Approaching Japan’s foreign policy

9 01 2012

Japan is probably one of the most incredible, important and complex countries in the world,  practically isolated until the 19th century, characterized by a radical change from feudalism to capitalism, collapsed by the attack of the nuclear weapons during World War II and surprisingly well organized in order to recover itself from the war, becoming one of the most preeminent economic powers in the world. [1]

One of the main purposes of Japan’s foreign policy is its contribution to restore the peace and prosperity around the world while safeguarding their own security and welfare within the international framework.  In order to fulfill these aims, the Japanese government has taken a safe path of cooperation with other global hegemonic countries such as the US, with whom it have been  collaborating by establishing agreements in terms of bilateral defense and economy. [2]

If we take into account the dreadful events that happened in Japan during World War II ( atomic bombing over Hiroshima and Nagasaki ) we will be able to understand their political reaction. After such a chaos and disruption, not only they assumed their clear defeat, but they   also looked forward for a permanent peace, and this is why they have reorganized their political structure as a non-military power, acquiring a defensive strategy. They have also adopted the Hikaku San Gensoku resolution ( The three Non-Nuclear principles) by which they affirm they won’t allow the possession or manufacturing of nuclear weapons or their introduction in Japanese territory. To some extent, those who follow and apply the theory of constructivism agree that the process of anti militarism that grew after the nuclear explosions in World War II in the country unavoidably made the Japanese adopt a more restrained foreign policy. This way, they developed better domestic policies and norms in order to create a new security system based on self-defense. On the other hand, realist analysts state that someday Japan will start acting as the great power it actually is, no matter if they are still showing themselves as a restrained self-focused nation. [3]

Even if the common expectations would assert that Japan should be playing a bigger role in the international politics, there are some factors that control in some way their range of action. First of all, we have the feeling of distrust coming from countries like China, Korea and others that suffered Japan’s aggression in the past (due to its role in World War II, they have been working hard through the past sixty years in order to regain its image as a peaceful member)  And secondly, there is a clear reluctance to rise Japan as a completely international state, and this is because of its renouncement to war, its lack of natural resources (so its dependence to other superpowers is undeniable), and its quiet behavior of self-defense and survival. The truth is that with the economic power it holds, Japan could perfectly be one of the most powerful countries in the world, however, things hasn’t really turned up well for them.[4]

After the end of World War II and the establishment of the Constitution in 1947, the Japanese were banned so they could not re-arm themselves again. Nevertheless, this meant that the Americans should  be in charge of safeguarding Japan and the Asia-Pacific region from possible attacks by either Russia or China. The Japanese foreign policy in terms of security has been exclusively leaded since then towards defense, and the Americans have supported this policy by helping them, establishing bases in places like Okinawa, the mainland or the Philippines. The problem is that, even if their relationship is based in their security interests, there are several analysts who state that the pressure of the United States’ Army in Japanese territory is no longer needed in the twenty first century, while there are others who disagree by affirming that if there is less impact of US forces, then this could mean that for example China would feel encouraged enough to take an aggressive role. One small change in their current foreign policy towards the other and the whole international panorama could change dramatically.[5]

The importance of opening its doors to the outside world is extremely imminent. Japan must face the global problems and engage in world affairs. It is true that since the 80s, they have been promoting a proper policy of internationalization, trying to embrace their relations to a wider level. The problem is that their insularity is no longer seen as an advantage, they do have to walk towards cooperation within the global frame of action. Several measures have been put into action in order to make the Japanese more open minded towards the rest of the world, and vice versa,( especially cultural activities and events held by numerous organizations, the establishment of student agreements, etc) nevertheless, most of this actions resemble the process of westernization of the Meiji era, focusing more on western countries like the United States than to those which are actually close to Japan, and this is one of the reasons why most of their relations with Asian countries are sometimes more complex than they should.[6]

When we take a look at Japan’s relations with the rest of Asia, we realise that there is some sort of controversy in terms of their identity. Even if they do belong to Asia, there are some Japanese who wouldn’t assert they are completely Asian. This is because they have been trading and working together with the industrialized countries of the other side of the planet for years, and also because they don’t actually live in the continent, but in a group of islands. With time, they have become more and more westernized, looking forward to collaborate with the hegemonic powers that emerged after the Cold War in order to improve their own situation. [7]

