Monday, December 21, 2009

Ambassador's December 21 Lunch Meeting With Vice Minister Yabunaka

On December 21, 2009, Mitoji Yabunaka, the Japanese Vice Foreign Minister, met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos. According to Yabunaka, while the newspaper editorial boards and the business community had a fairly good understanding of security issues, the general public did not understand those issues very well. Moreover, even the television commentators and the politicians did not have a good understanding of those issues, according to him. He said that it might be worthwhile to educate the politicians and the TV commentators and he even named some of the commentators who should be contacted (I have a feeling Noriko Hama was one of them). Apparently, Yabunaka didn’t think Hatoyama had a good grasp of those issues because he wanted America to go through the basic fundamentals of those issues with Hatoyama.

Given that many of the DPJ officials lacked a proper understanding of the security policy between America and Japan, Yabunaka cautioned against a formal dialogue between America and Japan at this time. Were America and Japan to engage in a formal dialogue, according to Yabunaka, DPJ officials might take a position on a certain issue based on a wrong or incomplete understanding of the situation. As such, Yabunaka recommended America and Japan establish an informal dialogue to discuss the issues between them and to review the overall security strategy in East Asia. He suggested the two sides use an informal process to educate leaders over the course of the next year culminating in the November 2010 visit of President Obama to Japan. That visit would be an opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance in a more positive atmosphere, after having laid the groundwork for the visit during the previous 11 months.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much of a celebration at the meeting in November.

Though the diplomatic cable implies that Hatoyama had little understanding of the security issues related to the alliance, I have a feeling that Hatoyama had a reasonably good understanding of those issues before he became prime minister. The person who didn’t have a good understanding of these issues was me. Going over these issues proved to be very enlightening for myself. I have a feeling that what would unfold over the next year would be as much for my own education as anyone else's.

During this process, my government “made” me believe that Hatoyama was reading the things that I was writing in INDB. This was, apparently, the New Diplomacy way of going over security issues with Hatoyama – by having me write various statements in an Excel spreadsheet which would convey our government’s position on various issues. Every day, the news media would show Hatoyama walking through the prime minister’s residence. On some days, he would grimace at the camera while on other days he would smile and nod his head in approval. My government “made” me believe that this was his way of signaling either approval or disapproval for the things that I wrote. In a way, my government was “making” me perform a type of Kremlinology.

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