tensions between the United States and Iran, which remain heightened after Trump last year withdrew his country from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

© KYODO

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

12 Comments
Login to comment

What tension ? Neighbors have different views, that is all human and civilized manner. Looking forward, unite people, find common ground, the future for northeast Asia is brighter than 100 Suns.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

"I want Mr Motegi to make full use of his negotiating skills”

Whats wrong with Mr. Abe’s? How long has he been ‘negotiating’ with South Korea and Russia? I hope Mr. Motegi does better; he can’t do worse.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Seoul says the measures, along with its removal from Tokyo's "white list" of trade partners that enjoy expedited regulatory procedures, are "discriminatory"

I completely disagree with this. I consider that when SK was on Japan's Whitelist while no other Asian nation was on it, it was discriminatory to those other Asian nations. Now that SK has been removed and is on an equal footing with all the other Asian nations, it can not be called "discriminatory". If this is the basis of SK's claim at the WTO it's not even worth the time.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

> OssanAmericaToday  09:14 am JST

Seoul says the measures, along with its removal from Tokyo's "white list" of trade partners that enjoy expedited regulatory procedures, are "discriminatory"

I completely disagree with this. I consider that when SK was on Japan's Whitelist while no other Asian nation was on it, it was discriminatory to those other Asian nations. Now that SK has been removed and is on an equal footing with all the other Asian nations, it can not be called "discriminatory". If this is the basis of SK's claim at the WTO it's not even worth the time.

Well said.

I'd also add, if I may, that at no point did South Korea admit that its strong economic growth was attributed to Japan's support and tolerance of years of untrustworthy behaviour. Now that it has all come out in the media, South Korea doesn't look like the 'powerhouse' it purported itself to be. It was all due to Japan's help. South Korea's reaction to the removal of preferential export process proves beyond a doubt that South Korea enjoyed undereserved preferential treatment which directly contributed to their national well being.

Now it's up to South Korea to prove that they deserve the preferential treatment by providing Japan with guarantees that sensitive tech materials that could be used for weapons manufacturing don't end up in North Korean hands... but they refuse to do so.

The question is why.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Motegi has "negotiating skills"???  Any evidence of these legendary "skills"??

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

South Korea doesn't look like the 'powerhouse' it purported itself to be. It was all due to Japan's help.

SK is now a democracy, with industries producing high quality goods, and ha gained much world respect.

This is mostly due to Sk's hard work, resilience, and endeavour.

Japan may have helped a little bit.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

A simple sorry, a little balance and stop listening to america will stop all Mr Motegi problems.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

i heard Japan’s high lank Cabinet Office and Ministry of Finance officer, ret. saying on the radio “It’s just one Excel file that they need to send to Japan so that to stay on the white list why can’t they do that?”

Why can’t they disclose end users of those materials? They don’t know themselves? If so why not simply ask for international support to clarify?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Abe will need a watertight team to tackle other issues including efforts to retrieve Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as countering China's growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas.

Delusion.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

i heard Japan’s high lank Cabinet Office and Ministry of Finance officer, ret. saying on the radio “It’s just one Excel file that they need to send to Japan so that to stay on the white list why can’t they do that?”

That is not true at all.

The SK companies are now required several pages of data when applying for import clearance and some of the requirements will risk them revealing their production techniques something that any company will be reluctant to do.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The SK companies are now required several pages of data when applying for import clearance and some of the requirements will risk them revealing their production techniques something that any company will be reluctant to do.

*

This is because SK is not on the white list now. The same requirements apply to all other Asian countries as they are not on the list. What I said was the.requirement for SK to STAY ON THE LIST instead of standard requirements for non listed countries. SK chose to get off the list by neglecting the former.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

On relations with South Korea, the basic policy line won't be changed under Motegi. In his inaugural talk to the press, Motegi already urged the Blue House to abide by the international agreement over the conflicting issue relating to wartime labours. Seoul will get disappointed if it was expecting some breakthrough.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites