CEAC Commentary

December 21, 2018 

Japan Should Be Ready for Head-on Diplomatic Strife

By OKAMOTO Hiroaki

Head-on diplomatic strife and trade negotiations are raging across the globe, such as the trade battles between the US President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a tight-rope negotiation over Brexit between EU and UK, NAFTA talk between Canada and the US, and peace negotiation between South Korea and North Korea. These negotiations would carry heavy weight on the future of those parties concerned, and adroit handling of the negotiation would be indispensable to gain an advantage in the game. It is a common practice for most governments to blindside their counterparts by utilizing covert operations by the intelligence authorities.

Let us turn to the Japanese diplomacy. At the Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) held earlier September, the IWC declined the proposals by Japan, calling for a partial resumption of commercial whaling, etc. There were some reports that Japan would be withdrawing itself from the IWC after the decision against their favor. In other case, some widely reported that Japan would also be withdrawing from UNESCO with no choice if the documents related to ‘comfort women’ be registered to the Memory of the World, in addition to the registration of the Nanjing Massacre happened in 2015.

The expression ‘withdrawal’ sounds unsavory to me. In 1932, Japan made a bitter decision to withdraw itself from the League of Nations. Japan’s representative, Mr. Yosuke Matsuoka made nearly an hour long speech at the meeting of the League, yet the parties were not willing to support Japan, therefore the Japanese delegation ended up leaving for good amidst of the meeting. Because of this case, the word ‘withdrawal’ reminds me of the negative history and experience. Such ‘traumatic’ experience usually would happen based on one’s own experience. Realizing such "incident" while in my university era, further own study about post-war diplomatic history, transferred and viewed Japan from overseas and been witnessing the Japanese diplomacy closer, for me knowing the ‘withdrawal’ would turn up to the ‘end’ if mismanaged.

In Japanese, ‘withdrawal’ means to cut tie, hence no further relations. There are some cases of withdrawal by some countries. United States and Israel are not UNESCO members; and Norway and Iceland are not part of the IWC, so they keep whaling as they like. Japan, on the other hand, is a member of the IWC, but taking a ‘tricky’ way of whaling –calling it a scientific research, and sells remaining meat to the public afterwards. That is, they are trying their best for their whaling activities to be as peaceful as possible by not making the worst enemies. Meanwhile, because the US, Israel, and Norway are not part of the membership, which does not always mean they are doing all they like, as long as they like, but rather using their position to leverage the renegotiation.

Why can’t Japan take such head-on diplomatic or trade battle? In my opinion, it is due to the nature of the negotiators. Whether a diplomat or a trade negotiation delegation member, they are all governmental officials. They do not get fired, or usually their career system protects their career from being damaged. So they just have to ‘go through’ the negotiation. ‘Going through’ it means they just have to get along with it, thus they do not have to insist on their opinion and force to get it through no matter what.

Also, their career mechanism requires them to change their position in every a few years. As such, there are experts in the field, but their leader changes in a few years, and the operation and the style of negotiation change at the same time. I think the important negotiation should be done differently, for example by the team tasked with sure punishment or reward for the result. This of course includes the head of the team, the tasked minister in charge. This should be a base setting, and unless with such seriousness in forming the team, there would be no effective diplomacy.

Saying “there’s no choice but to withdraw” would be interpreted to the counterpart that “we are suing you.” “As you like,” the counterpart would respond, because they cannot care less. In other words, at the moment when declaring to withdraw, it means losing the battle in the lawsuit of a dispute, or the international negotiations. I would like Japanese people to be more sensible in such international understanding, and the negotiator should be aware of it.

Especially, I often hear a complaint that when a new case appears “cases after cases, this one cannot be handled.” If Japanese government is serious about a case, the negotiating team in charge should be tasked off from their ordinary routine duties, so they can concentrate on their specialized task. Once people argued “there are too many/little officials in Japan.” Compared in the international standard, the number itself is far shorter than other countries, but at the same time, probably there are far less skillful ones. I do feel the officials must be aware of professionalism when they are at the negotiations.

(This is an English translation of the article written by OKAMOTO Hiroaki, a overseas business owner, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Somei (Hundred Ducks in Full Voice)” of CEAC on October 17, 2018.)