Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Thaws do not mask Japan’s waning clout: analysts

AFP, YOKOHAMA, Japan

AFP, YOKOHAMA, Japan

While Japan witnessed a thaw in sometimes frosty ties with China and Russia at weekend summits, its diplomatic power is waning in parallel to the erosion of its economic might, analysts say.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who took office in June, assumed his highest-profile international role to date when he chaired this year’s APEC summit in Yokohama over the weekend.

However, he did so under the shadow of his party’s sobering first 14 months in power marked by tensions with the US, China and Russia, facing criticism over what is seen at home as his muddled diplomatic efforts.

In contrast, analysts say China and Russia have become -increasingly assertive against the backdrop of their economic rise, as Japan’s international clout wanes along with its weakening economic status.

“Both China and Russia are gaining confidence based on their favorable economies,” compared with Japan, said Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of politics at Meiji University in Tokyo.

A symbol of Japan’s waning influence is the plunge in Tokyo’s foreign aid pledges since the 1990s as a result of its two decade economic malaise, Nishikawa said.

The resource-poor nation faces tough competition from rival China for influence and resources, including minerals and energy from places such as Africa, where Beijing’s presence has increased sharply.

Japan, eclipsed by China as the world’s No. 2 economy, topped the global donors’ list in the 1990s, but has now fallen to fifth, according the foreign ministry. Its foreign aid has plunged by about 40 percent from its peak in 1997 because of budget constraints as it grapples with the industrialized world’s biggest debt of about 200 percent of GDP.

Kan admitted in comments to reporters at the summit that Japan is no longer “an overwhelming economic power” in the Asia-Pacific region.

Charged with helping forge a consensus among the 21 APEC members over the weekend to turn dreams of a free-trade zone in the region into reality, separate rows with China and Russia have piled pressure on the prime -minister. The diplomatic woes are yet another headache for an administration dealing with deflation, a shrinking population, a mountain of public debt and the impact of a surging yen on a fragile economic recovery.

The feud with Beijing stems from the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain whose vessel collided with Japanese patrol boats in waters near the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in September.

Japan said on Saturday that Kan detailed his nation’s firm stance on the issue, signaling the depth of the discord despite warmer comments from China that the two should “follow a road of peace, friendship and cooperation.”

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