Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Tokyo's Dynamic Diplomacy: Japan and the Subcontinent's Nuclear Tests

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Tokyo's Dynamic Diplomacy: Japan and the Subcontinent's Nuclear Tests

Article excerpt

Among Japan's recent international initiatives, its responses to India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests have been largely overlooked. Major Japanese diplomatic initiatives in the wake of these tests included promoting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and taking a leadership role in resolving the India-Pakistan dispute. Japan's energetic responses were driven by domestic considerations of public opinion, coalition politics, and bureaucratic interests. Externally, Japan was motivated by a desire to highlight its contributions to international peace and security, solidify its claims to a permanent United Nations Security Council seat, and exhibit its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, as well as by the relative paucity of concrete interest in India and Pakistan. However, Japan achieved few of its objectives. A repeat of such episodes may well influence Japan's future efforts to be more active in international affairs.


Japan's foreign and defence policies are beginning to exhibit signs of rising activism. An unprecedented parliamentary debate on Japan's constitution, an announcement by the foreign ministry that it is considering participation in multilateral anti-piracy patrols in the Strait of Malacca, the dispatch of delegations around the world to promote the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's recent suggestion that Japan's soldiers might be able to carry weapons on peace-keeping operation (PKO) missions are just some examples of the trend towards a more engaged international posture by Japan. Japan's neighbours and others have been watching Tokyo's emerging "normalization" closely, seeking clues to Japan's future international behaviour and ambitions.

One little noticed example of Japan's recent initiatives in international affairs was its responses to India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests conducted in May 1998. Japan's energetic responses to the nuclear blasts provide fresh insights into its broader international behaviour and ambitions. Although the subcontinent itself is marginal to Japan's economic, political, and security concerns, the nuclear tests raised fundamental questions about Japan's foreign policy, including the balance between economic and political diplomacy, the application of its official development assistance (ODA) charter, the role of public opinion, as well as domestic and bureaucratic politics in making foreign policy, Japan's relations with the great powers of the Permanent Five (P-5) and Group of Eight (G-8), the relative importance of specific security factors in shaping foreign policy, and Japan's relations with the United States.

What emerges from a consideration of this episode in Japan's contemporary foreign relations is quite telling. Motivated mainly by the desire to demonstrate responsible political rather than economic leadership, burnish its claims to a permanent United Nations Security Council seat, and exert initiative on nuclear matters, Japan launched strong but largely overlooked efforts to promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as well as to help resolve the India-Pakistan dispute. Not only did Tokyo fail on these scores, but the international community and the major powers were indifferent, Delhi and Islamabad uncompromising, and the Japanese public unmoved. Tokyo's dynamic diplomacy fell flat. Whether a repeat of similar episodes and outcomes in other contexts will push Japan towards a sullen isolationism, assertive unilateralism, or what the Japanese commentator Yoichi Funabashi, writing in Foreign Affairs, called a "reluctant realism", [1] remains to be seen.

"Political Animals"

"South Asians are political animals, while Japan is an economic animal", the late Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Al Bhutto supposedly once said. The world is accustomed to Japan's economic diplomacy. It is hence surprising that political initiatives in the wake of India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests have eclipsed Japan's economic actions. …

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