One of the most important relations that Japan has been holding for centuries is the one with China. Actually, many features of their culture were practically borrowed from the Chinese and their mutual interdependence was quite strong in the past. Both the Chinese and the Japanese see themselves as the non-western hegemonic powers, and even if their relationship seems to be properly adequate nowadays, they did have their confrontations in the past, especially because of Japanese territorial ambition. Their relationship has been characterized by different changes along the last decades, in the first years of the 90s, Japan was investing in China, and then the trade would decrease before 2000, there have been several visits of Prime Ministers from one country to another, but the situation has been moving from one extreme to the other, being Japan one of the most powerful economic powers of the world and then being overbalanced by China, etc. ..Today, Japan stares at how China grows more and more, obtaining power and influence in the international frame.[8]

The relationship between Japan and North Korea has been quite cautious and steady for the last twenty years. The Japanese government is well aware that their foreign relations with this regime are of an immeasurable importance. This is why several talks over the normalization of bilateral relations have been held since the beginning of the 90s, but as in every kind of bilateral relationship process, there have also been some tensions ( the supposed testing of a North Korean missile in the Sea of Japan, the uncertainty caused by the death of dictator Kim II-Sung, the alarm caused by North Korean nuclear program, the mysterious kidnapping of 13 Japanese citizens in the 70s and the consequent not so clear intentions of North Korea towards Japan, etc…) However, the realist foreign policy action of Japan has been clearly focused  to safeguard their own safety by adopting a wait and see policy, allowing the United States to take the first steps.[9]

The relations with the European continent have been benefited from the creation of the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting, created to function out of the borders of structures such as the European Union or the ASEAN countries, focused towards the establishment of measures that can facilitate  the trade, investment, economic cooperation, political and cultural issues, etc… and creating  a whole new frame for the mutual collaboration of the two continents, even if it yet needs a lot of improvement. On the one hand, the reasons for Japan to try and collaborate with Europe are clear enough, they want to loosen their military and political dependence on the United States. On the other hand, Europe looks forward to strengthen its relations with Japan in order to reinforce the global multilateral system. Although most of the individual institutions in the Asian region are still weak, its countries have been fighting in order to obtain a role in the global framework by entering in bigger organizations like the one mentioned before. This way of action could perfectly benefit the politics of both the Western countries and the Asian ones.[10]

Another important relationship for Japan is the one it has with Latin America. There is almost one and a half million people with Japanese origin living in Latin America, however, their relations have only walked towards the good path in the past twenty years. The business relations haven’t been exactly well until the beginning of the 90s, neither the economic ones, as Japan has been focusing its actions and policies towards other areas in its region.  After the end of World War II, there were three important manufacturing and investment periods: in the late 50s, the early 70s, and the late 80s. Nevertheless, from that last time on, the Japanese interest remained quite low as Asia was going through an incredible booming and the guerrillas in Latin America supposed a possible problem in their mutual trade procedures. However, it is important for Japan to strengthen its relationship with Latin America by regarding trade and importing  more products, investing in supporting industries, and reinforcing its ties with the several multilateral and financial organizations and banks. [11]

The relationship between Japan and Russia is also quite important, but it has been darkened by a conflict regarding some territories in the North of Hokkaido ( Kurile islands)  that were taken by the Soviet Union at the end of the war. The Japanese have been demanding the return of these islands for years, even taking advantage of the economic aid for Russia after the Cold War as a bargaining strategy, however, the issue is still open and unresolved.[12]

The fact that Japan has been keeping a quiet behavior for the last 50 years is indeed surprising. Many conservative politicians have frequently stated that Japan should play a more intensive role in the international framework, some even express the need of a common and conventional military power and a seat on the UN Security Council in order to take a leading status in Asia. So there is a question arising of whether it would be good for Japan to revise its constitution and legalize the existence of a wider military force.  Although the public opinion states  “why should they change a system that has brought security and prosperity for so many years”?, as that would put the country at the risk of reviving militarism. There is a clear debate about this topic, maybe it would be good for the global system that Japan takes another step forward, the western countries could feel more challenged towards Asia, no matter if some Asian countries like China or North Korea stand against this possible change due to historical reasons. Nonetheless, this is unlikely to happen in the near future, as the current situation (which involves the war on terrorism) does not ease the way for Japan as it means shifting alliances, fast answers, and almost often uncertainty. That is, inconveniences to the usual way of action of Japanese; they are  in some sense weak at the time of facing foreign affairs as they are used to look inwards and focus on creating domestic policies and norms. They lack a strong political leadership and decision-making, so it will be long before we can see Japan as a major power.[13]

