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Great Transformation of East Asia and Japan by Former CG Mitoji Yabunaka

• Former Consul General Mitoji Yabunaka visited Chicago and spoke about “Great Transformation of East Asia and Japan” on June 5 at DoubleTree Hotel Arlington Heights. The event was hosted by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago. The English version of the event was also held on the same day in the evening in Chicago and was hosted by the Japan America Society of Chicago.

• After leaving Chicago in 2002, Yabunaka was appointed as the Director-General of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau and took part with the role of the chief representative of the Japanese Government at the Six-party Talks on the North Korea nuclear issue. In 2008, he was appointed as the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and briefed four prime ministers about international situations. After his retirement in 2010, he is Eminent Professor at the Ritsumeikan University and Osaka University as well as Advisor to the Foreign Ministry.

• P. M. Abe visits the U.S.

• Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met President Obama on April 28, and the two leaders reaffirmed the Japan-US Alliance. Abe’s visit was timely and successful. There were two fortunate factors for Abe. The first was the U.K.’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiative by China, while Japan and the U.S. have withheld their participation. The second was increasing vigilance on China's rapid land reclamations around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

• Japan-U.S.-China

• European countries have welcomed the rise of China, while most Japanese people aren’t enthusiastic about it. The U.S. would be somewhere in between. Many Americans perceived that China’s rise wouldn’t be a surprise.
• Before 2000, the balance of power between the U.S. and China was huge. When Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan was elected as President in 1996, China fired missiles in the Taiwan Strait. As soon as the U.S. deployed aircraft carriers, China withdrew from the Strait.
• After 2000, China grew rapidly, and the U.S. has taken an “engagement and hedging” policy. The U.S. highly expected China to become a responsible partner while hedging it. The former was far more important than the latter for the U.S.

• China’s recent behavior in the South China Sea has alarmed the U.S. Defense Department. China is allegedly going to build a military base on the reclamation land in the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Will the U.S. deploy carriers in the Spratly Islands? The situation would be different from the Taiwan Strait in 1996. Yabunaka said that China has begun to obtain “access denial power” that will block easy access by other forces.
• The U.S. Defense Department announced that it has been considering deploying Navy vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s reclamation land. After China made a strong objection against the announcement, the Obama Administration has remained silent. A big concern is sending a wrong message to China, and that the U.S. would give China a tacit nod when it makes objections.
• China also has claimed a 9-dash line, which covers more than 80 % of the South China Sea.

• Japan needs to change its security-related legislation to enable the Self-Defense Forces to act effectively due to the undermined security environment surrounding Japan. However, Japanese lawmakers have discussed the Strait of Hormuz as to whether they could deploy troop of the Self-Defense Forces to remove naval mines set in the sea lanes. The discussion should be focused on the South China Sea. In the case of a military clash between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, how should Japan react? It would be too fearful for Japanese lawmakers to think about it.

• Japan-China Joint Exploration Agreement

• China had claimed 350 nautical miles in the East China Sea because it believed that a continental shelf extended to the Okinawa Trough. However, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea stated that an agreement should be made among countries which shared the same sea. Japan and China had disputed about it for a long time.
• In June, 2008, then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and President Hu Jintao reached an agreement to develop an oil and gas field in the East China Sea (See a square in figure 1) to make the sea peaceful and collaborative based on using the Japan-China median line. This development point is called “Japan-China joint exploration”. Shirakaba oil gas field, which located just west of the median line, was China’s territory, but the gas would be reserved across the line; thus, another agreement was made that China would develop Shirakaba by Chinese regulations, but Japanese companies would participate in the development. These two agreements were confirmed by the two leaders multiple times.

• Yobunaka emphasized that Japan and China should work together on the collaborative projects immediately. He said that China hasn’t forgotten about the agreements and has patiently held to them. He urgently spoke about the need for setting up a communication channel to avoid confrontation between the two countries and for the maritime rule in the East and South China Sea for free navigation. He also said that any dispute should be solved by peaceful resolution, not by force.

• Partner for ASEAN

• Japan is viewed as the most reliable ASEAN country. 33 % of the countries trust Japan, while 16 % trust the U.S., and 5 % trust China.
• What ASEAN expects from Japan is: taking leadership in the East Asia region, having constructive relations with China, working together with ASEAN countries, maintaining the Japan-US Alliance, and managing East Asia for peaceful development.

• Yobunaka said, “This is what the world expects of Japan. I have asked the Abe administration to take right actions, and to have right leadership with right messages to the world.”

• An Interview with Mitoji Yabunaka

• Q: Should Japan become militarily active?

• Yabunaka: Japan is a peaceful nation, but we have to strengthen the defense to have a seamless reaction against any threat. We have to be prepared for the defense, but not for fights.
• Japan’s strength is the power of peace, trust, technology, and culture, so Japan has to stick with smart diplomacy by using its strength. I think that if Prime Minister Abe takes an active role with smart diplomacy, it would make a difference.

• Q: Regarding the change of Japan’s security-related legislation, I see a tendency that Japanese media have focused on negative effects of the law, such as involvement in wars and the lack of explanation by P.M. Abe. What do you think about it?

• Yabunaka: There are ten laws in the security-related legislation, and they are very difficult to fully understand. I think that most lawmakers haven’t read the full text of the legislation. Thus, their deep discussions haven’t begun yet. I think that it takes time, and they will discuss it well.

• Q: Thank you ver


Mitoji Yabunaka, former Vice-Minister for
Foreign Affairs and former Consul General in Chicago



A map of the South China Sea (the photo is borrowed from Mr. Yabunaka's presentation)


A map of the East China Sea. A square in the center is the place where Japan and China agreed in 2008 to develop an oil and gas field. (the photo is borrowed from Mr. Yabunaka's presentation)