Japan’s WC win vs Colombia will boost Tokyo which is having nightmare in foreign affairs
Japan on Tuesday, June 19, created history by becoming the first Asian team to score a win over a Latin American side in World Cup football. They defeated Colombia, who had annihilated them 4-1 in a group game in 2014, to register one of the proudest moments for Asian football.
If sport is considered a yardstick to fathom national happiness, then the Japanese win in the Russia World Cup on Tuesday will certainly boost the island-nation's morale. Especially, the morale of its political leadership.
Abe having tough time both at home and abroad
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeing one of the toughest phases of his life. At home, a cronyism scandal has rocked his popularity and there were even reports of him quitting his job in June. In foreign policy, Abe's government has found things no better. A member of the Six Party Talks on North Korea, Tokyo has now found it to be a bystander with almost a fringe role to play in the diplomatic initiatives to achieve peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Despite its location close to the peninsula and experiencing the North Korean jingoism more profoundly than anybody else, Japan is the only nation to have missed a direct meeting with North Korea. The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, has met the top leaders of China, South Korea and the US - some of them on more than one occasion - besides the visiting foreign minister of Russia, but not anybody from Japan.
Abe has had to go via Trump to address Japan's problems with N Korea
What is worse for Tokyo is that the issue of releasing Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea did not even feature in the historic summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12 despite Abe personally requesting Trump to raise the issue with North Korea during his latest trip to the US.
Abe was even criticised for asking another state head to take up a subject with North Korea which he himself should have done. Abe, in fact, made several visits to the US besides having numerous calls with Trump expecting that the US would help Japan gain a foothold in the North Korean diplomatic process. But it didn't happen.
The only time Japan found itself in focus over the North Korean issue was during a trilateral summit in Tokyo in early May where his Chinese counterpart Le Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were present. But there too, there were differences over how to go about on North Korean denuclearisation.
Japan is against the idea of allowing North Korea escape the sanctions and also the US pulling out its military resources from the Far East, leaving Tokyo and Seoul outside the security umbrella lent by the US, even if more reluctantly under Trump.
The US president's remarks against the continuation of war games with South Korea and also hinting at his preference for pulling out American troops from South Korea have shocked the Japanese like the South Koreans and Abe will be under immense hardships at home if Washington goes by the president's remarks and leave Tokyo and Seoul to defend themselves against North Korean nukes.
Japan has also found itself at the receiving end in Trump's trade war while Abe's assertive foreign policy in the neighbourhood has invited China's wrath.
Amid these serious concerns, the Japanese win against a 10-men Colombia was certainly a boost for Abe who also hailed his team's success on Twitter.
But just as his country's football team made itself relevant in the quadrennial tournament after a long time (Japan reached the second stage of the WC in 2010 in South Africa), can his government's foreign and security policies be also updated and made more in concurrence with the needs of time?