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Thursday, Feb. 8, 2007

Asia's transformation and the future of Japanese diplomacy

Prior to World War II, Japan's position in the international community was dependent on its power and status in Asia. From the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it was essential for Japan to have considerable stature within Asia so that the country could associate on equal terms with Western nations and assume a position of influence in the international community. This was a historical imperative rooted in Japan's determination to protect its independence against Western colonial rule in Asia.

Japan's domestic modernization, however, which was implemented under the slogan "Enrich the country and strengthen the military," was not always conducive to entrenching democratic institutions, and Japan undertook a colonialist expansion into Asia, creating a pattern in which it used Asia as a steppingstone to major-power status.

Learning from these events, Japan has, since World War II, dealt with Asia from its position as a model student of modernization and Westernization, and as the only industrialized democracy in Asia. One could say, in fact, that the prewar situation has been turned on its head, with Japan's status in Asia now defined by its standing in the community of "Western" nations.

However, globalization and the stunning transformation of Asia have led to a dramatic increase in the interdependence of Asian economies and to democratization or progress toward democratization in many Asian countries. As a result, Japan's international status as "the only industrialized democracy in Asia" no longer has the same cachet as before and no longer serves to mark Japan out as unique among Asian countries. To put it another way, it is likely that Japan will be forced to gradually change the diplomatic strategy it has followed for more than half a century since World War II -- that of dealing with Asian countries as the only industrialized democracy in Asia and generally marching in step with Western industrialized nations.

Under these circumstances, there can be a number of options for Japan as it charts a new diplomatic course. The first is to further strengthen its cooperation with the United States, European countries and other industrialized democracies, acting in closer unison with the U.S. in the field of security (in its narrow sense), and with the U.S. and Europe on global issues.

This is obviously a course that Japan should take, but the question remains as to how the Asian countries currently coming to the fore can be integrated into the value system and political ideals of "industrialized democracies" and, in approaching this task, whether Japan can adopt the same stance as the U.S. and European countries. We must question the extent to which Japan can truly share common thinking with the U.S. on such issues as how military force is used in the international community.

The second option for Japan (though it can overlap with the first option to some extent) is to further bolster efforts to forge an Asian community. If Japan chooses to take this path, two of the key issues will be whether China and some authoritarian Southeast Asian countries will make progress toward political democratization as their economies continue to develop and in what ways Japan can encourage this. These issues will be even more important under the second option than under the first.

To put it another way, in the case of the first option the most important question is whether Japan can share its vision and ideals with those envisioned by the U.S. or Europe. In the case of the second option, meanwhile, the vital issue is whether China, among others, can envision -- or wishes to envision -- a future for itself as a society similar to contemporary Japan.

The third option, while by no means conflicting with the first and second, is for Japan -- as an ultramodern, pioneering nation with the ability to go beyond the notion of an "industrialized democracy" -- to take the lead in fulfilling Asia's global responsibilities and to construct an environment in which other Asian countries can make greater contributions to the international community.

The first element of this option is for Japan to take the initiative in transcending the limits of growth and of the logic of capital. Environmental policies based on the spirit of mottainai (a Japanese word meaning "Cherish things!") is one example of this.

The second element is Japan's role in building peace around the globe. This would encompass encouraging further efforts to undertake United Nations reform, disarmament including the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons and participating actively in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The third element of this course is the role that Japan could play in reviving morality. In the world today, and especially in Western societies, moral breakdown has become a major social problem, as seen in such phenomena as classroom chaos, rising crime and rampant political corruption. For Asian countries to play a leading role in a global restoration of morality, we must seriously consider whether Japan cannot take the initiative in first bringing about a moral revival in Asia and then sharing this with the rest of the world.

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation. He has served as Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Vietnam (1994-95), South Korea (1997-99) and France (1999-2002).

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