Asia and Japan in the International System

By Shiozaki, Yasuhisa | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Asia and Japan in the International System


Shiozaki, Yasuhisa, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


The 20th century witnessed two world wars and the Cold War, which ended before turn of the century. People believed in the advent of a lasting peace, and expected to receive the dividend of peace. However, the future of the international community in the 21st century remains unpredictable. We still have no clear vision as to how the new post-cold war international order should be structured. The United Nations, 60 years after its establishment, is not always coping effectively with the issues we face today. Reforms to that organization, including the Security Council, are vitally needed. As intensifying globalization causes both positive and negative effects, we now face new threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the spread of international terrorism. Against this backdrop, Asia's significance in the world is increasing. On the economic front, Asian nations are enjoying striking growth, with positive impacts on the international economy as a whole. On the other hand, sources of instability still abound in Asia. To put it simply, Asia has become increasingly significant both in the positive as well as the negative sense.

Today, I intend to share with you my personal views by focusing on three key areas, making comparisons between Asia and Europe as necessary: First, what are the attributes that characterize Asia and its significance in the world?

Second, what policies do Asian countries need to put in place to ensure peace and prosperity? And to that end, what type of relationship should Asia have with the rest of the world.

And third, what is Japan's role in all this?

Asia as a Region

First, let us try to characterize Asia as a region. I would like to mention some key attributes of Asia on the political and economic front, by way of making a comparison to Europe.

First, on diversity - Asia is a region of diversity in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion as well as the developmental stage of the countries in the region. Unlike Europe, which has made significant progress in integration, there is no 'one Asia.' This has both positive and negative implications. While diversity is one of Asia's greatest strengths, it also makes cooperation among countries difficult in some ways.

Second, on the strong economy - Asia is highly dynamic with its strong economic potential. East Asia including Japan, China and South Korea increased its share of world GDP by 13 % during the past 30 years. Nearly 50% of the world population reside in participating countries of the East Asia Summit, and those countries consist 22.6% of the global nominal GDP. China's economic growth is a notable positive influence to the region as a whole. We must capitalize on this positive influence, while cooperating in dealing with the negative impact of such rapid growth, including environmental pollution and imbalance in energy supply and demand. Third, on the weak financial ties - Asia has no common currency such as the Euro, and the convertibility of Asian currencies is weak. In this regard, after East Asia experienced a large scale financial crisis in the late 1990s, Japan has assisted financially-troubled Asian countries through the New Miyazawa Initiative. In addition, the ASEAN+3 countries have been working to enhance cooperation among countries in the region through measures such as the Chiang Mai Initiative. However, it is still important in my view to further increase financial cooperation among individual Asian countries.

And fourth, on the uncertain security environment - Tensions on the security front have not fully subsided in Asia, and East Asia in particular. According to the Military Balance, as of 2003, 33% of the world's military manpower is concentrated in East Asia and Australia. In this region, China alone consists just over 11% of the world's entire military manpower. …

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