Trouble for Tokyo: Japan's Foreign Policy Challenges

Trouble for Tokyo: Japan's Foreign Policy Challenges


Officials in Tokyo have known for some time that Japan’s regional foreign policy needs to be revamped. The economic crisis has brought Japan’s export giants to their knees and forced the country’s economy to look at different ways of conducting business. Moreover, the nuclear crisis in Fukushima last spring further intensified Japan’s already acute energy security dilemmas. The dynamic security environment in Northeast Asia has not helped Japan’s footing either. Tokyo sees itself virtually surrounded by geopolitical challenges on all sides, including territorial disputes with China, South Korea and Russia and the consistent challenges it faces from an unpredictable regime in Pyongyang.

But all is not doom and gloom. Japan surely faces tough choices in how it conducts its foreign policy, but so do other states in the region. China needs to balance its regional ambitions with the strategic reality that primacy will not be voluntarily relinquished by Washington, Tokyo, Moscow or Seoul. South Korea also charts an uncertain course. Despite weathering the economic crisis better than Japan, South Korea is still vulnerable to the financial risks brought on by high household debt and the enhanced competition it faces since signing a series of free trade agreements. On the security front, Seoul continues to stare down a volatile cadre of military leaders in Pyongyang that have arguably accumulated even more power since Kim Jong-il’s death. Similarly, Russia, despite its “Pacific moment” this year at the Vladivostok APEC Summit, will need to considerably recalibrate its approach to the region if it wants to sufficiently benefit from its claims as an Asian superpower.

It is not too late for a proactive Japanese foreign policy in Asia. Tokyo needs to leverage the capital that it has already accrued amongst states in the region to regain some of its lost prestige.

One of the most obvious ways Japan can do this is through making the tough decisions that earmark its entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a move championed by industrial heavyweights such as Toyota, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, but fiercely opposed by lobbyists representing Japanese farmers who fear – with good reason – that the TPP will effectively eliminate their competitive advantage at home by ending exorbitant tariffs on agricultural imports. It may be political suicide for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to completely abandon the farmers – especially considering it was their area that was most affected by the tsunami and earthquake last year. This caveat notwithstanding, it is imperative that Noda impress upon the agricultural block – which makes up merely 1.4% of Japan’s GDP  – that the country’s economic survival is at stake.

The TPP is not an economic vaccine though. Japan’s economic engagement with Asia needs to complement this with a focus on expanding its footprint with bilateral trade agreements. Tokyo has taken a proactive approach in this area in recent years, inking Economic Partnership Agreements with India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines. Japan must now speed-up the pace of current EPA negotiations with regional heavyweights South Korea and Australia. It remains imperative that Tokyo not lose sight of the strategic importance of the former in light of recent sparring over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islets.

January 30, 2014 at 00:38

Abe, the madman, practices Ghost Diplomacy by acting so ghosty that he haunts places like Davos and Delhi.

A haunted man, he is basically a desparate diplomat without a trace of human soul. Holloween only comes one night in late October, but for the peaceful world, Abe seems everyday eerie. “Woo, woo, woo … ” Abe cried like that all the time!

[...] of Japan’s summer upper house elections, Abe faces pressures from not only rice and other farmers, but also medical and consumer groups worried about the effects on the nation’s universal health [...]

[...] article was originally published by The Diplomat, here. Synopsis: The regional challenges – highlighted by border disputes against China, North Korea [...]

November 26, 2012 at 17:08

Move on.  Don't harp on the pass.  Prosperity faster from mutual goodwill economic activity than from demands for compensation.  If Japan can embrace US to its benefit after Hiroshima & Nagasaki, why can't China & NKorea cooperate with Japan to develop green uplifting everbody's health & happiness?  Anyone driven by hate & destruction is his own worst enemy.

November 10, 2012 at 17:14

For Asia and Asians to live in peace, China must be in pieces or at any rate be contained. Today the biggest threat to international peace and peace in Asia emanates from the not so benign rise of China.

November 8, 2012 at 10:28

@ be way
Once again demonstrating your violent nature by calling for the death of an entire nation, if this is not the surest sign that China will become the next nazi germany i am not sure what else i can call it. It seems like the commie chinese have successfully prepared their citizens to become the axis of evil (china, iran , north korea, pakistan).
There are more countries in asia that favour america over China besides japan, let me list a few for you: South Korea, Phillipines, Vietnam, indonesia, australia, taiwan, thailand, india….would you like me to continue?? Every country knows China is not to be trusted, only failed rogue states like north korea and pakistan would ever align with such a bully because such failed corrupt states have a tendency to stick together.
Even Russia does not trust China, which is why even they are pivoting towards asia recently. This will help towards world peace, a massive block of countries all containing china to ensure the world order is maintained…..then china can fulfill its destiny of being the worlds #1 pollution state.