As a conclusion, it could be said that  trying to asses all the issues and foreign policies of Japan is not an easy work. However, there are some things that can be concluded: Japan is not as strong as it was in the early years of the postwar history, it has lost most of its decision and purpose, focusing in its own matters (especially security and defense), adopting a realism approach to a radical extreme, attracting all the resources they can from outside, moving towards their own interest, staying away from long and strong relationships with other countries, trying to survive quietly navigating on their own, etc…And even if they once emerged as one big economic power after the war period, they remained at that level, and they have been overtaken in that sense too by China. One of the main problems is that they developed so fast they are now stuck in some sense. This country was probably the world’s industrial state without any doubt, but the global economy has been shifting in the last years and manufacturing is not so important anymore, it is the information and service industries which have taken the main role. The technology developers remain being what they were instead of evolving with the rest of the world towards the future.[14]

Taking into account all of this, we may be able to understand how the country revived from its ashes after World War II, transforming the global economic system, challenging western hegemony and beating most of the world standards by its fast recovery, captivating the world with all its inventions and manufacturing goods. At some point, it even seemed that Japan was going to become the first hegemonic country in the world at some levels, however, with the loss of political direction at the beginning of the twentieth century they revealed themselves as a lonely and fragile country, navigating in the search of a new face for the country, trying to regain the purpose they once lost.

Tomás Galván Hernández

Bibliography

-W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. (2002, East Gate, USA)

-Ryuzo Sato; The chrysanthemum and the eagle: the future of U.S.-Japan relations (1994, New York University Press, USA)

-Susan L.Shirk; The challenge of China and Japan: politics and development in East Asia (1985, CBS, USA)

-Glenn D.Hook; Japan’s international relations : politics, economics and security (2001, Routledge, London)

-Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan (2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA)

-Kondansha International Ltd; Japan: Profile of a Nation (1995, Kondansha International Ltd, USA)

-W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. (2002, East Gate, USA)

-Ryuzo Sato; The chrysanthemum and the eagle: the future of U.S.-Japan relations (1994, New York University Press, USA)

-Susan L.Shirk; The challenge of China and Japan: politics and development in East Asia (1985, CBS, USA)

-Glenn D.Hook; Japan’s international relations : politics, economics and security (2001, Routledge, London)

-Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan (2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA)

-Kishimoto Koichi; Politics in Modern Japan (1988, Japan Echo Inc., Japan)

-Kondansha International Ltd; Japan: Profile of a Nation (1995, Kondansha International Ltd, USA)

-Country Report; Japan (1997, The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited, London)


[1]See Kondansha International Ltd; Japan: Profile of a Nation 1995, Kondansha International Ltd, US. Page 101

[2]See Ryuzo Sato; The chrysanthemum and the eagle: the future of U.S.-Japan relations 1994, New York University Press, USA. Ch.2

[3]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8

[4]See W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. 2002, East Gate, USA. Page 98

[5]See Ryuzo Sato; The chrysanthemum and the eagle: the future of U.S.-Japan relations 1994, New York University Press, USA.Ch. 3

[6]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8

[7]See W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. 2002, East Gate, USA. Page 99

[8]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8

[9]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8

[10]See W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. 2002, East Gate, USA. Page 45

[11]See W.Radtke, Kurt & Marianne Wiesebron; Competing for Integration: Japan, Europe, Latin America, and their strategic partners. 2002, East Gate, USA. Page 115

[12]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8

[13]See Glenn D.Hook; Japan’s international relations : politics, economics and security 2001, Routledge, London.Ch.17

[14]See Duncan McCargo; Contemporary Japan 2004, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, USA. Ch.8


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4 responses

10 01 2012
Buen blog

Qué pena tan grande que esté en inglés. No porque no lo entienda. La calidad debe escribirse en español. El contenido es bueno, pero… ¿a qué esa manía por el inglés?

10 01 2012
ginrevista

Como asociación tenemos miembros que prefieren escribir en inglés al igual que hay lectores que prefieren esta lengua. No obstante controlamos rigurosamente las publicaciones que realizamos en lenguas extranjeras y siempre habrá predominancia del idioma castellano en nuestras publicaciones. Muchas gracias por tu interés!

10 01 2012
Tommy Galván

Lo tendré en cuenta para la próxima vez. Lo cierto es que pensé en traducirlo pero iba mal de tiempo por culpa de los exámenes. ;)

3 08 2012
Estimados lectores, colaboradores, amigos: « GIN

[...] y Medio Ambiente. Dilma Rousseff se juega su credibilidad” escrito por Alejandra Sanz, “Approaching Japan’s foreign policy” por Tomás Galván, “Vigilancia.by” por Cecilio Oviedo y un largo etcétera. Resaltando [...]

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