Without an Independent and Multilateral Foreign Policy, There is No Future for Japan:
Some Proposals for Japan's Foreign Policy

TANIGUCHI Makoto, Director, Research Institute of Current Chinese Affairs, Waseda University.
Uploaded on 11 October 2002.

I   Construction of a New Japan-US Relationship
II  Construction of a New Japan-China Relationship
III Construction of a New Asia Policy - the Promotion of an Independent, Multilateral Diplomacy

[Editor's Note]

           Japan's foreign policy has been rocked in recent years by scandals involving the misappropriation of funds on a grand scale and the manipulation of policy by a senior politician, a confrontation between the Minister (TANAKA Makiko) and her staff that led early in 2002 to a series of displacements and resignations, and a sharp dispute with China over the problems of history textbooks, Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine and the handling of North Korean refugees seeking admission to the Japanese consulate at Shenyang in China. These events occurred in the context of a continuing contest over the appropriate diplomatic orientation for Japan in the post-Cold War and post-11 September world. The following article opens an unusual window into thinking within senior, but non-mainstream, bureaucratic circles on the nature of the crisis and how to respond to it. Originally published in Japanese in June 2002, its author is a graduate of Hitotsubashi and Cambridge Universities who joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1959, served in various posts connected with GATT, ESCAP, and UNCTAD before becoming Ambassador to the United Nations, 1986 to 1989, and Deputy Secretary-General of OECD, 1990 to 1997. Taniguchi here calls for a sweeping reconsideration of the fundamental "Follow the US" mindset within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and for the adoption of an independent, multilateral and more balanced foreign policy, paying due attention to Asia, in particular, to China.


           Urgent calls are now being made for a fundamental reform of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following a series of scandals that have occurred since the beginning of last year, together with the displacement of Foreign Minister Tanaka, the problem of collusion between Dietman SUZUKI Muneo and certain bureaucrats in the Ministry, and the Shenyang Consulate Incident of May 2002. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suffered serious damage to its reputation due to the extraordinary scandals concerning some of its staff and the alleged misuse of funds. We should redress the problem by all means. Although former Ministry officials like us have nothing to do with these scandals, for the sake of the Ministry's reputation we cooperated to help repay some of the misappropriated funds, with strong determination that such scandals must never be repeated.

           However, what concerns me most is not so much the scandals in themselves as the low morale and the lethargy that spreads through the Ministry, and the lack of sense of mission on the part of officials of the Ministry, as a result of which it has become extremely passive, whether in foreign policy making or in diplomatic activities. Never before has it so lost its sense of purpose. No time should be lost in seeking a way out of this critical situation.

           Although the public criticism is now focusing on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have no intention whatever to defend it. Definitely it needs systematic reform and a new mentality, and it needs to cultivate new staff. However, mere reform within the Ministry will not suffice to breathe new life into Japan's foreign policy. Reforms of the Ministry itself will have but limited effect. To strengthen Japan's diplomacy, the way the Japanese government at the ministerial level, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, thinks about foreign policy, and also the way the Japanese public thinks about it, need to be reformed. However familiar they may be with Japanese-style domestic politics, the prospects for Japan cannot be bright so long as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs lack international sense and experience. Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself is mainly responsible for its recent troubles, the responsibility of former Prime Ministers and Ministers of Foreign Affairs for allowing powerful politicians to interfere in the Ministry is even greater. Prime Minister Koizumi also bears responsibility for having appointed, for domestic political reasons, a totally unfit person to be Minister of Foreign Affairs.

           Politics and economy worldwide have greatly changed due to the end of Cold War and the advances of globalization. Though the Cold War is over, Japan has been unable to shed the dependence on the US that was characteristic of that period. The complicated shifts in the relationships between Japan, the US, and China, and the delicate changes in the Japan-US alliance that have resulted, have not been properly recognized. Besides, Japan's economy, following its dramatic development in the post-war period, failed to respond to the rapid structural changes of the global economy due to globalization, sinking instead into steady decline. Japan's economic diplomacy, till now backed by its strong economy, also shows signs of weakening.

           In spite of these, domestically, the Koizumi administration is trying to grapple with economic structural reform which deserves attention, but in terms of foreign policy, there is still no sign of a long-term strategy to deal with the global political trends. The same, old-style "Follow the US" foreign policy is maintained. There is no sign of any determined, long-term strategy in Japan's foreign policy towards Asia, although that region is especially important to Japan. The recent series of troubles at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was extremely shameful internationally, greatly damaging Japan's international image, but there could still be a silver lining in it if we could seize the opportunity to rebuild the country's foreign policy.

