Friday, January 19, 2018

Mr Turnbull comes to Tokyo...

...a look at the media response

What the papers said today, 19 January 2018

Just 18 hours, a quick trip, a contrast with visits in the past which might have spread out over two days, cabinet minister to cabinet minister. In the 1970s, Japan and Australia instituted regular ministerial meetings which included key Cabinet ministers on both sides and held mostly annually until their ultimate demise in the late 1980s (maybe there was on last breath in the early 1990s). One of the last, the 1989 meeting, took a theme of a 'constructive partnership' and it was about this time we began to see Australian governments begin to 'encourage' Japan to strengthen its defence capabilities. In the context of Japan's comprehensive security approach at the time, so much more might have become of this gentle encouragement. Instead, almost thirty years later, Japan and Australia are on the verge of signing a Visiting Forces Agreement, VFA (訪問部隊地位協定)and security is now less comprehensive and concern more heightened. (And it alarms me I've been doing this for thirty years...)

PM Abe arrived back in Tokyo on 17 January from a six-country trip to the Baltic states and eastern Europe to walk into a meeting with Australian PM Turnbull on 18 January. This visit included a trip by helicopter to Narashino in Chiba, to a self-defence force training facility, not quite a review of the troops but Turnbull was able to see first-hand how Australian-built Bushmasters were being used by Japanese personnel. After a business lunch with Australian and Japanese business leaders, the Australian prime minister was back to meetings with PM Abe including sitting in on the Japanese National Security Council (NSC) before a joint media conference at 7.33pm and then a state dinner until 9.17pm. The detail comes from the 'Prime Minister's Day' published in most major papers, daily. 

A snapshot of PM Abe's day as reported by the Asahi Shimbun

 Mr Turnbull, known for using public transport in Australia, was also captured by the media catching the Marunouchi Subway Line for a couple of stops, vision of which remained up on Asahi Digital for much of the day today (19 January).

In the era of social and digital media, reporting of the prime minister's visit was happening pretty much in real time during the day, but I'm a bit old-fashioned and in my PhD days, with my academic training wheels on, one of my research tasks included trawling through the newspapers for all and any story that mentioned Japan and Australia...that's what we do. Or did. I imagine the young ones today get to do it all via search engines.

But, there's nothing like surprising the staff at the station kiosk on days like today, buying up five newspapers, along with my usual coffee and snack pack. (I also do this on the days on and around election days...they are getting used to my eccentricities.) Measured in column inches, airwaves and increasingly these days social media likes and comments, the day in Tokyo didn't go unnoticed (although students in my seminar class this morning, when asked, weren't aware of the visit).

To begin with, first thing this morning on my regular radio program, PM Turnbull's visit was the first issue of Morimoto Takero's 'Standby' program, on TBS radio from 6.30am. The defence cooperation was mentioned in the context of how North Korea might respond but perhaps the most telling comment was to remind listeners 'Mr Turnbull of course had *that* conversation with President Trump'...indeed, it was food for the commentariat many days after it was reported last year. Mostly astonishment that a president would speak to another leader like that (that, and Trump's notorious handshake with Abe around the same time).

To the newspapers then:

Asahi Shimbun on page four, covered the visit in three articles:
日豪、防衛協力を深化、北朝鮮に圧力強化 ( a deepening of defence cooperation, applying pressure to North Korea)
日米印豪が協議 インド太平洋の安保, US, Japan, India and Australia in consultations on Indo-Pacific security (referring to the conference simultaneously held in Dehli)
豪首相は電車がお好き? Does the Australian PM like trains? with a pic of Turnbull riding the subway

Asahi is considered centre-left in the mediascape, less syncophantic when it comes to PM Abe's constitutional and military agenda. The paper reports that Australia and Japan were seeking strengthening and deepening defence relations in the wake of North Korea's nuclear (and) missile developments. This cooperation includes increased joint military exercises with Japanese and Australian troops. It also mentioned PM Turnbull sitting in on the NSC, taking the 'special strategic partnership' to the next level.

The end of the article also noted Mr Turnbull's visit to the Narashino (Chiba) training facility, by helicopter, where Mr Turnbull reiterated 'this region's two main security fears,* terrorism and North Korea. Australia and Japan and US close cooperation is extremely important'. (*News to those of us resident here but I digress.)


