ID :
Thu, 07/31/2008 - 10:37
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FOCUS: Summer diplomacy put on hold for Fukuda's Cabinet reshuffle

TOKYO, July 31 Kyodo - As Japan waits for Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to make a decision, possibly as early as Thursday, on reshuffling his Cabinet, foreign diplomacy has effectively been halted as overseas trips by ministers are put on hold.

To avoid clashing with a possible reshuffle, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura has canceled his plan for a weeklong visit from Friday to Sri Lanka, India and Uzbekistan for bilateral talks as well as to attend multilateral meetings.

Similarly, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Hiroko Ota, who has also been planning an overseas trip around this time, is likely to call it off.

''We have been trying to arrange for a possible overseas trip by Minister Komura in early August but due to uncertainty with regard to the domestic political agenda, it has been difficult to set a schedule,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said Wednesday when asked the reasons for the cancellation.

Kodama, the ministry's press secretary, declined to confirm details of the plan but stressed that it was Komura himself who made the decision and that Japan has notified the nations concerned.

Earlier Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura played down any changes to ministers' travel plans in relation to the envisioned Cabinet reshuffle, stressing that Komura's visit had never been fixed to begin with.

''It is to my understanding that Minister Komura made his decision after considering the overall situation and the plan simply did not materialize,'' he said.

Meanwhile, some officials raised concerns about adverse effects on Japan's diplomacy, especially as several ministers have already canceled overseas trips during the Golden Week holidays in late April and early May due to political wrangling in the Diet.

''Summer is the highest season of the year for diplomacy,'' a senior Foreign Ministry official said. ''With parliament in recess, this is the only period for parliamentarians to travel abroad. The immediate impact (of canceling the visits) is very serious.''Scrapping Komura's planned visit meant canceling his attendance at the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Sri Lanka as an observer, bilateral talks in India and a multilateral dialogue with Central Asian nations in Uzbekistan, the official said on condition of anonymity.

''It has already been set for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Japan in the fall, so it would be very embarrassing for the Indian government that there will be no visit by the Japanese foreign minister,'' he said.

Japan, which holds this year's Group of Eight presidency, is eager to convince India, which is among the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases, to agree to global emissions cut targets and join a post-2012 global framework.

Tokyo has also been hoping to push forward an agreed road map to realize a strategic and global partnership with India, in hopes of countering China's growing influence.

While another senior official at the ministry noted that Japan is considering sending an ambassador or other officials to attend the SAARC summit on Komura's behalf, Japan's presence would undoubtedly be diminished as representatives below ministerial level could not deliver speeches at the meeting in accordance with protocol.

''Japan has long been playing a significant role in official development assistance in South Asia and we were really hoping to show our presence at the meeting, especially with others like China and the United States also attending'' as observers, said the second official, who also asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The SAARC grouping consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Komura will also miss the opportunity to strengthen ties with Uzbekistan and other Central Asian nations -- a region which has gained significance in Japan's strategy to diversify its energy sources in recent years and which Tokyo hopes to befriend in order to keep Russia in check.

''There is now a new (diplomatic) game with Uzbekistan -- by Russia, China, the United States,'' the first official lamented. ''Japan is already the latest comer in this game.'' Prior to the announcement of his canceled trip, Komura told reporters on Tuesday morning, ''Having to consider both relations with the foreign counterpart and domestic matters is something that happens in all nations. Foreign ministries simply carry on with their diplomacy while enduring such (constraints).''During the Golden Week holidays in the spring, the tug-of-war over road taxes in parliament forced Fukuda himself to cancel a three-nation European tour and several other ministers to call off their trips. The total number of parliamentarians who made overseas visits during that period fell drastically to 37 from 120 in the previous year.