           With world's politics and economy changing greatly under globalization, Japan's diplomacy must become more multilateral. Under such an environment, Japan is forced to reconsider its foreign policy, especially towards the US and China, and find a way to construct an Asian policy in the context of changes in the Japan-US-China relationship.

I   Construction of a New Japan-US Relationship

           When considering Japan's policies towards the US and China, the expression often used by mainstream officials in the Ministry is that while Japan and the US share "common values", Japan and China do not. Prime Minister Koizumi, who sees himself as pro-US, used such an expression in a television interview before visiting the US. If by "common values" are meant the concepts of "democracy", "market system" and "respect for human rights" often used in OECD circles, this is not so difficult to understand, but if the common values in ordinary sense are meant, some doubt arises over whether these are really shared by Japan and the US. Historically and culturally speaking, there are more things in common between Japan and China, because of more than 2,000 years of contact, than between Japan and the US, with relationship of less than 150 years. It is undoubtedly true that there is the Japan-US alliance with the Japan-US Security Treaty and that the maintenance of a healthy and friendly relationship with the US is important to Japan's very survival. However, it should not be thought that Japan can afford to neglect the construction of a friendly relationship with China even if there should be no "common values" between the two countries.

           Precisely because Japan and China are neighboring countries, there tend to be historical issues between them that are difficult to address. However, as long as China is in the process of expanding its political and economic power, Japan must construct a healthy and friendly relationship with it, which is similar to that with the US. There is a tendency on the part of the elite mainstream of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give priority to the Japan-US relationship and neglect China, but in my view the true test of a diplomat is the ability to deal with a difficult counterpart.

           Generally speaking, there are too many pro-US staff in the mainstream of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The reason is that for them the ultimate dream is to become ambassador to the US. In order to realize this dream, the safest and most realistic path is to follow the path set out by the elite pro-US group, and to speak and act in accordance with the thinking of leading figures in the government, most of whom are pro-US.

           In a country whose Prime Minister declared himself pro-US while on an official visit to the US President, it is scarcely surprising that the mainstream of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should also describe themselves in the same way. However, it seems to me that the Japanese government's recent attitudes to the US are more submissive now than they have ever been in the past. Ever since President Bush took office, he has pursued an assertive "unilateralism", withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming last year, rejecting the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and withdrawing from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT). In addition, last November the US reversed the approval it had given in 2000 to Japan's proposal to the First Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations "On the Road to a Complete Abolition of Nuclear Weapons". Not only has Japan not opposed the US unilateral disregard of international opinion, but it has even shown understanding for the American missile defense plan that European countries either opposed or cautioned against. Even in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, which Japan hosted and worked very hard to bring to a successful conclusion at the end of 1997, it is well known that it hesitated over whether to ratify it or not, out of a concern to upset the US.

           I do not deny the importance of the Japan-US alliance to Japan or the fact that post-war development owed a great deal to it. However, the alliance relationship cannot be immutable. We need to recognize that the Japan-US alliance relationship has changed in the post-Cold War period. There are still a lot of people in major positions in the Japanese government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the various ministries, and in the business and academic worlds, who believe that the Japan-US alliance is unchanging. However, US intellectuals have recently started to raise questions about changes in the Japan-US alliance.

           In March this year, Ms. Charlene Barchefsky, US Trade Representative under the Clinton Administration, visited Japan and gave a speech on " Is the basis of the Japan-US Relationship being eroded?" In her speech, she mentioned that in the 1980s and 1990s the US often urged Japan to promote deregulation, disposal of bad loans and structural reform, but economic reform made absolutely no progress and the economy fell into dire straits, so that the US came to think it was unnecessary to regard Japan as the best partner and began considering other options. Looking at the problems of the economy and at the Japan-US relationship, she did not conceal her irritation at the tardiness of Japan's economic reform. There is no denying that the US has begun to look down on Japan as its economy declines. Then in March of this year, Stephen Vogel, Assistant Professor of the University of California at Berkeley (son of Prof. Ezra Vogel, author of Japan as No. 1), came to Japan and gave a speech entitled "Is the Japan-US relationship weakening?" On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, he predicted changes in the Japan-US relationship and proposed the construction of a new relationship. Although there are fairly large differences between the positions of these two American intellectuals, clearly they share the belief that even though the Japan-US relationship is changing and the security relationship between Japan and the US is very significant, the alliance cannot remain unchanged. The Japan-US relationship is best seen no longer as special, but as changing to a normal one. One cannot help but see the sentiment of dependence on the US, which still exists in today's Japan, as an unrequited love.

