New administrations were established in the United States, China and other parts of the world in 2012. Three experts who have been closely involved in Japan-U.S. and Japan-China relations discussed the diplomatic roles Japan should play amid the rise of China and the shift in U.S. policy focus toward the Asia-Pacific region.
Yasushi Kudo, representative of The Genron NPO (editor-in-chief, chairman of the editorial board of Discuss Japan-Japan Foreign Policy Forum).
Yuji Miyamoto, representative of the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research and former ambassador of Japan to China.
Miyamoto joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after graduating from Kyoto University. He held such ministry posts as director of the China Division in the Asian Affairs Bureau, director general for arms control and scientific affairs (ambassadorial level) and ambassador to Myanmar before assuming the post of ambassador to China in 2006. He has held his current post since 2011.
Ichiro Fujisaki, former Japanese ambassador to the United States and currently distinguished visiting professor at Sophia University.
Fujisaki passed the Foreign Service examination when he was a student at the Faculty of Economics at Keio University and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before graduating from the university.
He was assigned to the Permanent Delegation of Japan to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and then held such posts as director general of the North American Affairs Bureau, deputy foreign minister (for economic affairs) and ambassador and permanent representative to the international organizations in Geneva before assuming the post of ambassador to the United States. He assumed his current post in 2013.
Akihiko Tanaka, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency
Before assuming his current post in April 2012, Dr. Tanaka held multiple positions at the University of Tokyo. He served as a Professor of International Politics, Director of the Institute of Oriental Culture (from 2002-2006), Director of the International Relations Division (from 2008-2010), and Vice President (from 2009-2012).
He has been a member of various Japanese government advisory groups, including the Reform Advisory Board of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Advisory Group on International Cooperation for Peace, and the Council on Security and Defence Capabilities. He was also a Japanese member of the East Asia Vision Group 1.
Dr. Tanaka obtained his B.A. in International Relations from the University of Tokyo in 1977 and his Ph. D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.
Expected Stability of Diplomacy
Kudo: This is our first discussion since the establishment of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Looking at the wider world, a new administration has come into existence in China, while U.S. President Barack Obama has entered his second term, and there have also been leadership changes in various other countries.
Tanaka: With the recent establishment of the Abe administration, it is the first time that the people of Japan have experienced consecutive changes in the ruling party. First, a change from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2009, and then the reverse from the DPJ to the LDP in 2012.
There were slight differences in diplomacy between these two different parties, which led Japan to face some difficulties in its relationship with other countries.
Since now is the second time that Mr. Abe has formed a Cabinet, he has acquired a good deal of experience compared to other prime ministers over the past several years. He is the second person to return to the premiership after Shigeru Yoshida in the post-war era. Not only the people of Japan, but also the world, will be watching how he redefines Japan’s diplomacy by utilizing his previous experiences. As there have been frequent leadership changes in Japan in recent years, the world and the people of Japan would like to see a stable administration with a coherent foreign policy.
Kudo: Under the DPJ government prior to Mr. Abe’s return, relations between Japan and the United States became somewhat unstable. With the United States shifting its attention to the Asia-Pacific, moreover, Japan’s essential role in the region is being questioned. Mr. Fujisaki, how do you assess the significance of Abe’s return?
Fujisaki: First of all, as Mr. Tanaka just mentioned, it is extremely unusual for a major country to see a change of prime minister every year as in Japan. A prompt end to such an abnormal situation and the establishment of a solid, stable government are what the world expects from Japan and this expectation is applicable whether in economic or foreign policy affairs.
Secondly, it is true that Japan-U.S. relations experienced bumps and detours in the initial stage of the DPJ government, but they were not abnormal throughout. On the question of Futenma, for example, the DPJ basically took the same stance as the LDP. But I agree that the relationship of mutual trust was not strong enough when addressing a number of problems.
Concerning the perception of a weak Japanese presence, I think it is somewhat exaggerated. In the United States, it is the troublesome countries that are always covered by the press and discussed at symposiums. In contrast, I think the Japan-U.S. relationship is so solid that it is not easily shaken. For example, when I was in Washington and wondered whether Japan or China was more significant to the United States, I concluded that Japan was more significant than most other countries. I think Japan will continue to be so, though I may be somewhat biased in Japan’s favor.
