Ja­pan acute at diplo­matic re­cal­i­bra­tion

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Sun Peisong The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the Jiangsu Lianyun­gang De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute. opin­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Ja­pan is a stub­born coun­try. From the late 19th cen­tury to the first half of the 20th cen­tury, Ja­panese the­o­rists be­lieved that launch­ing wars was the only way to the coun­try’s sur­vival. In the post-WWII era, Ja­panese elites took an­other vi­tal de­ci­sion – Tokyo has no al­ter­na­tive but to ally with the US. Be­cause of such his­tor­i­cal rea­sons, the na­tion’s for­eign pol­icy is of­ten re­strained by fos­silized mind­sets.

How­ever, Ja­pan can some­times be keenly aware of his­tor­i­cal trends and be in the fore­front of changes. Af­ter the Bri­tish de­feated China’s Qing gov­ern­ment in the Opium Wars in the 1800s, Ja­pan raised its guard. In 1853, when US war­ships ar­rived in Ja­panese wa­ters, de­mand­ing a treaty per­mit­ting trade and the open­ing of Ja­panese ports to Amer­i­can mer­chant ships, the en­tire Ja­panese so­ci­ety went against it and launched the renowned so­cial move­ment “re­vere the Em­peror, ex­pel the bar­bar­ians”.

It led to the Meiji Restora­tion, dur­ing which na­tion­al­ism was grow­ing. If na­tion­al­ism had not de­vel­oped in Ja­pan ahead of other coun­tries, Ja­pan would not have be­come a ma­jor Asian power in the 19th cen­tury.

To­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s uni­lat­er­al­ism has hit Ja­pan hard. Tokyo seems to have no­ticed a pos­i­tive path for change in its for­eign pol­icy af­ter sens­ing the cri­sis. Im­prov­ing Chi­naJa­pan re­la­tions is a cru­cial sig­nal.

For some time, Ja­pan has been seek­ing a thaw in ties with China. In the con­text of Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s im­mi­nent tour to China, Ja­panese me­dia com­mented that this is a strat­egy of both coun­tries to come closer. But as far as I am con­cerned, the de­vel­op­ment of Sino-Ja­panese re­la­tions re­flects Tokyo’s need and de­sire to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

To be­gin with, the US has with­drawn from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner- ship (TPP) and started im­pos­ing fresh tar­iffs on Ja­panese prod­ucts sig­nal­ing Tokyo’s weak­en­ing grip on the US-Ja­pan al­liance. TPP is an am­bi­tious trade pol­icy which Ja­pan has not only par­tic­i­pated in, but also proac­tively pro­moted. It is a vi­tal part of Tokyo’s na­tional strat­egy. Trump’s with­drawal undermined Ja­pan’s sta­tus and in­flu­ence in Asia.

Since Abe as­sumed of­fice as Ja­panese prime min­is­ter for the sec­ond time, the gov­ern­ment had been hop­ing to fol­low in US foot­steps to main­tain a sta­ble in­ter­na­tional or­der led by Wash­ing­ton. But Trump’s facile “Amer­ica first” and his mer­cu­rial pro­cliv­ity to pull out of mul­ti­lat­eral deals made Ja­pan wary about toe­ing the US line in its for­eign pol­icy.

Will the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion force Ja­pan to fully com­ply with US na­tional in­ter­est? So far, Tokyo has not yet re­ceived ex­emp­tions from Trump over the new tar­iffs. The sit­u­a­tion has made Ja­pan aware that its diplo­matic path is grow­ing nar­rower if it keeps fol­low­ing Wash­ing­ton.

Mean­while, Ja­pan’s un­der­stand­ing of its vaunted se­cu­rity al­liance, the leit­mo­tif of Wash­ing­ton-Tokyo re­la­tions, has been shaken. Over the past 70 years since the end of WWII, Ja­panese so­ci­ety has been fan­ta­siz­ing about be­ing shielded by the US in times of need. So when Trump said, “We will de­fend our coun­try, pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties and put the safety of the AMER­I­CAN PEO­PLE FIRST”, while re­peat­edly sug­gest­ing that Wash­ing­ton should stop pay­ing to de­fend coun­tries that can pro­tect them­selves, Ja­pan pan­icked.

Ja­pan’s econ­omy is get­ting in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on the de­vel­op­ment of Asia. The US is no longer the main driv­ing force be­hind Asia’s growth. The Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship is cur­rently be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by ASEAN coun­tries and six Asia-Pa­cific states, in­clud­ing China, Aus­tralia, In­dia, Ja­pan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Once a con­sen­sus is reached, the deal would mean the creation of a su­per free trade zone that covers half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and 30 per­cent of global trade. Ja­pan will re­al­ize that its own de­vel­op­ment is in­creas­ingly in­sep­a­ra­ble from ex­ten­sive co­op­er­a­tion with East Asian na­tions.

Abe has been ad­vo­cat­ing value-ori­ented diplo­macy. But Western diplo­macy is now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the most se­vere set­back in his­tory. Tokyo now re­al­izes the lim­i­ta­tion of its pre­vi­ous value-based for­eign pol­icy.

Many politi­cians still don’t see any op­tions apart from the US-Ja­pan al­liance. Abe’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is thus show­ing loy­alty to the US while car­ry­ing out in­de­pen­dent poli­cies in ma­jor fields. The pace of Ja­pan’s strate­gic change is be­com­ing more and more ob­vi­ous.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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