Event ReportsPublished on Jan 28, 2010
Despite the change of guards in Japan, the new government has reaffirmed its commitment to maintain "global and strategic partnership" with India
Japan's new commitment to Asia

Japanese foreign policy under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been basically focused on Asia, Minister for Political Affairs at Embassy of Japan in New Delhi Naoki Ito said on January 28, 2010 at the ORF campus.

Speaking on the subject of “Japan’s Asia policy under Prime Minister Hatoyama”, Mr. Ito drew attention to some of Mr. Hatoyama’s major diplomatic engagements since last September to show the significance the DPJ government attaches to Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister visited China in October for the Japan-China-Korea trilateral meeting and attended the ASEAN+3 meeting and the East Asia Summit in Thailand in the same month. In November, he attended the APEC meeting in Singapore. Japan also hosted the first Japan-Mekong Summit meeting in Tokyo in November. Mr. Hatoyama was present at the Bali Democracy Forum in Indonesia in December where he made the remarks on democracy and human rights in China and his visit to India in December rounded up his diplomatic engagements in 2009.

Mr. Ito pointed out that the foreign policy agenda of the Hatoyama government has been set around some major international issues including climate change, nuclear disarmament, and Asian security architecture on the one hand and the push to improve ties with neighbours on the other as pledged in his party’s election manifesto. The Minister played down the speculation that there has been a shift away in Japan-US security alliance. The Hatoyama government has reaffirmed Japan’s security alliance with the US, Mr. Ito noted saying that a conclusion on the Okinawa base issue will be reached by May and US President Barak Obama will visit Japan in November later this year to attend the APEC meeting and deepen the alliance relationship. The Japan-US cooperative relationship was going well and it remains the linchpin in Japan’s foreign policy, he stressed.

South Asia Despite the change of guards in Japan, the new government has reaffirmed its commitment to maintain “global and strategic partnership” with India, Mr. Ito said. India was the only country to which Mr. Hatoyama made a “bilateral” visit since he came to power last September. A gesture that suggests the importance the Prime Minister attaches to India, Mr. Ito said and noted that New Delhi’s rising stature in the international arena has been largely a result of its growing weight and influence and a robust economy. Economic interdependence, bilateral trade and investment has been increasing between the two countries, the Minister said and pointed out that India-Japan trade was only 1/20 of Japan-China trade and that there was room for improvement.

Japan’s assistance packages to Afghanistan and Pakistan in November 2009 to strengthen support to these countries are the manifestation of the new policy as the 5 billion US $ in 5 years from 2009 for Kabul was a fourfold increase of the annual average assistance since 2002. Another 500 million US $ was announced in January 2010 as an additional assistance. A sum of 300 million US $ continues as regular assistance in FY 2010.

Japan has also pledged 1 billion US $ to Pakistan in April 2009 out of which 130 million US $ has been disbursed. In January this year, Japan terminated the special law for refueling services of the Japanese Maritime Self-defence Forces to the Allied ships in the Indian Ocean.

East Asian Community Mr. Hatoyama’s proposal of an East Asian Community (EAC) as a regional forum has generated a lot of interest among regional governments and scholars alike since the inception of the concept by him. However, the EAC as a concept remains ambiguous. Mr. Ito submitted that when Hatoyama proposed the EAC as a long term vision some noted that while the original concept of the EAC had a geographical element in it there was no comprehension as how the US could be included in such a regional architecture. Mr. Ito noted that Mr. Hatoyama had European Union type of cooperation and reconciliation in mind when he spoke about the EAC in Singapore in November 2009.

The Minister said that there is a great deal of overlapping in the existing regional frameworks. For instance, while India is a member of the EAS, it is not a member of both ASEAN+3 and APEC. He stated that functional cooperation could be strengthened and accumulated first through the existing frameworks and then concrete concepts could emerge at the next stage in Asia. India, according to Mr. Hatoyama, could play a significant role in the EAC, Mr. Ito stressed. However, he noted that there was room for evolution in the concept and also on the question of who is in and who is out and he added that China has seemingly taken a neutral position on the EAC proposal.

Neighbourhood Policy

Mr. Hatoyama’s neighbourhood policy was forged on a relationship of trust and the Prime Minister was ready to squarely address the historical issues, Mr. Ito pointed out saying that this was a major feature of the new foreign policy and could be a key departure from the position of his predecessors. For instance, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s foreign policy was value-based and its “arc of freedom and prosperity” was a concept to deal with China. Mr. Hatoyama’s foreign policy was based on the concept of “fraternity”, a way of thinking that respects freedom and individual dignity of one’s own and others.

Referring to Mr. Hatoyama’s remarks on democracy in China at Bali, the Minister said that it could be because of the Prime Minister’s strong commitment to human rights and human dignity. He noted that lack of transparency in China particularly in matters of defence spending and military buildup could be one of the reasons why regional governments continue to be unclear about China’s intention and also raise issues on democracy and human rights. Ito suggested that if China could be more transparent then such attitudes may also change among the regional countries. Meanwhile, Ito pointed out, the resource development in the East China Sea between China and Japan was high on the agenda of the present Government.

Ito also noted that issues relating to history text books in Japan’s relations with South Korea may not be a major hurdle in the bilateral relations. He, however, noted that progress in Economic Partnership Agreement with South Korea has not made much headway. Japan’s relations with North Korea would continue to be driven by factors such as Pyongyang’s willingness to participate in the six-party talks, its relations with Washington and Beijing, and the abduction issue. Mr. Ito said that there could be no relaxation of sanctions on North Korea unless Pyongyang returns to the six-party talks.

On the territorial issues that Tokyo has with the neighbouring countries including Russia, Mr. Ito noted that it might be very difficult to find a quick resolution to these disputes though strong public support is behind the government’s position to resolve the issue before concluding a peace treaty with Russia.

On the question of Japan going nuclear, the Minister submitted that there were anti-nuclear sentiments deeply rooted in the society. Although some support Japan to play a more independent role in security affairs, he noted such a move, besides being economically unsustainable and politically imprudent, lacks public support and is against Japan’s national credo and that it was unlikely that Japan would go nuclear in the foreseeable future.

On the foreign policy agenda for 2010, Mr. Ito said there would be more of the same as in 2009. Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in addition to the priority issues in 2009 such as Japan-US relations, climate change, and “Af-Pak” issues, and neighbourhood relations would dominate Japan’s foreign policy priorities. The APEC summits for the next three years starting from 2010 will be held in three important member countries – Japan, the US and Russia – consecutively. Mr. Ito opined that the outcomes in these summits could well shape the direction of future Asian architecture.

The report has been prepared by K. Yhome, Associate Fellow, ORF.

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