TOKYO: Former Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa’s recent ousting from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in the latest reshuffle surprised many in political and diplomatic circles both in Japan and abroad.
Although new Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko is a Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight, Hayashi’s departure left many question marks as he was doing a great job. So, why the sudden change? Hayashi says he was not surprised.
“For me, it is just a regular reshuffle, like my predecessor Motegi-san two years ago and before that Kono-san,” Hayashi said in an interview with Arab News Japan.
“I don’t think my term as foreign minister was very short compared to other ministers, but I’m really glad to hear that many were surprised.
“For me, on the political career side, going back to the party and working with the members to get more harmony with people is also very important.”
But that does not mean Hayashi, a descendant of a political family with his father a former finance minister, has quit his dream of becoming prime minister. He has been seen as a top candidate for the top job more than once. Now, however, he is just supporting the government.
“The most important thing now, for me, is to support Prime Minister Kishida. He is the boss of the Kishida faction, and I am working as number two. We had a very difficult time to get elected, so I will support him in that position. My dream, my long-time goal, has not changed, so I need more preparation and experience like I had in the Foreign Ministry. It is very important to be prepared for that position.
“I have experienced six ministerships. Becoming a minister comes from your efforts. But having seen so many presidential elections of the LDP, we need not only the effort, but also harmony of the people and also, maybe, the timing, which some say is luck. But timing and the harmony of the people are important. So, that means also working for other people. In my job, I am the chairman of the faction. So, these are the very important steps to that final goal.”
Referring to his time as Japan’s chief diplomat, Hayashi said: “The one thing I could do is to show a very clear direction for cooperation between the Arab world and Japan. I visited Cairo in September, and also joined the political dialogue between Japan and Arab countries. There were three points that both sides agreed on: One was varying the areas of economic cooperation; second was peace enforcement or stabilizing the situation for peace; and working together for the international order based on the rule of law.
“So, these were three things we could work on together and after five years, in that sense, we could show together the framework of the Arab world and Japan. Partly because of the Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and also a new dynamic in the Middle East, we were able to renew our partnerships. This was reflected in the joint statement after that meeting. And because the prime minister agrees with the leaders in the GCC, I joined our first Japan-GCC foreign ministerial meeting.”
Hayashi has had several senior posts in the government, but regards them all as a challenge.
“Every job was very, very challenging,” he said. “But I would say, since this is a fresh memory, the days of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were full of good experiences, but also full of challenges. The biggest challenge I could say is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
“This is really changing the total framework of international society. We used to say, along with Prime Minister Kishida, that we are at the crossroads of history. But the way we should go is clear, that we keep order and the principle of never changing the status quo by force. If Russia is successful in this aggression without being punished, without being stopped, we will go back to the days of the jungle.”
Hayashi noted that decisions are difficult to make or enforce if Russia uses its veto in the UN Security Council, but said action by the G7 could have an effect.
“That’s why the G7 was built after the oil shock and it was originally designed for talking about the world economy,” he said.
As for China, some have accused Hayashi of favoring the Communist nation, but he believes that pragmatism comes first.
“At the end of the day, you must deal and communicate with Beijing; that’s our job as diplomats. I have had to deal with this in a very sensitive way as chair for the Parliamentary League for China. But at the same time, this is not only making a friendly relationship with them. The important thing is to directly tell them what we have to do and also ask them about their behavior as a big responsible state in this area.
“I don’t think I am pro-China because it is a necessity for us to deal with China and keep some economic relations with China. That’s why. Just being friendly with them will not solve all the questions, so we must be sometimes very harsh or critical vis-a-vis China to achieve our national interests.”
While the conflict between Israel and Palestine is overshadowing all other news from the Middle East, Hayashi says the region is crucial to Japan.
He said that despite the issues in the Middle East, it was “good news” that Saudi Arabia and Iran had normalized relations.
“We need some stability, so I visited Jordan and other countries that are trying very hard to be a cornerstone in the region. So, that’s why I am keeping good relations with all those countries. But there’s no overnight solution; patience is required for the situation. And, really, we are sad to see what has happened in Israel and Palestine.”
Hayashi traveled extensively as foreign minister and visited many different Arab cities. So, which one caught his eye?
“Actually, I was impressed with so many cities in various countries. But if you ask me to name one, it’s As-Salt city in Jordan. The reason I visited was to see the town, but the city has some exchange program with my home district, including Hagi City. It’s a kind of long-term relationship and they hosted the Salt Eco Museum, which is said to be modeled after some project with Hagi City,” he said.
“Very old houses are still there and also very old markets. As I walked around, the people were really kind and gave me some bananas, vegetables, and I was really enjoying eating with them and shaking hands with them, so that reminds me of my hometown and Hagi City. They were very friendly. So that’s why, it really comes down to people-to-people ties between Arab countries and Japan.”