Koizumi Unnoticed in Europe
John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Western Europe this week has almost passed without notice. Although the trip has just begun, his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 27 April, was hardly news in England or anywhere else. On the 28th, he was in Spain and supposedly spoke side-by-side with President Jose Maria Aznar at the press conference, however, on most news channels his face could not be seen on the television screen because very few were interested in what he had to say. This has been a sad beginning to what was touted as Koizumi's bid to broker rapprochement between the US and fragmented Europe. The truth of the matter is, no one in Europe is really listening.
The fact that Koizumi chose to visit Britain and Spain first (two pro-war governments) killed any chances he may have had to fulfill such a role, although he likely had none to begin with. That Japanese diplomats and leaders mentioned the idea of Japan as a transatlantic mediator demonstrated how little they knew about the political realities in Europe and in the United States.
It is true that there is a transatlantic problem. However, this problem has more to do with intra-European issues than with the US or more specifically with the war in Iraq. The tension is between two different visions of Europe and of world politics. Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar are wary of what they call "Chirac's world view". They think Chirac's vision of a strong Europe with a unified defense force and the creation of a multi-polar world made up of various centers of power is "dangerous" (Sarah Hal, Guardian, 28 April).
A certain number of Eastern European countries are also concerned. They see France and Germany as attempting to engage in the "forced colonization" of Eastern Europe (Ian Trayner, Guardian, 28 April). When asked about the closed meeting between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg taking place in Brussels on "European Defense" (28 April), the Czech deputy foreign minister Alexandr Vendra said, "we don't want two Europes". The reality is that countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain and Britain have a different take on foreign policy, defense and on the transatlantic relationship than do Germany and France.
In this context, Japan has practically no role to play. What was imagined by Japan as a transatlantic problem is actually, to a large extent, an intra-European conflict. However, where the US is involved, Japan is unlikely to be effective either. The US is clearly interested in weakening France. Colin Powell has said that, "France will pay a heavy price for opposing the war", or more accurately, for opposing the US. Hawks in Washington have repeatedly talked about "punishing" France (Sarah Hal). The objective in America is to crush any opposition to US hegemony. How did Japan expect to bridge the gap between France and the US when no such will towards ‘making peace' existed in America?
The outcome of this trip is quickly turning out to be nothing more than a distraction to sway Japanese minds away from their economic malaise and grave security threat next door. Some, like Professor Masaru Ikei (Aoyama Gakuin University) said this before Koizumi even left Japan. The AFP quoted him as saying "I think the trip is meaningless", going on to say that, "he (Koizumi) may be trying to score diplomatic points" (Miwa Suzuki, 24 April). Surely, there are better things Koizumi can do with his time than try to score diplomatic points that he is certain to miss out on. Many in Japan have grown disillusioned with Koizumi in relation to the supposed "economic reforms" he was supposed to implement. When these hopes faded, Koizumi showed some spark by turning to defuse tensions with North Korea. Now that he has been unable to make any gains in this regards, he has sought to mend someone else's conflict, again without success. This distraction is costing Japan more than it can afford to lose and it is time that the Prime Minister refocus on resolving Japan's economic, security and political problems.
- Sarah Hal, "Blair: Chirac's world view ‘dangerous'", The Guardian, 28 April 2003
- Ian Traynor, "New Europe gets shock lesson in realpolitik", The Guardian, 28 April 2003
- Miwa Suzuki, "Koizumi aims to act as trans-Atlantic peacemender", AFP, 24 April 2003