Japan's diplomacy is back at the starting line -- again.
During his visit to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with U.S. President Barack Obama.
They agreed to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Noda said proudly after the summit, "I got off to a good start in forging a personal relationship of trust (with him)."
Good. Obama has been in office for less than three years, but he already has met four Japanese prime ministers--Taro Aso, Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Noda.
In this age when summits figure prominently in world affairs, such frequent changes of leadership cannot be conducive to the development of strategic diplomacy.
Nor could any true relationship of trust be forged between leaders in just one brief meeting. Building mutual trust requires giving due consideration to each other's brief agenda while keeping one's word, and working together to meet various challenges. Steady collaboration, backed by constant effort, is the key. Noda has only just got to the starting line.
The biggest obstacle in Japan-U.S. relations is the relocation issue concerning the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture.
Even though Obama was meeting with Noda for the first time, he made no bones about wanting tangible results. Noda responded that he would "do his utmost to win the understanding of the people of Okinawa" to act on the current Japan-U.S. agreement.
Washington's irritation with the absence of progress on the Japanese side is quite understandable. But it is now obvious to anyone that "winning the understanding of the people of Okinawa," as Noda put it, is a pipe dream.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima recently spoke in the United States and demanded in no unclear terms that the Futenma airfield be relocated to outside his prefecture. Should Tokyo and Washington forcibly implement their agreement, Nakaima warned, "There will be a vehement anti-base movement throughout the prefecture, and this could negatively impact the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty."
Nakaima's message, conveyed directly to people in the United States, carries tremendous weight.
If the security treaty is to be maintained in a stable fashion, Tokyo and Washington have no choice but to explore workable plans. The practicability and resilience of the alliance are being tested.
In his foreign policy debut, Noda confirmed the Japan-U.S. alliance as the basis of Japanese diplomacy. Noda is now required to confirm Japan's position in the multipolar world of international politics and pursue sincere but tough diplomacy.
For that, he must help create a stable order in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region based on a strong Japan-U.S. relationship. In particular, he must attempt to mend relations with China, which derailed after a row over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea last year.
Noda is scheduled to visit China in October, and then he will participate in multilateral diplomacy through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the United States and the East Asia Summit in Indonesia, both in November. We hope he will use these occasions to produce a rounded picture of Japanese diplomacy.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 23