China’s ‘Hope and Concern’
Kudo: Mr. Miyamoto, Prime Minister Abe has come on stage at a time when tensions between Japan and China are rising considerably against the backdrop of China’s rising power, among other things. What kind of role is the second Abe administration expected to play in connection with Japan’s relationship with China?
Miyamoto: The DPJ, while in power, did not determine a way of holding exchanges, dialogue and rule-making in relation to China. In a sense, it was a difficult task because the DPJ administration started from zero. As a new problem, it was difficult for the two governments to align their views. Now that the LDP has taken over power again, the relationship between the two governments can revert to the old days. I feel, therefore, that communication between Japan and China will become smoother than in the days of the DPJ government.
Regarding the Abe administration, China has a mixture of hope and concern. In 2006, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, making Japan-China relations extremely difficult again. Abe rebuilt them, so in this respect China has some expectations of Abe as a pragmatist.
At the same time, China has had concerns about Mr. Abe’s words and acts since his resignation as prime minister last time. Accordingly, it is trying to figure out which is the real Abe.
But a power change is like the start of a new year. Even if there were many unfavorable things during the previous year, people say, “Let’s work hard on a new note as a new year starts.” So the situation has this kind of aspect, and I hope Mr. Abe will take this chance to establish a relationship in which Japan and China can resume meaningful dialogues.
Kudo: Mr. Tanaka referred to the question of how to redefine foreign policy. What should be taken into account in this case is how global tidal currents surrounding Japan will change and where Japan is positioned. What do you think of this point, Mr. Tanaka?
Tanaka: The world has become more inter-connected since the Cold War ended and the 21st century started. We are also seeing changes in the distribution of economic power as rapid growth occurs in emerging countries.
Some people assumed that the end of Cold War would bring about a unipolar world led by the United States. The breakup of the former Soviet Union did lead to a relative increase in U.S. power for a while. But seeing this change from a long-term perspective, U.S. dominance appears to be a milestone as globalization has created new spheres of economic influence. Moreover, the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era of global insecurity and shifted the focus of the U.S. leadership to the war on terror. Under these circumstances, the global balance of power is gradually changing. In addition, there is no denying that the economic size of China has become larger and more significant over the past decade.
Leaders are now required to figure out a desirable global system with a diverse set of partners. This is a big challenge for the established influential countries like the United States, Europe and Japan, as well as newly emerging countries.
It is said that the Japan-China relationship is “important for Japan,” but it is important for China as well. With the new administration under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the world will be watching how China moves forward to promote growth under increasingly complex conditions.
Though Japan and China face certain difficulties, both leaders must tackle the extremely important task of figuring out how they can get things done within the changing world system to encourage peace and prosperity.
Shift to Asia-Pacific and Challenge for U.S.
Kudo: Mr. Tanaka, I also want to ask you about President Obama. In 2009 when he took office, he billed himself in a speech at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall as “America’s first Pacific president,” showing his strong interest in the Asia-Pacific region and suggesting an emphasis on it. How do you assess this kind of change?
Tanaka: As I mentioned earlier, China faces challenges. However, the United States, the former hegemonic superpower, also faces big challenges. When Mr. Obama assumed the presidency, he had to adjust U.S. foreign policy away from an over-reliance on hard power.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration of President George W. Bush adopted measures to wage a war on terror. The United States adhered to these measures and sometimes faced difficulties in its relations with its allies.
The administration gradually lost support for its war on terror measures, and Mr. Obama emerged as the new U.S. leader after the 2008 elections. His administration sought to take leadership to promote international cooperation with more multilateral engagement. However, it is very difficult to act “cooperatively” and to “take leadership” at the same time. In particular, the U.S. economic situation following the Lehman Shock has affected its ability to project leadership.
Nevertheless, President Obama mentioned the United States will continue to see the Pacific as an important partner during his second term. However, the United States is in an extremely difficult position to cope with its changing relationship with China.
