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Seiji Maehara, Japanese Foreign Minister resigns; for 250k Yen or Kuril Islands?

On March 6, 2011, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara resigned officially due to accepting donation from a Korean national. Most countries have laws banning officials from accepting foreign donations directly or indirectly. Obama was forced to return some donations in 2008 for this same reason. Maehara’s receiving of 250k Yen is paltry though, and I don’t think that is the true reason for his resignation.

It is generally known that Maehara is a Washington hawk. He takes a much more confrontational approach towards China, Russia, and North Korea. It is likely the mishandling of the Kuril Island dispute with Russia that is causing his resignation.

Russia Today reports:

Fred Weir from the Christian Science Monitor reminds that the basic issue was settled back in 1956:
“There was a deal struck – which was never followed through on – under which the two most southern islands would be given back to Japan. The Soviet Union agreed to that. And, as far as I understand, that deal is still on the table.”
“So I guess that if the Japanese were to take a different approach, rather than this fairly militant, angry approach that we are hearing, that deal certainly could be negotiated,” he added.

The emphasis above is mine. Recall that Japan had joint military exercises with the U.S. east of the Korean Peninsula in recent past – no doubt close to the Kuril Islands.

Russian President Medvedev personally visited one of the disputed islands himself last year promising to expand investments there and ordered deployment of weapons. The above report went on to say:

According to Natalia Starpan from the Moscow University of International Relations, Russia’s firm stance on the Kuril Islands reflects a major change in the country’s stance towards its eastern territories.

“In 2012, the APEC summit will be held in Vladivostok, and the Far East is therefore no longer regarded as the Russian ‘back door’,” she said. “It is becoming the ‘front porch’ and a front porch should be clean and tidy, and it is absolutely including the Kuril Islands, and that is what Russia is currently doing by visiting the territories and investing money there.”

Unlike the LDP, the DPJ party is much more conciliatory towards East Asia, as witnessed by the former Prime Minister Hatoyama. Hatoyama favored regional integration. While Maehara was Washington’s darling, he had to be a hawk within his DPJ party too.

Russia’s planned development and deployment of weapons is a departure from Russia’s long-held stance over the disputed areas. I suspect Japanese politicians view this change in Russian stance as a miserable failure on Maehara’s diplomacy.

As this Japan Times article, “Washington will miss Maehara,” suggests, the U.S.-Japan relationship is in a bit of disarray. The current Prime Minster Kan is pressured to resign as well. The Hatoyama brand of leaders could re-emerge in Japan. The question is how long the U.S. can keep a lid on them.

One thing for sure, like other frequent high profile leadership resignations in Japan’s recent years, Seiji Maehara’s resignation is another sign for what a pressure cooker Japan is today.

  1. silentvoice
    March 9th, 2011 at 05:45 | #1

    As I’ve said before, diplomats are supposed to solve problems, not blow them up. They are supposed to be pragmatic, not emotional. When there is divergence of opinion between parties, they are supposed to focus on the positives and issues both sides can agree on. In all respects Maehara has failed.

    A Mainichi Shimbun article mentioned that Kan was surrounding himself with anti-Ozawa members of the party, most of whom unfortunately, tend to be more militant. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano who temporarily took over Maehara’s job, is another China hawk. Weak leaders tend to make political appointments rather than select people for their abilities. A parallel of that is Obama’s selection of Hillary Clinton. Just compare her style with Yang Jiechi, one clearly is a “diplomat”, the other is not.

    Since we are talking about Japanese neo-cons and hawks: Tokyo Mayor Shintaro Ishihara has just declared that “China is our enemy” in an interview.


  2. March 9th, 2011 at 07:28 | #2

    Ishihara is singing his tired old tune for the last 3 decades.

    No need to worry. North Korea and South Korea will be all over him if Japan goes nuclear.

  3. Charles Liu
    March 9th, 2011 at 15:43 | #3

    Remnants of colonialism I guess. Same thing with Diao Yu Tai (Senkaku to the Japanese), Ryukyu Kingdom was carved up but where do you draw the line now, history? Current state? New found geographical/topological delineation? Nobody is going to be happy, especially at key locations where up to 300 miles of EEZ is at stake.

  4. raffiaflower
    March 9th, 2011 at 22:17 | #4

    This reminds me of the haiku by lord Asano, ordered to commit harakiri for drawing his weapon in the shogun’s castle:
    Sadder than blossoms
    Blown away by wind
    Life taken away
    In fullness of spring

    So Maehara’s political life has been cut short by a “misdemeanour”. He did the honourable thing. So don’t count him out yet. In Japan, even former war criminals and bigger crooks have managed to become prime minister.
    Maehara will surely have more than 47 loyal ronin to fight for him, lol!
    But maintaining a perpetual hawkish stance towards its closest neighbours in the region does not benefit Japan in the long run.

  5. March 10th, 2011 at 00:04 | #5

    More fireworks from Japan. This time over territorial disputes with Korea:

    DPJ Lawmaker Visits Korea, Signs Statement Denouncing Japanese Territorial Claims

  6. March 10th, 2011 at 00:07 | #6

    Also, “U.S. Official: Okinawans are “masters of manipulation and extortion””

    The official is Kevin Maher (director of Japan affairs at the U.S. State Department).

    Looks like the U.S. has apologized to Japan and have removed Maher from his position.

  7. xian
    March 12th, 2011 at 01:13 | #7

    I don’t know, prime minister Kan himself had some pretty harsh words over the Kurils. And the Japanese ARE unreasonably suspicious of Koreans. However, if you look at a map of the region and look at the two islands Russia propose to give vs the two they proposed to keep, it is a pretty insulting offer to accept for Japan. Basically, Russia wants to keep the two big ones, where all the stuff is.

    On the other hand, traditionally the Kurils are neither Japanese nor Russian territory. It really is native land. Failing any semblance of native sovereignty, I believe Russia has a more legitimate claim simply because they won the last war. Not to mention the populace there is more or less Russian-ized, it might as well be part of Russia.

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