Japan’s Suga government is turning out to be quite a nightmare for China. While the Xi Jinping administration believed that Suga would be much easier to deal with than Shinzo Abe, Beijing now realises that Yoshihide Suga is a tough nut to crack. Chinese analysts and State-run media were presumably done in by Suga’s lack of charisma. But the Dragon is now forced to come to terms with the harsh reality of a stubborn Suga regime.
Last week, Xi Jinping and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga had their first telephone call ever since Suga came at the helm of affairs in Japan. Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece celebrated the conversation and reported, “Goodwill phone call between Xi and Suga sets the tune for future China-Japan relations”. However, what it did not reveal was that Suga snubbed Xi Jinping with the absence of one major topic- Xi Jinping’s Japan visit.
Xi Jinping has been wanting to visit Japan for quite some time now. Initially, he was supposed to meet Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe in April this year. But then China’s epidemiological misadventures ensured that Xi Jinping’s April visit became impossible. As things returned to normal in both Japan and China, Xi Jinping started looking for a new schedule to take off for the official visit to the Eastern neighbour. However, Shinzo Abe did not seem very keen to welcome the Chinese leader.
Now, with Suga at the helm of affairs, Xi Jinping would have been thinking that at least the new Japanese Prime Minister would invite him to his country. With such high hopes, the Chinese President went into his first telephonic conversation with the newly sworn-in Japanese Prime Minister. However, the much-awaited invitation remained elusive for Jinping.
Suga himself told reporters that the rescheduling of Xi Jinping’s Japan visit that was supposed to have taken place in April was not discussed. China’s State-run media, on the other hand, completely glossed over this crucial issue. For Suga to say that the visit was not discussed, simply means that Tokyo did not invite the Chinese President. In terms of high-level diplomacy, Jinping wouldn’t have himself asked for a State visit, and it was really for Japan to invite him. But clearly, Suga did not invite Xi Jinping.
By refraining from making any invitation to Jinping, Suga has made it clear that he has no intentions of engaging Jinping. Suga administration cares a lot for face-to-face interactions and even Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that face-to-face exchanges between leaders play a key role in diplomacy. Therefore, by virtually denying an in-person meeting to Jinping, Tokyo has shown the intent of side-lining China.
In fact, China finds itself embarrassed with the manner in which Japan has snubbed Xi Jinping. Chinese diplomatic circles have been desperate to engage Tokyo at a time when the democratic world from the US to India, and Australia, seems hell-bent on punishing China. It is also in this context that despite Tokyo’s frosty behaviour, sources have stated that the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi might visit Tokyo as early as October.
Even in his telephone call with Suga, Xi Jinping’s desperation took him beyond the contours of diplomatic prudence. He went as far ahead as saying, “China is stepping up efforts to foster a new, dual-cycle development architecture with the domestic cycle as the mainstay and with domestic and international development reinforcing each other.” Then Jinping simply pleaded that Japan and China should jointly safeguard industrial chains and supply chains.
Of course, it was rather clumsy for the Chinese President to plead for safeguarding supply chains, in as many words. However, this is again a sign of Beijing’s desperation as Japan has been incentivising its companies to move out of China and establish manufacturing facilities in other countries like Vietnam and India.
As such, Xi Jinping has two immediate demands to make from Yoshihide Suga- one, inviting Jinping to visit Japan and two, safeguarding supply chains. The Japanese Prime Minister has clearly rejected the first demand, and there are no signs of Suga fulfilling the second demand either. Yoshihide Suga has thus proven to be quite a nightmare for China and to clear China’s doubts he is turning out to be even more inimical for Beijing than his predecessor.
Suga’s actions, too, are doing a lot more harm to China now. He has appointed a pro-Taiwan and China hawk Nobuo Kishi as his Defence Minister, and, at the same time, Suga has also decided to engage cooperation with China’s adversaries from South Korea to Vietnam. Xi Jinping’s efforts to appease Suga have therefore gone in vain.