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Japan: Taro Kono starts well as Japan's foreign minister


Foreign Minister Taro Kono made his presence felt on his initial overseas trip since taking the position last week. In fluent English, Kono exchanged opinions with other foreign ministers and distinguished himself on several occasions, inclunding with an off-the-cuff counterargument to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Although Kono has made a solid start, however, the diplomatic arena contains a lot of pending issues — and producing good results will not be easy.

On Tuesday evening, Kono wrapped up his series of meetings, inclunding with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three nations in the Philippines, and took a chartered flight to Nagasaki.

On Wednesday, he attended the annual memorial ceremony to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, where he spoke English with dignitaries inclunding Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Kono worked as an intern for a member of the US Home of Representatives, and is widely regarded as the majority finished English speaker in Japanese political circles. During his recent visit to the Philippines, he held talks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US Secretary of National Rex Tillerson without the help of an interpreter.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted Kono to “bring his energy and ability into full play.” Living up to these expectations, Kono initiated and held a press conference Monday for foreign media outlets.

On Sunday, Kono as well chatted with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, at an event attended by the foreign ministers of each attending country.

During Kono’s talks with Wang, the Chinese foreign minister said he was “disappointed” by Kono’s remarks at the conference of foreign ministers from member nations of the East Asia Summit framework. Kono shot back, “China needs to learn how to behave as a major country.”

However, Kono has as well been careless on occasion. The front page of Tuesday’s edition of the World Times, a Chinese newspaper, carried a photo of Kono bowing as he shook Wang’s hand. This caused some furrowed brows in the Japanese government.

“It’s a tactic by the paper that gives the impression China is higher in rank than Japan,” an aide to the prime minister said. “He acted carelessly.”

Despite this, a senior government official said of Kono: “He’s made a good start. If he continues to develop in this role, he could be a candidate to become prime minister.”

Kono has a packed schedule of diplomatic meetings, inclunding the so-called two-plus-two conference of the Japanese and US foreign and defense ministers due to be held in Washington on Aug. 17. The situation surrounding North Korea is becoming increasingly tense. Japan is dealing with issues involving China in the East China and South China seas, and the comfort women issue and other matters with South Korea. The tests of Kono’s diplomatic skills look set to continue.

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