Fujisaki: To ordinary Japanese, it appears that Mr. Obama is a president who shows great common sense. As Mr. Tanaka just said, Mr. Obama is expected to see things not from the viewpoint of power concentration but from multilateral perspectives.
Internally, for example, he is discussing healthcare reform and gun control and his arguments are very understandable to us. As far as foreign policy is concerned, I think that his arguments stressing the importance of a (strategic) shift to the Asia-Pacific region stem from common sense, so to speak, in view of China’s rise and the presence of unstable elements in the region.
I listened to his speech at Suntory Hall. Since then, he has continued with such arguments and taken specific measures, such as establishing the post of ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and participating in the East Asia Summit.
But when it comes to the question of whether the global situation will allow such a strategic shift, U.S. policy may be greatly affected by tensions in the Middle East in view of the situations in Algeria, Syria and Iran. Israel is expected to step up its lobbying activities.
I think, therefore, that U.S. foreign policy will not focus on the Asia-Pacific region alone and the Middle East will continue to loom large over it. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, it is a logical consequence for the United States to place greater value on the Asia-Pacific region.
Kudo: But there is the question of whether it is actually possible to simultaneously address the Middle Eastern and Asian situations.
Fujisaki: I think there is. But it is part of Obama’s policy to see things not from the viewpoint of an over-concentration of power but from multilateral perspectives, as Mr. Tanaka said.
Tanaka: From an external perspective, the international community is uncertain whether the U.S. is capable of working with other international partners to find solutions to address current situations ranging from North Africa to West Africa to the Middle East. Thus, some people may see the U.S. has not sufficiently taken the sort of leadership and action it used to.
Fujisaki: This is difficult and there are problems with both approaches, because if the United States takes action it may be criticized as carrying things too far.
Kudo: The question of a rebalance in Asia has, as its background, not only a strategic U.S. policy shift after the end of involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East but also the rise of China.
Fujisaki: We have China, and the weight of the Asia-Pacific region in the global economy is growing much heavier. But there remain many uncertain factors. Combining various perspectives, it is a logical consequence that the Asia-Pacific region is becoming extremely important.
Nevertheless, the United States cannot readily concentrate on the region but will seek to do so while being pulled in other directions by various things.
China Needs Way of Thinking to Match its Size
Kudo: What do you think, Mr. Miyamoto?
Miyamoto: The United States has continued to lead the world amid such a big tidal wave and will need to continue doing so. China has grown considerably large in size but has yet to depart from its self-centered way of thinking. Although deliberations have started in China on how it should be actively involved in global systems, as so-called public goods, and the peace and stability of the world, it has yet to generate a major national policy and undertake specific deeds.
I may anger the Chinese people if I say this but I think China is in a situation in which it has become big physically but has yet to match its way of thinking to its size. In fact, this is the biggest Chinese problem we have been discussing so far. In short, China has come to exercise such a huge influence or physical power, namely economic and military power, on international society, but it is still unable to show the world a clear policy on how that power will be utilized.
Objectively speaking, the Chinese economy fine-tunes the world economy but sees no merit in its full-scale reform. In the field of military affairs and security, I don’t think China will be able to directly challenge the United States in the foreseeable future.
It is advisable for China to organize its way of thinking amid these developments and seek its best foreign policy position. At present, however, Chinese leaders must address domestic affairs. In short, the aspect of China being driven by domestic affairs has become much stronger than before. Although China is already required to consider international issues, the people in charge prioritize domestic issues. While this is an issue directly confronted by other countries, I think it is the most difficult point for China.
Fujisaki: I have a question for you, Mr. Miyamoto. What you said now means that China has grown big but has yet to recognize it. I think that is surely correct but China may be calculating that it is advantageous to maintain such a way of thinking, though I may be corrected by China in saying so. For example, China is benefiting from various global frameworks such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the U.N. Security Council but may be thinking that it is beneficial diplomatically to reduce related costs on its part as much as possible and retain its position as a leader in the third world.
Miyamoto: That is correct but there are also opposite situations. For example, when Mr. Hu Jintao visited the United Nations and the United States in 2009, he drummed up a proposition on building a “harmonious world” – an external policy posture adopted as if Confucius had suddenly returned. But it doesn’t seem that the idea has become a mainstream idea in Chinese society and the fourth estate or that China has adopted an external posture based on it. We hear lots of opinions contrary to it from within China.
