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Commentary by our President, Hitoshi Shirai
When looking back over one’s life, I believe every person has memories they can recall even though they may not know why. In my case, “Everyone, please try to become a great person like Mr. Tanaka when you grow up” was part of a congratulatory speech made by the principal of my elementary school at our graduation ceremony. I remember this phrase vividly, and I can still picture the scene. When I asked some of my classmates about the phrase, no one could remember it, yet it somehow still resonates with me.
“Mr. Tanaka” was of course, Kakuei Tanaka, who would later become Prime Minister of Japan. Along with long-time ally and Minister for Foreign Affairs Masayoshi Ohira, he was responsible for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. This phrase was part of a graduation ceremony at an elementary school in Kashiwazaki City, Niigata Prefecture near Tanaka’s hometown a few years before Tanaka was appointed Prime Minister.
When we consider the Lockheed Corporation bribery incident, etc., I think there are various perspectives on evaluating the history of politician Kakuei Tanaka. At that time, he was already very influential in his hometown. And even though I was only a child then, I don’t remember feeling my principal’s words as being particularly strange.
In July 1972, Tanaka was appointed Prime Minister of Japan. In the early hours of September 25, only two months after his appointment, he left Haneda Airport for Beijing along with Foreign Minister Ohira and Chief Cabinet Secretary Susumu Nikaido to open diplomatic relations with China. In July of the previous year, under orders from President Nixon, then-U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger secretly visited China to meet with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai of China even though the U.S. had not had high level contact with China for over 20 years. In February 1972, the “Nixon shock” occurred in which President Nixon visited China. Partly due to America’s efforts to improve its relationship with China, expectations for improvement of the relationship between Japan and China were rising in Japan as well. However, the influence of power that insisted on maintaining the relationship with Taiwan still remained strong in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Therefore, we can assume there was no reason to be optimistic about the negotiations with Beijing. It is said that Tanaka mentioned to Nikaido he was prepared to die for this mission on the flight to Beijing.
On the other hand, the position of Zhou Enlai, his counterpart in China, was not particularly stable either. At the time, the influence of the so-called Gang of Four, which came into prominence in the Cultural Revolution, was increasing. Experienced politician Zhou Enlai negotiated with Japan while suppressing dissatisfaction from the Gang of Four by skillfully using the influence of Mao Zedong. Most of all, Zhou Enlai seemed to sense his life was nearing an end because of cancer. Despite repeated requests from Tanaka to visit Japan, it was reported that Zhou Enlai said he could not visit Japan while he was alive.
Finally after four difficult days of bargaining, a Joint Communique between the governments of Japan and China was signed on September 20. Considering the political situation in both Japan and China at that time, the normalization of relations between these two countries during this period must have been difficult without the passion and strong leadership of Zhou, Tanaka, and Ohira.
42 years have passed since the hard work and perseverance of many past political leaders resulted in the normalization of relations between Japan and China. Unfortunately, the current relationship between Japan and China is facing its most difficult phase since that time. Many related personnel including Zhou, Tanaka, and Ohira who worked so hard to open diplomatic relations between the two countries have already passed away. Zhou, who was described by Kissinger as having “dominated through exceptional intelligence and capacity,” stopped appearing politically at the start of 1974. In June 1975, when former Minister for Foreign Affairs Aiichiro Fujiyama visited Zhou in a Beijing hospital just six months before Zhou’s passing, Zhou passionately talked about the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China which was under negotiation at that time despite his illness. Zhou said that for problems in the past, both compensation and the right to claim damages were all settled and completed in the Joint Communique that Prime Minister Tanaka and Zhou signed for the resumption of diplomatic ties. He went on to say that from now on, the treaty must stipulate how China and Japan can maintain friendly diplomatic relations for many years to come.
Recently, when I go on business trips to China, I sometimes take a gift. The gift is a vintage Japanese sake from Kashiwazaki City called “Koshino Homare Morohaku,” which was used by Tanaka in a banquet to toast the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China in 1972. When I explain the background of this Japanese sake to Chinese people, we reminisce for a while about the people from both nations who worked on opening relations between our two countries. Certainly, it is now more important than ever to think about the origin of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China.
Long Road to China [Chugoku eno Nagai Michi] by Shigenobu Yoshida (2010, Tabata Shoten Publishing House Co., Ltd )
Politics is My Way: The Memoirs of Fujiyama, Aiichiro [Seiji Waga Michi: Fujiyama Aiichiro Kaisoroku] by Aiichiro Fujiyama (1976, Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.) Normalizing Japan-China Diplomatic Relations [Nicchu Kokkou Seijouka] by Ryuji Hattori (2011, Chuokoron-Shinsha )
ON CHINA by Henry A. Kissinger (2011) (The Memoirs of Kissinger ON CHINA (Part I and II) translated by Toshihiko Horikoshi, Fumio Matsushita, Tsukasa Yokoyama, Akira Iwase and Kiyoshi Nakagawa (2012, Iwanami Shoten, Publishers)