Tokyo Shimbun's summary of growing defence cooperation

Tokyo Shimbun on page two 'confirms a strengthening of security' 日豪 安保強化を確認、米以外との連携進む (advancing cooperation with countries other than the US [Australia, South Korea, India and the UK]
Tokyo Shimbun, notably most critical of the Abe Government's security agenda, reported that the two PMs discussed North Korea's missile development, China's maritime activities, and increasing security and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Both leaders agreed on signing a new agreement that would enable joint miltary exercises.

Tokyo Shimbun ran a most detailed report on the content of the joint media conference given by the prime minsters after their meeting. It also mentioned the TPP.


Mainichi Shimbun featured an article on page two, confirmation of Indo-Pacific cooperation, (「インド太平洋」連携、日豪首脳会談で確認) 
This was the focus of this article, along with the TPP, excluding the US. It reported on the proposed joint military exercises, China's maritime incursions and assisting with building SE Asian maritime security (警備). Abe referred to Australia as a ‘special strategic partner’, while Turnbull reiterated the concerns about North Korea.

A second article on page five used the language 'an unusually warm reception' 豪首相を異例の厚遇、陸自視察やNSC出席, citing the tour of the SDF facility and sitting in on the NSC meeting as examples. The Mainichi also used the expression quasi-ally (準同盟国) suggesting Abe noted this as something to aim for in deepening the security relationship. Mainichi noted that Turnbull was the third PM after former PM Abbott and UK PM May, to be invited to the NSC. There was also a small exchange about the draw for the Rugby World Cup, coming up in 2019. 

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the leading economic daily (think Australian Financial Review in Australia) and most popularly read on my subway line each morning, crowded or not (but I digress), offered a front page story and a page four follow-up. The Nikkei (as it is also known) has been the key journal of record of the development of the Australia-Japan relationship since the 1960s, especially the economic relationship. (For my sins, in my early days as a PhD student, I trawled through thirty years worth of Nikkei articles on microfiche--yes, that era--to seek out articles on Australia and Japan; that's what we do in order to get to this point in an academic life.)

The front page focus was 'pressure on North Korea' (日豪「北朝鮮に圧力」、安倍首相
「状況は悪化」 as Abe describes a 'worsening of the situation'. Similarly, Nikkei reported the growing defence cooperation between the two countries and not to be lulled by the dialogue between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics.

The page four article elaborated on the joint media conference as noted above. Indo-Pacific cooperation featured as well as Turnbull's attendance at the NSC. Nikkei also reported the use of the term 'quasi-ally'.
Yomiuri's page 4 graphic illustrating China concerns
The Yomiuri Shimbun, the most pro-government of all media examined here, carried articles on page one and page four. Page one highlighted 'defence cooperation' and the TPP (日豪、防衛協力を強化、TPP 早期発効連携). The Yomiuri foreshadowed this visit back on Christmas Day, using the term 'quasi-ally' back then. The article on page four looked at the developments in security in more detail while also recognising the potential issues with China as Japan, the US and Australia increase defence cooperation.  

Both Prime Ministers put their instagram accounts to good use as well, PM Abe a relative newcomer to the platform having opened an account just before Christmas. On twitter, PM Turnbull's selfie with PM Abe and Mr Abe's pic with Mr Turnbull on the way to the training facility garnered likes, RTs and plenty of comments, interestingly, from Japanese followers lots of commentary on the smiles...

In summary then, media coverage was quite substantial for a one-day visit. Not the blanket coverage garnered by the American president but there was a distinct 'securitization' (to use a buzzword) of the relationship, with photo ops with men in khakis, helicopters, Bushmasters and, significantly, coining of the term 'quasi-ally' (準同盟国). It fits Abe's agenda and, likely, for now, Australian governments as well. PM Abe faces his party later this year, seeking an extension to his term as leader (both of the party and the government) not quite the fait accompli many expect it to be. There is movement in the LDP underbelly, with members seeking to put their case for a turn at the Prime Ministership. The contenders, if successful, are likely to tone down Abe's military ambition. Can the momentum be contained? I remain hopeful (I have to, otherwise I wouldn't get out of bed), that we will survive this phase and move into an era where genuine peace can be realised by leaders with true courage, ambition and imagination.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs recorded the visit here. (A note is made of Mr Turnbull's question about whaling...)

The Prime Minister's Office of Australia recorded the joint media conference here, the visit to the SDF training facility here, and the luncheon address here.

(And good work on both sides getting the record up in record time, on behalf of researchers and bloggers everywhere.)
Any queries or comments, please contact me via twitter @psephy