I think there is such a calculation as you mentioned but there are also moves to pursue world leadership in the real sense of the term. But as of today, I think China is in a situation where priority is given to domestic issues.
Kudo: As all of you attend many international conferences, you may constantly feel that the United States and China often engage in bitter verbal matches at such forums nowadays. I have come across them from time to time as I recently began to attend international meetings.
I think such matches are probably natural. But as China takes action from different viewpoints on various fronts, such as Syria and the Middle East as mentioned earlier, it may be considered multi-polarization. But I think there is a situation in which the Chinese factor cannot be neglected in various issues taking place in the world.
Tanaka: Some Chinese people say, “We do not simply accept the world system and international order defined by the powerful”. I think an increasing number of people are emphasizing this notion now. It has been said, “So-called common sense, such as ways of thinking, in international society after World War II mostly comes from what the most powerful country has said”. I think some people want to stress that the reality of the 21st century is different, and they deny that powerful countries alone are privileged to set agendas and rules.
Thus, things will probably come to what Mr. Miyamoto said. If China would like to engage in making a harmonious world system, China should commit themselves to propose and advance the ideal kind of international frameworks and public goods to enhance the interests of the United States, China and developing nations.
To see China’s actual foreign policy in this respect, there is a discrepancy, as Mr. Fujisaki pointed out, between its sharp demands of the current world system and its own deeds. China says, “As we are still a developing country, important problems should be resolved by developed nations as their own responsibility. We are not in a position yet to assume such responsibility.”
Kudo: How does the United States intend to respond to China’s moves?
Fujisaki: Indeed, the current order consists of rules made by U.S.-led work. The United Nations, WTO, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and all others. But as they are the bedrock of current society, Japan has accepted them and followed the rules. At the WTO, which has made China’s great development possible, and the United Nations where it is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it has benefited greatly from rules there.
The United States probably thinks that China should not take advantage of certain rules but comply with them as a whole, including the law of the sea, and it is a way of thinking we share. There may be chances for all of us to discuss how to improve rules while firmly following them. But it is unacceptable that China rejects man-made rules from the outset.
Tanaka: In fact, China has benefited most from the current international system and achieved astounding economic growth. It sounds somewhat strange that the biggest beneficiary complains about the existing system.
Fujisaki: The same may be true politically as China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Miyamoto: I think the perception of Chinese people is slightly different from ours. In the late 1990s, China was desperately trying to join the WTO. A Chinese official in charge of negotiations said to me, “We are trying to accede to the WTO not for the sake of international society or the United States and Japan. China cannot move forward without economic reform. But China has big vested interests. We will join the WTO to dismantle the vested interests.”
This logic is “for the sake of us” and to address “our problems for the present.” The fact, if seen objectively and calmly, is that China is benefiting greatly but Chinese people, who actually participate, have a different logic. They may not be thinking in the way we expect them to.
Kudo: Mr. Miyamoto, I think the Middle East problem will have a considerably heavy weight in international politics down the road. How do you expect the Middle East and China to develop? China does not think of the Middle East in the same way as the United States, does it?
Miyamoto: What China needs most is to establish relations with the Middle East in a manner that will bring it the biggest merits. It is questionable whether China has gone as far as to gain long-term benefits by letting the Middle East maintain its peace and stability as a whole. For example, China now maintains a set of policies in its relations with Iran and Afghanistan. I think the question of how to stabilize that region as a whole will benefit China in the long run, but China’s role in it appears a little unclear, doesn’t it?
Tanaka: While the U.S. manages the maintenance of the international system, China criticizes it to some extent. China presupposes the United States will maintain the international system relatively well. As China, compared with the United States, will become much more dependent on the Middle East in terms of natural resources, the stability of the Middle East is extremely important to China. However, China has rarely worked actively to stabilize things by taking political risks.
Miyamoto: I want to say one thing for the sake of discussion. To some extent, public opinion in Japan, and in Europe and the United States, is that China has been rapidly drawn by nationalism into a shift toward toughening its foreign policy stance. I think that is the current tone of opinions.
