Event ReportsPublished on Mar 26, 2015
Japan is facing extremely dangerous situation in North East Asia where North Korea is developing nuclear weapons. It is also witnessing China's excessive assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. So, situations like these will influence the way Japan will shape its security policy, says eminent Japanese scholar Prof. Shinichi Kitaoka.
Japan's security policy in the era of new geopolitics

The world has been witnessing a shift in geopolitics, with many claiming the 21st century to be the Asian century. Japan for its part has been undergoing a series of changes, both domestically and internationally. As a major Asian power, it aims not only to proactively contribute to the international community, but also to take necessary steps internally that would enable it to do so. In this regard, Observer Research Foundation, in association with The Embassy of Japan, organised a talk on "Japan’s Diplomatic and Security Policy in the Era of New Geopolitics" by Professor Shinichi Kitaoka , eminent Japanese scholar and President of the International University of Japan on March 17. The talk was chaired by Prof. K V Kesavan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. Japanese Ambassador Takeshi Yagi made the opening observations.

After the end of the Cold War, it was thought that the concept of globalisation and democratisation would prevail. However, by the mid 90s, it became increasingly clear that there was a limit to a uni-polar order, led by the United States. The War in Afghanistan and Iraq exposed the fact that despite the US being very strong, it could no longer impose its power on other countries. Just because the US successfully democratised Germany and Japan after World War II, that did not mean that it could democratise Iraq.

Prof. Kitaoka highlighted the importance of geography. He stated that no country is free from geography. When it comes to national interests, all nations look for the same goals, i.e, safety of their citizens, freedom of their citizens, etc. Prof. Kitaoka stated that in order to realise these goals, strategic choices have to be made with regard to a country’s neighbours. Russia envisions itself as a nation that is surrounded by unreliable neighbours. Hence it feels the need to prepare militarily against those dangers. In North East Asia, Japan is also dealing with North Korea, who at present is developing nuclear weapons. Such a situation is extremely dangerous. Thus, situations like this will influence the way Japan will shape its security policy.

In some eras of history, countries have resorted to the use of power for fulfilling their needs. However, on some other occasions, the world has seen principles prevail over power. This order where principles and universal values prevail over power is one that should be strived for, and in this 21st century, Prof. Kitaoka believes that there is a possibility to achieve such a dynamic where human rights, rule of law, universal values, and an international code of conduct can mould and shape the ways countries grow and prosper. Japan through its policies is one such nation that promotes this.

Japan is currently witnessing China’s excessive assertiveness in the East China Sea, and the South China Sea. In the East China Sea, the Chinese claim the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as its own. Whereas in the South China Sea, almost 90 percent of it is being claimed by the Chinese government. In such cases, the Chinese government utilises historical claims as its reasoning for making such demands. Even after they agreed to a code of conduct, they are still not enthusiastic about it. Prof. Kitaoka also spoke about the importance of solving conflicts through the use of international law. The reason that Japan has such an interest in the South China Sea is primarily due to the fact that Japan is committed to the solution of conflicts through international law, and dialogue. The Japanese government believes that disputes must never be solved by use of power, or force. In this regard, the Chinese government differs. It chooses to resolve issues bilaterally. The problem with this is that in a bilateral dialogue, the stronger nation shall always prevail. On the other hand, solving issues through the use of international law, or a code of conduct, enables a level playing field.

Prof. Kitaoka expressed his positivity toward an improvement in China-Japan relations. He stated that in November 2014, Prime Minister Abe and President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the APEC summit. It was post this meeting that China and Japan concluded to establish a bilateral maritime Communication Mechanism, which is a step in the right direction.

Due to the geopolitical changes that have been taking place globally, and in the Asia Pacific region, Prime Minister Abe, after coming to power in 2012, has made major changes domestically. Firstly, he set up the National Security Council (NSC), which began work in January 2014. Prof. Kitaoka highlighted the fact that Japan is notorious for its sectionalism. In order to address this issue, the National Security Council was a crucial step. Secondly, after rigorous dialogue between government ministers, and members from academia, a National Security Strategy was established. Its leading concepts incorporated international cooperation, and a more proactive contribution to peace through Peace Keeping Operations, and Overseas Development Assistance.

Prof. Kitaoka also stated that fears regarding Japan’s return to militarism were unwarranted. In the 1930s Japan went into militaristic expansion for a number of reasons - its obsession with territorial expansion for resources, national glory, markets etc; lack of strong international sanctions; over confidence of the Japanese military; lack of effective civilian control; and lack of freedom of speech.

However, 70 years later, as the only nation to face the brunt of nuclear weapons, Japan has changed its outlook, and played a part as a developer and contributor globally. Prime Minister Abe indeed focuses on soft power rather than hard power. He has already visited almost 60 countries in order to get a deeper understanding, and also build relations based on peace and prosperity.

As this year will mark the 70th Anniversary of the end of WW II, Prime Minster Abe has very seriously set up a committee comprising of 16 members from various backgrounds and fields such as academia, Think Tanks, media, NGO, etc, in order to help him better understand the following questions:

-   How has Japan developed since 1945?

-  How did Japan work toward reconciliation with its neighbours, as well as the US, and other European nations?

-  What kind of future should we envision?

-  What kind of role should Japan play in the 21st Century?

-  What should Japan do on the 70th Anniversary of the end of WW II?

A number of issues have been repeatedly brought up by China and South Korea regarding the Nanjing Massacre, the visit by Japanese Prime Ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the use of comfort women by Japanese soldiers. Professor Kitaoka believes that in such situations a country such as India can provide a great role in leading by example how the spirit of forgiveness and not revenge better enables countries to move forward and reconcile. For South Korea, Japan has not only issued public apologies, started the Asian Women’s Fund, but they have also provided five hundred million dollars for repatriation. It should also be noted that in 1965, South Korea signed the treaty on basic relations with Japan. Amongst other things, it was established that all individual claims regarding comfort women were to be taken up by the Government of South Korea.

Prof. Kitaoka urged that while the past history should not be forgotten, it should not hang heavily and impede progress. An undue obsession with the past should not come in the way of mutual reconciliation and the prospects of moving ahead. Reconciliation has to come from both sides, not one. One way to move forward is through continued dialogue between scholars. Bringing in a third country perspective in such dialogues will always make it more objective.

(This report is prepared by Vindu Mai Chotani, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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