Japan's foreign policy towards
human rights: Uncertain changes
Yozo Yokota and Chiyuki Aoi
Japan's foreign policy towards human rights was almost non-existent until the 1980s. Japan avoided taking political risks in its external relations as a matter of general principle, as exemplified by its single-minded pursuit of economic self-interest. Human rights, being seen by Tokyo as highly political and greatly complicating foreign relations, were not allowed to interfere with central concerns such as the economy – and national security. This posture resulted in contradictions with its pro-Western diplomatic allies in multilateral forums. Such a passive stance in human rights diplomacy is, however, gradually giving way – albeit slowly – to a more active one that gives some importance to human rights. This shift is still uncertain. It ranges from support for the abstract principles of universal human rights, and thus opposition to special Asian values, to a new foreign aid policy that sometimes includes considerations of democratization and human rights in the recipient countries.
In Japan, as in other nations, there is a contemporary effort to associate national history with human rights. One can read that: “[E]ven before the opening of doors to the world, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, there were rules and customs in Japan related to human rights and humanitarian concerns.” 1 These norms, however, sought to teach rulers principles