Japan - Back in World Politics

Posted in Japan , Asia | 18-Jan-06 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Japan's geopolitical world.

Like Germany, Japan had a long way to go from the end of WWII to become a “normal” state. The constitution from 1947 restricted Japan to self defense and did not allow any military involvement outside Japan’s territory. War, power projection and nuclear armament became taboos in Japanese politics.

Today in 2006, about 600 Japanese soldiers are stationed in a non-combat operation in southern Iraq as members of the “Coalition of the Willing.” Nothing could better illustrate the dramatic changes in Japan’s security and foreign policy. These changes have been dictated by the geopolitical neighborhood and the big question of energy supply for Japan’s rising demands.

The big neighbor China is officially regarded in Japan as a “considerable threat” – both economically and militarily. On its way to world power status, China's power projection is worrying for Japan. The second area of concern is North Korea. North Korea stunned Japan by test-firing a missile over Japan into the Pacific in 1998. This was a wake-up call for Japan. North Korea's openly declared desire to become a nuclear power makes this neighborhood even more threatening.

The third concern has to do with South Korea. Like China, South Korea is at odds with Japan because of its role during WWII and the way Japan is dealing with this issue. The repeated visits of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine – in spite of repeated protests from China and the Republic of South Korea – led to state-sponsored anti-Japan demonstrations.

Japanese relations with China and South Korea are frozen. The pronouncement by the US and Japan in February 2005 that a peaceful solution of issues concerning the Taiwan Straits through dialog has become their “common strategy objective” did not please mainland China.

Another question of rising concern is the protection of Japan’s energy supply from distanced volatile regions. A lot of substantial problems have to be solved by Japan.

Japan’s vital interests are in my view:

  • Contain China while at the same time increasing trade with China

  • Strengthen the already close strategic partnership with the US – including the American dominated ABM system

  • Find a “modus vivendi” with South Korea – a natural partner because of North Korea’s threat

  • Improve relations with India, the Philippines and Australia

  • Strengthen Japan's position as an Asia-Pacific region power

  • Secure the energy supply at affordable prices from the Broader Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Nearly 90% of oil imports come from the Middle East (See Dr. Hisane Masaki's article “Japan’s New Energy Strategy,” first published in the Asia Times Online on January 13, 2006

  • Safeguard the positive economic development

  • Modernize the military (see more in our library under “search/Japan")

  • Delete North Korea's nuclear threat through successful six-nations-talks

The good news for Japan is its regained economic power. The ethnically homogeneous nation of 130 million people – of which 99% are of Japanese origin without major religious tensions – has recovered after almost a decade of economic stagnation.

The economic date are excellent - in spite of of the present irritations of Japan's stock market caused by problems in the IT sector.

  • 2,7% annual growth of the GNP

  • 0% inflation

  • Only 4,7% unemployment

  • Contribution of the service sector to the GNP: 63,6%

The only dark spot is the demographic development. The society is getting older and population growth is close to zero. But the Japanese economy is strong enough to enable a dynamic security and foreign policy based upon expanding trade with its neighbors and strengthen the military capabilities – especially of the navy.

Another symbol of Japan’s dynamic politics is the quest for a permanent seat in the UNSC. Counting on US support, Japan- the second largest financial contributor of the UN - has left the “Group of 4” (Brazil, Germany and India) and started a new, unilateral attempt. I doubt that China will give up its opposition against this move.

Both our newsletters try to find answers to questions about Japan’s present and future security and foreign policy. Our first newsletter is written by our “Editor Japan,” Dr. Hisane Masaki. The second was published by the IISS, London. They equally point out that the outreaching dynamic Japanese power projection does not meet with much sympathy in China, South Korea and other Asia-Pacific countries. Some try to keep a fresh memory of Japan’s former imperialistic and aggressive policies.

All in all, there is good reason to believe that Japan will play a stabilizing role in the Asia-Pacific region – as a staunch ally to the world power, the US.