The lead editorial in the Nikkei munches over whether and why Prime Minister Aso was dissed on his state visit to Washington:
Prime Minister Taro Aso became the first foreign head of state to visit the White House during the Obama administration. It was the worst possible timing from the vantage point of public opinion vis-a-vis America, overlapping with President Obama’s first address to congress and [coming when] interest within the US was low.
After the meeting, the plan was for both heads of state to announce the content of their conversation to the press corps, but even that didn’t happen. The prime minister appeared before the press corps; however, the president didn’t show his face, and instead the White House presented a simple statement of twenty-one lines.
The opening of the statement was “Today, President Obama conducted a detailed conference with the prime minister of Japan revolving around cooperation between the two nations in the areas of the global economic crisis and other matters.” Really? He thought of himself as hosting “the prime minister of Japan” rather than Prime Minister Aso?
President Obama, during the photo session before the meeting, stated, “US-Japan friendship is of extreme importance, which is the reason that I asked the prime minister to be the first top-ranking foreign official to visit the Oval Office.”
However, if one looks at the visit overall, it wasn’t really consistent with the gravity of protocol toward the first foreign head of state to make a visit.
The administrations are different, so exact comparisons cannot be made, but during the Bush administration, both Prime Ministers Jun’ichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe went to Camp David for their first visits. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stayed at Blair House (the state guesthouse). Prime Minister Aso stayed at a hotel in Washington.
In matters of meetings betweent heads of state, the content is crucial, and it isn’t appropriate to exaggerate peripheral problems. However, this time around, both the US and Japan underscored the protocol significance of being the first visitor. In the world of diplomacy, if we take protocol to be important also, it comparisons with precedent must be made.
Foreign relations influence domestic politics. Prime Minister Aso, who’s in uncomfortable territory where domestic politics is concerned, may have sought an early visit to the US in hopes that the effect would be to buoy him decisively. That the US accepted has been said to be the result of being mindful of China.
On the other hand, domestic politics also influence foreign relations. They give Aso a respectful welcome as the prime minister of Japan, but that doesn’t mean they wish to build an individual relationship [as] fellow politicians–and if you look hard at the reality of Japanese domestic politics, for the moment it wouldn’t seem unreasonable if that were President Obama’s thinking.