Japan's Asean Policy: Reactive or Proactive in the Face of a Rising China in East Asia?

Article excerpt

Since the announcement of the Hashimoto Doctrine in 1997, Japan's proactive response to ever-changing Southeast Asia has been a main factor in advancing a new regionalism in East Asia. However, it is believed that China-ASEAN relations have outpaced Japan-ASEAN relations due to the uniformity of China-ASEAN's regional policies and the inconsistency of Japan-ASEAN's regional integration policies. Given these opposing views, this article examines the current state of Japan-ASEAN relations and especially focuses on the recent explicit efforts to strengthen a strategic partnership. Clarifying the changing nature of Japanese foreign policy toward ASEAN since the late 1990s, the article contends that Japanese initiatives are neither exceptional nor sporadic in nature. Indeed, between 1997 and 2007 Japan was an ideational facilitator to promote multilateral order in the region through strategic networking.

Key words: Japan-ASEAN relations, Japanese foreign policy, regionalism - East Asia, China


The end of the cold war has renewed interest in regional approaches to development and security. Apart from the obvious case of Europe with its economically integrated European Union (EU), East Asia appears to be one of the most dynamic regions among developing countries. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) itself has especially played a leading role in activating closer regional interactions, as exemplified by the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Asia- Europe Meeting (ASEM), and the ASEAN+3 (APT). It is thus quite remarkable that these multilateral efforts are being carried out by ASEAN, whose very survival was questioned until recently. Even after the unprecedented financial crisis that occurred in Thailand in July 1997 and soon engulfed Northeast and Southeast Asian countries, ASEAN's regional role has been strengthened by the institutionalization of the East Asian Summit (EAS) in 2005.

Against this background, Japan has also shown some notable initiatives in its foreign policy. For the first time Japan has identified itself as part of East Asia. In particular, it was unprecedented that the Japanese government, despite American objections, proposed the formation of an East Asian version of the International Monetary Fund in order to deal with the contagious financial crisis of 1997-1998. To follow up, Japan offered the so-called Miyazawa plan and initiated the Japan-ASEAN summit meeting, which led to the formation of a regularized APT forum. As an extension of Japan's proactive policies, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo promised in August 2007 to consolidate Japan's strategic partnership with ASEAN.

How do we interpret these policy initiatives by the Japanese government? We might argue that they were undertaken within the traditional parameters of Japanese foreign policy, which is exceptionally reactive due to the nature of the Japanese state conditioned by mercantile realism1 or due to the rise of China.2 We could also argue that these initiatives could bode well in modifying Japanese policy orientation, as a small group of scholars has come to underscore a quiet but steady development of a new style in Japanese foreign policy since the end of the cold war, most typified by various multilateral initiatives in recent years.3

The purpose of this article is to clarify the changing nature of Japanese foreign policy toward ASEAN in the post-cold war period of the late 1990s and the early 21st century, and contend that the above-mentioned policy initiatives toward ASEAN are not exceptional, nor sporadic in nature, and are therefore deserving of special scrutiny. Indeed, when we closely examine the unique developments of Japan-ASEAN relations between 1997 and 2007, we witness the emerging foreign policy of Japan as an ideational facilitator to promote multilateral order in the region through strategic networking.

A New Departure: The Hashimoto Doctrine of 1997

Japan has developed its interdependence and forged close political and economic ties with ASEAN, accentuated by the Fukuda Doctrine in 1977 and the Takeshita Doctrine in 1987. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.