           Last year, when an ambassador of one of the major western countries in Japan invited some Japanese specialists on Asian problems to exchange views on Japan's China policy, the majority opinion was that, rather than an independent China policy, Japan should pursue a China policy based on the Japan-US alliance. Such a view probably conforms with the opinion of the mainstream in the Japanese government, but, if such a view is maintained, it will be impossible to build either a new Japan-US relationship or a new Japan-China relationship. This is the reality of Japan's foreign policy without a clear long term strategy. If we continue in this way, it is possible that Japan will come to be looked down on by China and even the whole of Asia, as well as the US.

           In my view, the Japan-US relationship should be based on a new partnership. I do not take the view that Japan should always adopt the same policy as the US simply because there is an alliance between them. I believe the new Japan-US alliance should be built on a relationship of uninhibited cooperation, exchange of opinion, cooperation and consultation. After last year's 9.11 terrorist incident, Japan cooperated in the terror eradication campaign in Afghanistan as a US ally. However, there is no way that peace in the Middle East can possibly be accomplished under the current US policies. Now is precisely the time for Japan, as a true partner of the US that has actively cooperated with it, to counsel the US to adopt more neutral Middle East policy. In autumn this year, as the Bush administration pushed for a military strike against Iraq, Japan aligned itself with the group of European countries that insisted any such action would require a special UN Security Council resolution. I strongly hope that Japan can keep this position to the last.

II   Construction of a New Japan-China Relationship

           Next, let me consider the Japan-China relationship.

           This year is the 30th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations in 1972. Economically, the relationship between both countries has made rapid progress, but politically, with the Yasukuni Shrine problem, various problems over history, and the recent Shenyang Consulate Incident, you could scarcely say that the bilateral relationship is really friendly. It may be that the mood between the two countries was friendlier at the time of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations in 1972 than it is today.

           Both countries should reflect on why the Japan-China relationship has not become closer. China has developed rapidly since 1979 by implementing an economic opening policy. Both the OECD, where I used to work, and the World Bank, draw a scenario in which China over the next ten years or so will become an economic power, its economy surpassing those of the US and Japan in terms of GDP (measured in purchasing power parity). Yet many in the Japanese mainstream take the view that China is going to break up politically or collapse economically. Such a way of thinking is far from healthy. It seems to me more realistic for Japan to treat China, now integrated with the global economy as a WTO member, as a partner in Asia, with whom Japan can develop cooperatively.

           The economies of Japan and China are becoming increasingly closely inter-twined. For Japan, China is the second largest trade partner, next to the US. For China, Japan is the largest trade partner. In 2001, the amount of trade between Japan and China was 10.8 trillion Japanese Yen, with both imports and exports between the two countries reaching record levels. Cumulative Japanese investment in China is No 3, after Hong Kong and the US. In addition, Japan is the biggest aid-donor to China, the cumulative total reaching approximately 2.9 trillion Japanese Yen by 2000. In the context of deepening mutually-dependent relationship between Japan and China, Japan's manufacturing enterprises have been forced to transfer their production base to China on a large scale in order to improve their international competitiveness in the age of globalization. Consequently, the unemployment rate in Japan has risen and there has been trade friction between the two countries. Japan-China relations are accompanied by economic friction of the kind that previously existed between Japan and the US. Because of the particular historical problems of the Japan-China relationship, not present in the Japan-US relationship, efforts are needed on both sides to build a system in which problems can be resolved by consultations, avoiding confrontation and ensuring that economic friction does not escalate into political friction.

           In the future, for the sake of political stability and economic development in Asia, Japan and China should cooperate, and to realize such cooperation, they should aim at mutually complementary development, avoiding confrontation arising from the desire of either side to dominate.

           China is likely to maintain a high growth rate in future and to become a world economic power, despite its many problems. However, its per capita GDP is still far lower than that of Japan, and many of its people still live in poverty. By comparison, although Japan has entered into a period of low economic growth, generally, its economic level is far higher than that of China and its technological level is also high. Furthermore, Japan has many strengths in various fields essential for China's future development in which it can cooperate with China, such as environmental improvement and technology transfer. The US and EU are inclined to view China solely from the perspective of economic linkage, as was evident in the tenacious attitudes they adopted during the 14 years of negotiations with China over its entry to the WTO. For Japan too, China is a very important market, but for Japan the promotion of broad cooperative relations, in the fields of the environment, technical cooperation and human resource cultivation, is indispensable in order to create the sort of mutual trust that is essential to both Japan and China.