But I think it is still too early to draw a final conclusion. A basic Chinese document recently published repeatedly said that economic growth is the most important issue for the Chinese Communist Party. As economic growth is dragged down by confrontations with other countries, China will be motivated to seek cooperation with international society or at least move toward avoiding trouble with other countries as long as economic growth is not shaken.
But as there are also domestic problems, nationalism may strongly come forward in near-term handling of issues. But we need to wait a while to see whether that will become China’s basic external stance, and then consider relations accordingly.
Kudo: What kind of diplomatic challenges are Japan expected to face under these circumstances? Now that the world has greatly changed and become very unstable, I think Japan’s role in diplomacy is being questioned. Will you discuss this issue?
Tanaka: As there are more than 200 countries and international organizations in the world, diplomacy is conducted in various ways every day. We cannot only focus on foreign diplomacy with the U.S. and China, but Japan has to broaden its perspective to keep good relations with other partners.
Prime Minister Abe recently referred to international relations with an eye on the global scale. Needless to say, relations with the U.S. and China are important, but it is more desirable to carry out multi-layered diplomacy at various levels day after day.
From the economic point of view, Japan engages in trade and investment with the whole world. The Japan-U.S. relationship is the linchpin in this field. While friendly relations with China are essential, it is vital to establish such relations with the entire world.
Fujisaki: I absolutely agree. But when it comes to basic foreign policy, Japan should show a bit more clearly that it can decide what is right on its own. While it is important to be in close contact with other countries, Japan should decide by itself what is good and how it should contribute.
It used to do that, but this stance may be a little shaken now. So it should firmly make decisions for itself and once it makes a decision, adhere to it without hesitation. I think it crucial to assume a respectable position and not readily change its decisions.
I think Japan is regarded extremely favorably. But if its foreign policy lacks stability, and if it has created the impression that this policy frequently changes, it is vital to correct that impression now.
Kudo: I understand what you mean by making decisions for oneself. But what kind of situations do you have in mind?
Fujisaki: Japan has conducted diplomacy with careful consideration, whether regarding revision of the Japan-U.S. security treaty, the basic relations treaty between Japan and South Korea, or the peace treaty between Japan and China.
Japan may have contacted other countries appropriately from time to time but basically it has made decisions for itself. Regarding various issues taking place now, such as deliberations on the right for collective self-defense or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), I think Japan should consider that it can make decisions on its own.
Tanaka: The Japanese media tends to see Japan’s foreign policy as reactions of the government to issues imposed from outside. Diplomacy is occasionally seen as narrow attempts to cope with specific fragmented issues, but certainly the issues are interconnected with others. Japan’s post-war external affairs have not necessarily been limited to isolated incidents. As Mr. Fujisaki mentioned, the point is that Japan should consider on its own what it should do by examining diverse demands in line with its historic experiences.
Mr. Kakuei Tanaka and Mr. Masayoshi Ohira went to China to normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and China. Mr. Takeo Fukuda said in Manila that Japan would base its Southeast Asian policy on heart-to-heart communication. These were examples of diplomacy conducted by Japan based on its own decisions and timing and taken with a holistic view.
Whenever something happens, the Japanese media tends to view the countermeasures taken by Japan solely through the lens of its relations with the U.S. and China. The countermeasures, however, have to reflect Japan’s foreign policy in connection with other partner countries and international organizations around the world.
Kudo: I often hear that Japan’s presence in international society has become much weaker. What is at stake for Japan’s foreign policy?
Miyamoto: When I was in the Japanese mission to the United Nations in the late 1970s, I discussed a particular matter with a U.S. diplomat who recommended changing the terms given to it. Until then, I had only thought of adapting myself to the given matter. But the U.S. diplomat thought of changing the given terms or presumptions. I recognized this was a big power’s method of diplomacy.
The Japanese way of thinking is only to adapt ourselves to given terms and it is the basic concept of Japanese society. The idea of changing the given terms is actually held by countries called big powers, including China. To think what is good for Japan in such a world and change the given terms will lead to the question of where Japan should head as a society and as a state.
