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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2001

Charting the landscape of Japan's foreign affairs

JAPANESE FOREIGN POLICY TODAY, edited by Inoguchi Takashi and Purnendra Jain. New York: Palgrave, 2000, 316 pp. $59.95 (cloth).

This collection of studies on Japan's foreign policy is edited by Takashi Inoguchi, professor of political science at the Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo, and Purnendra Jain, professor of political science at the University of Adelaide. Included are 16 papers by Japanese and foreign scholars in the field, of which Jain is the author of two.

The book was conceived as a companion volume to a 1997 book edited by Inoguchi and Jain, "Japanese Politics Today: Beyond Karaoke Democracy?", which surveyed recent developments in Japanese domestic politics, as the editors recognized the absence of a work in English that provided comprehensive coverage of the most important concerns of the country's foreign policy.

The goal of the most recent volume is therefore to give a as full a picture as possible of Japan's foreign policy. The editors' intention was to set out key policy issues and explain relationships and disparities between them. The set of papers collected here includes analyses of specific regional and bilateral relationships deemed essential by the editors to a "comprehensive picture of the policy landscape," and also provides an assessment of where Japan's international relations are headed in the next decade.

In their introduction, the editors note that, both internationally and domestically, the landscape in which national foreign policy is planned and implemented has seen major changes in the last decade, involving new actors, interests, imperatives, strategies and technologies.

The title of the introduction -- "Beyond Karaoke Diplomacy?" -- refers to karaoke systems, which operate on the basis of a menu offering a range of orchestral accompaniments that one can sing along to. Now found in most parts of the world, karaoke started in Japan. Although karaoke restricts one to the songs included in the menu, it is possible to extend the menu incrementally. The editors liken the range of foreign-policy options open to Japan in certain areas to such a menu.

They define four features of Japanese foreign policy that, despite all the changes, remain constant: powerful domestic actors (particularly Foreign Ministry bureaucrats); Japan's alliance with the United States; the economic imperative to sustain essential commercial relations; and a constitution that constrains Japan's overseas military engagement. The first two are the most influential in determining policy.

The book is organized in three parts around the themes of actors, issues and relationships.

Part I consists of two papers, by Professors Jain and Akihiko Tanaka. Tanaka focuses on the relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy. He observes that the conventional view that Japan can act only under external pressure ("gaiatsu") is misleading. However, gaiatsu does on occasion play an important role in Japanese foreign-policy initiatives, and he argues that an understanding of domestic politics can also throw light on how it works.

In his paper, Jain describes the actors in Japan's international relations, which now include not only the central government but also subnational governments and NGOs, to name only the two most important. Jain notes that the interests and priorities of these new actors on the international scene do not always correspond to those of the central government, but that they can nevertheless make valuable contributions to international diplomacy.

The issues covered in Part II include Japan's relations with international institutions (examined by Edward Newman), globalization and regionalization (Moon Chung-in and Park Han-kyu), human rights (Ian Neary), protection of the environment (Hiroshi Ohta), and peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance (Caroline Rose). Jitsuo Tsuchiyama looks at defense and disarmament and Akiko Fukushima contributes a paper on Japan's expanding official development assistance.

Part III covers relations with the U.S., the European Union, Russia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Australia.

Interestingly, the editors note that, because English-language studies of Japan's foreign policy are generally by Japan specialists, the focus so far has tended to be on bilateral relations, while Japanese scholarship in the field pays greater attention to multilateral aspects, at both the global and regional levels. Nevertheless, Part III of this collection contains a number of contributions by non-Japanese authors that treat regional relations.

This book provides an excellent account of Japan's foreign-policy landscape, not only for those familiar with the field but also for newcomers, and the bibliography, which includes some 400 entries, will be particularly useful to students of the field.

Armins Nikovskis is an editor at Japan Echo.

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