           Of course the maintenance of the Japan-US alliance is important for Japan. However, Japan's future diplomacy should be multilateral, not relying exclusively on the Japan-US alliance. Japan has to reconsider its Asian policy, especially its China policy, from a long-term perspective. Although the US takes an opposite stance to China over political issues and human right matters, still it took the initiative in China's entry to the WTO and it advanced into the China market ahead of Japan. Moreover, although the US does not offer any official development assistance (ODA) to China, many American foundations support China's elite universities, such as Peking University and Tsinghua University, with substantial funds, working hard to cultivating the human resources who will shoulder the future US-China relationship. In Peking University, which I often visit to give lectures, the China Central Economic Research Institute is financially supported by Ford Foundation. US-style economics is astonishingly popular among the young researchers and students in Peking University. Besides, the aspiration of outstanding Chinese students to pursue further studies in US universities is strong, while Japanese universities are ranked second or third choice. At present, there are more than 50,000 Chinese students studying in the US, which means that there are more Chinese than Japanese students in the US.

           Although Japan has given a substantial amount of ODA to China, most of it has been allocated to economic infrastructure, such as roads, subways, dams and the like, rather than to the cultivation of human resources capable of supporting the future Japan-China relationship. During 1972, the year of the normalization of Japan-China relations, there was a temporary boom in Japanese studies in China. However, the researchers of that period are now getting old and the fact is that American research is flourishing among China's younger generation while Japanese research is lagging. Unfortunately, right now there is no broad channel for communications between leaders of both countries where they can freely exchange opinions. Consequently, it is difficult for them to understand each other's response to the kind of bilateral political skirmishes mentioned above. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relationship, it is very regretful to see such situation. Japan should work hard to cultivate the necessary human resources to sustain the future Japan-China relationship.

III   Construction of a New Asia Policy - the Promotion of an Independent, Multilateral Diplomacy

           Japan's recent foreign policy could be described as a foreign policy devoid of any policy other than reliance on the single pillar of the Japan-US alliance. Certainly there is a view that in the current situation the safest and most realistic way to conduct foreign policy is to rely on the Japan-US alliance. However, I cannot help remembering that, under the same Japan-US alliance, Japan made greater efforts in the past than it does now to pursue independent and multilateral foreign diplomacy. For example, in the United Nations, on issues about the Middle East, human rights and developing countries, there were occasions on which Japan did not vote with the US. Furthermore, in 1971, when the Nixon administration ignored Japan and set about normalizing its relationship with China secretly, with Kissinger, former Secretary of State, flying to Beijing via Pakistan, Japan secretly dispatched a young official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Vietnam and thereafter set about the normalization of the Japan-Vietnam relationship.

           Furthermore, in its Asian policy in the 1970s, former Prime Ministers Miki and Ohira, together with former Foreign Minister OKITA Sabur?, proposed a "Pacific Basin Economic Cooperation Scheme", the forerunner of the present APEC. However, in 1989, when APEC came into being, it was not Japan that took the initiative but Australia. Since 1993, when President Clinton opened the first APEC Summit, APEC has developed in the direction of trade and investment liberalization under the leadership of the US and Australia, while Japan's influence has steadily weakened. Because of its problems over agricultural liberalization, Japan has been unable to take an active leadership. Consequently, its proposals have been confined to minor issues. At last year's Shanghai APEC Summit, China made its presence felt by proposing ECOTECH (Economic and Technological Cooperation) as a third pillar in addition to the US-proposed first pillar (trade and investment liberalization) and the Australian-proposed second pillar (trade and investment facilitation). Since the ECOTECH concept was originally part of Japan's "Pacific Basin Economic Cooperation Scheme", the Chinese proposal was in effect appropriating the Japanese idea.

           In July 1997, when the Asian financial crisis began to spread from Thailand, Japan's Ministry of Finance hurriedly proposed a plan for an " Asian Monetary Fund (AMF)", to try to contain it. The plan ended in failure owing to US Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers' insistence that everything should be controlled by the IMF. Eventually, the financial crisis spread rapidly from Thailand to Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea, and finally to Russia and Brazil, causing tremendous damages. As shown clearly in the case of Indonesia, the Asian financial crisis was not just a matter of financial problems evolving into a total economic and political crisis. Before the problem reached the worst stage of the crisis, the Japanese government should have treated it not just as a problem between its Finance Ministry and the US Treasury, but as a diplomatic issue, to be negotiated with the US government, involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to prevent the spreading of the crisis. In the Asian financial crisis, out of exaggerated concern not to offend the US, Japan lost a rare opportunity to develop an Asian diplomacy.