Fujisaki: As I see it, Japan has two or three important diplomatic tools. One of them is official development assistance (ODA). It was subjected to a budget cut in 2010 under the slogan of fiscal reform without exceptions. I think it is important to roll it back to where it was in order to drastically increase Japan’s weight.
Secondly, it is essential to make all-out efforts for scrap-and-build programs to promote administrative reforms permitting no sanctuary. But I think it is also vital to recognize anew the importance of diplomatic tools.
For example, diplomacy assigns people on each occasion or requires close collaboration with local people. China has only about five consulates in the United States while Japan has 15. Japan also has human relations built up over decades.
Unlike the United States, countries without power concentration see these tools as extremely significant.
Of course, fiscal reform is necessary. But I consider it more crucial not to flatly think of imposing ceilings. As I said at the beginning, I didn’t think that Japan’s weight would drop sharply when I was in the United States. But now I see such a possibility if the situation is left as it is.
That’s why I am concerned. I think it should be promptly corrected. In terms of favorability ratings, 84% of Americans like Japan and 82% of Japanese like the United States. The huge figures are the basis of Japan-U.S. relations, although this kind of relationship should not be judged by public opinion polls alone.
Miyamoto: As we have long been in the vanguard of foreign diplomacy, I really feel that the transmission of messages to the world through arguments is impossible if they are literally translated from Japanese. We need to make efforts to get Japan’s contentions across using logic and expressions understandable to the other parties concerned. But Japan is not good at sending messages. “Silence is golden” here. I think Japan should make a change toward sending more messages to some extent.
For Japan-China relations in particular, the more there are Chinese-language contents on Japan on the Internet, the more messages can be conveyed to Chinese people. I think it is necessary for us to enter Chinese society in this manner and strengthen our capacity for sending messages.
One thing that is forgotten is the significance of grass-roots exchanges. As far as my experience with China and Myanmar is concerned, grass-roots exchanges have linked Japan with the two societies beyond our imagination. Of course, ODA has contributed to a large portion of the linkage, while there are personal efforts as well. But grass-roots exchanges have played an extremely large role in relations between Japan and China and Japan and Myanmar.
A large number of people continue to make strenuous grass-roots efforts every day or reinforce them as occasion demands. I think Japanese society should accurately recognize this and respect and thank these people.
Tanaka: Recently, administrations in Japan have changed frequently after short periods, as have prime ministers and foreign ministers. These changes created an image of Japan’s “lack of presence” in global affairs.
But actually, Japan’s presence is very strong and an increasing number of people around the world are studying Japanese. Japanese cooperation in developing countries tends to take place face-to-face and hand-in-hand. As Mr. Fujisaki noted, a sharp cut in Japan’s ODA poses difficulties to implementation. However, Japan’s ODA projects are genuinely appreciated by developing countries.
Currently 2,500 to 3,000 Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) are working around the world, including senior volunteers. Through daily face-to-face interactions, they engage in various activities with communities to meet local needs. Judging from these activities, I don’t think the global presence of Japanese people has declined significantly.
Prime ministers and foreign ministers have come and gone in quick succession, and they have seldom had opportunities to visit developing countries during their terms. The situation will get better with a stable administration guided by coherent foreign policies.
One point of regret is that Japan has not shared enough of its knowledge and experience from its ODA activities, especially among developed countries. In this respect, there remain rooms for improvement at influencing the global development agenda.
Fujisaki: China and the United States are very good at doing things that are called posture or weight. They take a broad attitude or a tough stance as occasion demands and they are extremely skillful. I think it’s important for Japan to do such things a little better.
The skills have gradually become shaky compared with those in the past. To get things done solidly at counterpart levels and work out the order of going back and forth, though they appear frivolous, will enhance the significance of a nation. What is China’s stance on this matter?
Miyamoto: China greatly adheres to it. No doubt about it. Therefore, I think a balance is necessary in this respect. In Japan, there is a Japanese logic or sense of values that calls for even big-name politicians to frankly talk with people on the streets. There is such a way of thinking. This is a kind of virtue. Based on this sentiment, there is nothing wrong in highly-ranked people meeting common people in China, but yet there is no idea of this kind in China.
