Foreign relations: Closer to America, further from East Asia
During the Koizumi administration, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA and the start of the Iraq War in March 2003 brought the question of dispatching Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) overseas to a new level. But whereas the bilateral alliance with the United States was dramatically strengthened, with Prime Minister Koizumi and US President George W. Bush enjoying an almost honeymoon-like relationship, relations with Japan’s East Asian neighbours – that is, China and South Korea – stagnated and cooled. This was owed to the enormous impact controversial developments within Japan such as Koizumi’s pilgrimages to Yasukuni shrine and the depiction of the country’s past in government-sanctioned history textbooks had on ties with these two countries. Meanwhile, in relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter, DPRK or North Korea) a degree of forward progress was achieved as the two countries’ heads of state held their first ever meeting and a number of Japanese who had been abducted to the DPRK during the 1970s and 1980s returned home.