November 5, 2012 at 23:19

Then…it will be very easy for China to invade all the Islands of their Neighbouring countries?  No one has the right to   kill any Country or Nations…unless if they're  the big threat for the whole…yes! We're now living in the 21 th century, there are Laws and Regulations Internationally  to be respected. If Asia wants peace…respect   Neighbour's Territories…stop Bullying them!

November 5, 2012 at 04:03

This link shows a much kinder treatment of an American Serviceman than was usual when I was stationed in Japan. The Japanese legal system is something that a foreigner wants to be subjected to.

Be Way
November 5, 2012 at 00:19

There will be no peace in Asia if Japan is still around playing geopolitical villain in Asia.   Without Japan, there will be no U.S pivot towards Asia as none of the rest of the Asia countries will want to ally itself with the rogue U.S regime against any fellow Asia country.    Without U.S around, there will be more chance of South Korean to be reunited with its fellow brothers North Korean.    The U.S government is a warmongering fascist, bend on creating wars to feed its warmongering Military Complex Industry.
If Asia want peace, Japan must die.

Of Spurious Claims & Guilt Complex
November 4, 2012 at 10:45

What BS propaganda.  Easy to claim credentials like you aerved as a "USN SP(Military Policeman) for just over two years in Japan in the mid 1970's" on the internet.  Prove it your claim is not made up just to manipulate readers' perceptions?
As for japan, of course it faces challenges from an "unpredictable" N Korea. What do you expect of a government which hides the truth from its new generation of japanese-  that invading Japanese imperial troops in WW II committed barbaric atrocities in N Korea – same as it did all over East (including SE) Asia, and the N Koreans have not forgotten it. When Tokyo talks about Pyongyang's missiles, it is their guilty conscience talking.  yet it continues to act belligerent on behalf of  its puppeteer master, Washington. 

Leonard R.
November 3, 2012 at 11:19

Leonard R.'s advice to Japan is:
1. Make a deal with Russia. Russians don't hate Japanese the way Koreans & Chinese hate them.
Give Moscow what it wants in exchange for military weapons deals and access to Siberian resources.
Cooperate on border security. Also, both countries have problems with China. 
Cooperation with Russia could be a win-win-win for both nations. But it starts with the islands. 
Tokyo – write them off. 
2. The TPP cannot make up what Japan lost in the Chinese market. But alas, that market is too unstable 
to continue. Write it off too. TPP with South American involvement could one day prove very lucrative.
3. Vietnam is a natural ally for Japan. Vietnam is an ally with Russia. Joint offensive missile development inside a strong military alliance is a real possibility here. Subs, subs, subs! With missiles aimed at the Chinese heartland. Vietnam has a low cost labor market & a growing pro-Japanese consumer goods market. Help it with infrastructure, ports, roads. 
Ultimately an alliance between Vietnam, Russia, Japan and India could be very formidable. 
4. Making a deal with Korea won't resolve their hatred of Japanese. S. Korea is inherently unreliable as an ally.
Write it off too. The US should do the same. If they're not paying for the security guard service they're getting, 
Let Beijing/Pyongyang have them.
5. Taiwanese are more favorably disposed to Japan than either Koreans or Chinese. 
Taiwan could provide access to the Chinese market for Japan. 

November 3, 2012 at 09:45

@ Linh_My
You are kidding yourself about "no experience with Japanese/American military…..interaction". Over the last 30 years, American GIs had been involved in many occasions of raping Japanese girls & women. The locals hated those and want to kick the Americans out, but Japanese citizens and government could not. Why? Because the American soldiers went there, not as guests, but as occupiers after they lost the war. (Look at Philippines, they were successfully kicked the US out of their bases 10 years ago) Japanese have no choice. No nation with the right minds wants to have foreign troops stationed in their motherland.

John Chan
November 3, 2012 at 07:11

Just off the BBC-America, an US airman committed a serious infraction against 13 years old boy and a woman in Okinawa, the US military authority sent him back to home for sick treatment.  

November 3, 2012 at 05:04

I served as a USN SP(Military Policeman) for just over two years in Japan in the mid 1970's. Even on base had little to no authority over Japanese Civilians or Military personal. 'klee' sounds like he has likely never been to Japan and almost certainly has no experience with Japanese/American military and civilian interaction.
Also note, American GIs who committed any serious infraction of Japanese law wound up in the Japanese Court/Prison systems.   

November 3, 2012 at 02:02

Whatever Japan wants to do, or plan to deal with its neighbors, it has to get an advance permission, or makes it's plans known with its Master, which is, of course, the US. Those 40+k uninvited US soldiers stationed in Okinawa are there to look over Japan's shoulder. This is the price Japanese have to pay for their WWII aggression. Of course, those US marines, today, are also used to contain China, warn North Korea, and make the US presence known in Asia to Russia.
So, whatever Japan does, its actions have not to be contradicting the US's interest in the region.

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