Fujisaki: The United States doesn’t have it, either. It is unique to Japan. I wonder if the world understands it.
Kudo: I would like to change the subject a little bit. There are views overseas that Japan is drifting to the right. If read carefully, they include a considerable number of misunderstandings and so I wonder if we should squarely take them up. How do you assess such views in the rest of the world?
Tanaka: Discussion of right and left-wing philosophies was relatively significant during the French Revolution and the second half of the century after World War II. But the comparison of these two blocs has not been as important since the Cold War ended. The argument that Japan is drifting to the right probably points to an increase in the influence of undesirable nationalism.
But actually, I do not feel that undesirable nationalism has been increasing in Japan over the past several years. Therefore talk about a constitutional amendment and the interpretation of the right to collective self-defense should be debated within the context of Japan’s role and prospects in a changing world system.
Miyamoto: I think this is also a question about sending messages or how accurately the reality of Japanese society has been convened to the world. For example, people who respond sensitively to the terms rightist and leftist belong to generations older than ours. They surely spent their youth during the period of the two ideologies and so are highly responsive to the words. They may have formed their way of thinking based on them to some extent. I think younger people’s response is different.
Nevertheless, the question is how Japan should proceed from now on. Lots of people are naively starting to consider how to defend Japan when moves by North Korea and China, as mentioned earlier, come to the forefront.
Kudo: Is it a tilt to the right?
Miyamoto: No, it isn’t a tilt to the right. Everybody is starting to be aware of Japan’s security situation and consider what to do. There is neither right nor left here. Something we haven’t felt at all comes from outside and it appears to be a kind of threat. Then it becomes a problem different from an actual threat, under which everybody starts thinking and expressing various opinions. As a result, the agenda of the people who used to be called rightists may come to win wider support in Japan, just as in other countries. But I think it is necessary to explain current society’s mainstream views to international society.
Kudo: An unexpectedly large number of U.S. media claim that Japan is drifting to the right. What is the background to these reports, Mr. Fujisaki?
Fujisaki: As Mr. Miyamoto said, Prime Minister Abe’s past acts or something may be one reason. Or in some cases such arguments come out of ignorance without knowledge of what Japan has done to address various problems.
As the media use rather strong expressions in their commentaries, they occasionally write articles tilted toward either side. In a recent program, NHK highlighted the strenuous public relations efforts by the Japanese Consulate in New York, which won extremely favorable responses. The point in the program was that Americans, who read the Washington Post or the New York Times, do not necessarily accept China’s view of things even if they see a full-page Chinese advertisement showing photos of the Senkaku Islands, but come to understand the facts as they listen to various explanations. Some people question why Japan doesn’t run so many ads and argue that Japan’s attitude is unclear. The program persuasively said that big ads in the media are not always effective, while it is important to become accountable behind the scenes.
Miyamoto: I don’t think Japan is now moving to the right or left. Chinese comments on Japanese society sound extremely unreasonable to us. As they have one story or another based simply on whatever they have in mind, it is necessary to change them by presenting facts. I don’t think at all that Japan needs to behave like China in this regard, but it is important to keep providing high-quality materials to international society.
Kudo: As the final question, what kind of role should Japan play during this rebalancing in Asia at a time when tensions between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands are growing?
Miyamoto: Japan should more openly voice and stress a common goal for Asia. In other words, the peace and development of Asia is most important to Japan and it is crucial for Japan to more aggressively show its aim of pursuing such a big goal in its diplomacy toward China. China cannot object to this direction. The Senkaku problem should be addressed from the perspective of pursing this goal and China should do so as well.
At present, however, such an orthodox diplomatic approach is difficult under the constraint of domestic public sentiment. This is the biggest reason for the extremely difficult situation now. So it is imperative to exercise wisdom to calm the two societies.
Fujisaki: I think it is premature to say that nationalism will take hold and advance in China, as Mr. Miyamoto mentioned. I think it is a vital point that we need to wait and see for a little while longer. Some years from now China may make a course correction, saying, whether explicitly or not, that the current situation is excessive and not necessarily beneficial to it. So I think the question is how to bring China to such a direction.
