Japan's Proactive Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Brics

By Laurence, Henry | Asian Perspective, October 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Japan's Proactive Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Brics


Laurence, Henry, Asian Perspective


Within the past decade or so, Japan's foreign policy has become more proactive and assertive than it was during the cold war, placing greater emphasis on non-economic sources of power. Changing bilateral relations with all four BRICs are both causes and consequences of this newly assertive foreign policy stance. Japan's relationship with China is both the most important and the most complicated of the four. At the core of complexity is Japan's deep ambivalence about whether to treat China's economic rise as a threat or an opportunity. Japanese policy has consequently veered between engagement and confrontation, with the paradoxical result that while bilateral trade has exploded, diplomatic relations are the worst in memory. Japan's relations with Russia display a similar if less pronounced ambivalence. Largely as a consequence of heightened concerns about the threats from China and Russia, Japanese policy makers have begun to see the potential of both India and Brazil as useful counterweights, a view that coincides with the newly-articulated "values diplomacy" that stresses the importance of shared democratic values. However, India and Brazil remain relatively unimportant trading partners for Japan.

Key words: Japan, foreign policy, international relations, BRICs

Introduction

For much of the cold war, Japan's foreign policy was guided by the "Yoshida Doctrine" of pacifism, deference to and security dependence on the United States, and a nonconfrontational diplomatic style.1 Within the past decade or so, however, Japan's foreign policy has become more proactive and assertive, placing greater emphasis on noneconomic sources of power, both "hard" military strength and "soft" diplomatic and cultural assets. Scholars attribute this shift from "reactive state" to "reluctant realist" to many causes. Globally, the end of the cold war meant that unquestioning U.S. protection could no longer be taken for granted. Regionally, new challenges include a rising China, a resurgent Russia, and the nuclearization of the India-Pakistan standoff, as well as increased threats from North Korea. Domestically, economic stagnation increased Japan's sense of vulnerability and provoked rising nationalism even as the pacifist left collapsed.

Changing bilateral relations with all four BRICs are both causes and consequences of this newly assertive foreign policy stance. Changing relations with China and to a far lesser extent Russia did much to provoke the policy shift, while relations with India and Brazil are being transformed by it. Japan's relationship with China is both the most important and the most complicated of the four. At the core of the complexity is Japan's deep ambivalence about whether to treat China's economic rise as a threat or an opportunity and, if the former, whether the main threat stems from China's economic and military power or from the regional instability that would follow an economic or political collapse. Japanese policy has consequently veered between engagement and confrontation, with the paradoxical result that while bilateral trade has exploded-China is now Japan's largest trading partner-diplomatic relations are the worst in memory. Japan's relations with Russia display a similar if less pronounced ambivalence. Russia's energy resources and economic vibrancy are increasingly attractive to Japanese corporations, and trade is rapidly increasing, but longstanding territo- rial disputes and mutual distrust mar the relationship.

Largely as a consequence of heightened concerns about China, Japanese policy makers have begun to see the potential of both India and Brazil as useful counter-weights. Japan enlisted both as allies in the bid to win permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Closer relations were also part of the recent Foreign Minister Taro Aso's "Values Diplomacy" which, as part of Japan's contribution to the "War on Terror," stressed shared values of democracy and human rights. …

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