The Obama administration during its first term temporarily offered a helping hand to China. But at that time China showed a very tough stance on occasions, including the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, possibly because it was entering a transition period with a change of power. China is taking an extremely adversarial response to issues related to the law of the sea and the South China Sea problem.
Because of these and various other problems, the United States is starting to feel that China should respect international rules more faithfully. I think this is the current situation.
But the Obama administration has entered its second term and there have been lots of personnel changes. In China, the new administration of Xi Jinping has started and there are, I think, calls for rebuilding U.S.-China relations. The question is how China can address these issues. I think China will hold the key to a large extent.
The most crucial point in Japan’s Asia-Pacific diplomacy is how Japan will relate to these issues and whether it can address them jointly with China.
I have kept stressing that three things are essential concerning the island problem just mentioned. It should be addressed with three approaches – “do not concede,” “do not become careless” and “do not provoke.” When Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida recently visited the United States, he said at a press briefing and at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that he had explained Japan’s policy of not provoking China. I think this is a very good direction to take.
Tanaka: Whether in diplomacy or human relations, those with power must refrain from making hasty decisions to avoid misunderstandings.
Since last summer, Japan and China have faced hardships in diplomacy. Regrettably, various anti-Japanese activities erupted in China. However, Japan’s economic relations with China have been working to a certain extent and people-to-people connections have continued. More than 100,000 Chinese students are still studying in Japan.
Therefore, it may be wise, as Mr. Miyamoto said earlier, to let time pass quietly and to carefully observe the changing situation. And I think this is applicable not only to Japan, but also to China. As the foreign minister indeed seems to have this attitude, I believe that the Abe government is pursuing this approach.
China is, of course, an important partner for Japan, but maintaining and fostering relations with other countries is also crucial for Japan’s foreign policy. Accordingly, Japan should broaden its focus and actively build and strengthen relations with the rest of the world.
Miyamoto: I absolutely agree with Mr. Fujisaki’s three principles. I believe Japan should not provoke China. The first two – “do not concede” and “do not become careless” – should not be a bluff but should be backed up with actual deeds.
But as far as the Senkakus are concerned, a direct confrontation between the two countries’ state powers has already occurred and so we must think of an exit. If we begin debating which is right, the issue will fall into a situation with no exit in sight.
Tanaka: To build mutually beneficial relationships based on global peace and prosperity, Prime Minister Abe’s visit Southeast Asia was a very good occasion to pursue common strategic interests. The visit was occasionally discussed in relation to China, but Japan’s relationship with the Southeast Asian region itself is essential to Japan’s national interests. China is important, of course. But given the economic growth rate of the Southeast Asian region and its increasing share of the global economy, it is clear that Japan must build and promote strong relations with the region.
Democratization in Myanmar has attracted a lot of international attention because of its economic potential and its strategic geographic position between Southeast and South Asia. However, not only Myanmar, but the southern part of Africa and Latin America also deserve attention for their economic opportunities.
Promoting cooperation and further strengthening relations with these regions will help to ensure global stability, peace and prosperity and will benefit Japan’s national interests. Fortunately, Japan is highly respected in Southeast Asia, the southern part of Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Although the United States and China appear to be the sole targets of Japanese foreign affairs, a more broad-based policy that takes into account the entire global picture is crucial.
Kudo: Such an approach should make Japan’s presence more visible.
Fujisaki: We shouldn’t rest on the heritage of our predecessors. But when we look back on Japan’s international affairs over the past 60 years, it is fair to say that we have walked the high road. We flatter ourselves too much if we say everything we have done in our relations with the United States, China, Russia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East is right. But basically we have committed no big mistakes. Allow me to repeat what I said earlier, but I consider it essential for us to get things done with the confidence that we have engaged in diplomacy based on a solid position.
As is often said, the United States has strategic ideas, China has 3,000 years of wisdom, and Britain and France are experienced diplomats, while Japan sits on its butt. Although these things are taken up by the mass media, I think we can say that they are not so if we see them from a different vantage point.
Kudo: Thank you very much.
Translated from roundtable talks on “New U.S. and Chinese Administrations and Japan’s Diplomatic Vector” held by The Genron NPO in January 2013.