           Why is it that Japan chose to follow the US and to leave everything to the IMF? The weakness of Japan's foreign policy to the US is evident. Later, the US acknowledged its mistake in too quickly blocking Japan's proposal for the establishment of AMF, because it underestimated the impact of the Asian financial crisis, but it did so only after the worst case scenario had occurred.

           At any rate, the Asian financial crisis taught a significant lesson to ASEAN, China and the US. In May 2000, realizing the importance of establishing a forum for regional economic cooperation in East Asia to prevent the Asian financial crisis from recurring, ASEAN took the initiative to hold a meeting of Finance Ministers of ASEAN+3 (the ASEAN countries plus Japan, South Korea and China). Although China did not support the proposal for the establishment of the AMF at the time of the Asian financial crisis, it attended this meeting and a "Monetary Swap Agreement" was adopted.

           This forum of ASEAN + 3 has the potential to become a forum for discussion of broad issues including trade, investment, the environment, etc, and not just monetary problems. In November 2001, China proposed a "Free Trade Agreement" with the ASEAN countries, to be accomplished within 10 years. Following one step behind China, in Singapore in January 2002 Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi proposed a "Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Scheme" between Japan and ASEAN, urging the necessity for East Asian regional cooperation based on the ASEAN + 3 formula.

           I welcome the fact that Japan finally set up a proposal for regional economic cooperation with ASEAN + 3, also including Australia and New Zealand. However, this too may be seen as a hasty proposal drawn up in response to the Chinese initiative. I cannot help wondering whether Japan can really implement such a plan. In the first place it is obvious that, if the plan for economic cooperation centered in ASEAN + 3 in Asia were to be carried forward, and if the US opposed such proposal, Japan would hesitate again. In 1990, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's EAEC proposal was aborted because Japan was unable to support it out of concern to offend the US. Secondly, in the case of the problem of agricultural liberalization in APEC, if the comprehensive economic cooperation scheme were to include agriculture it would be impossible for Japan to support it given the realities of Japanese agriculture, and even more difficult if Australia and New Zealand, core members of WTO Cairns Group which is strongly pushing the liberalization of agriculture, were included. Now it is the time for Japan to make its position clear whether it can really move towards the realization of such economic cooperation politically and economically, and for this purpose, details of Japan's "Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Scheme" should be elaborated more in concrete terms including how far Japan can liberalize its agriculture. Otherwise, Asian partners may regard the Japanese Scheme just as a political slogan.

           In the age of globalization, the EU is expanding rapidly and is likely to increase its members from current 15 to more than 20 in the years to come. It is also envisaged that NAFTA may expand from its current 3 to 34 countries by the year 2005. While regional integration proceeds rapidly in other parts of the world, in East Asia, except for ASEAN, there is no regional cooperation of any kind among big economic powers like Japan, South Korea and China.

           Among the officials in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a dominant opinion that a free trade agreement might be possible between Japan and South Korea, but that it would be difficult for Japan to sign the same kind of agreement with China because, even though now a WTO member, it will take 10 to 15 years for China to be able to follow the WTO's rules. However, in my view, in the age of globalization, the world's economy is changing very rapidly and the speed of China's integration into the world economy will be far more rapid than Japan imagines. If Japan still cannot promote an independent and active diplomacy in Asia, from its concern not to offend the US, the time will come when China will take the dominant role in Asia both politically and economically, and Japan will become isolated.

           On April 12, this year, the Second Asia Forum was held in China's Hainan Island. Prime Minister, Koizumi attended it and gave a keynote address "Asia's New Century - Challenge and Opportunity". In this Forum as well, China took the initiative. However, the fact that Prime Minister Koizumi attended and made a positive address, stressing Japan's future cooperation with Asian countries, can be regarded as a step towards a new Asian policy. I appreciate his change of attitude towards Asian countries, however belated. I strongly believe that Japan should develop an independent and multilateral diplomacy allowing it to adjust to the rapidly changing world political and economic situation.

           Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) on 17 September, this year, with a view to normalizing the relationship between the two countries is welcome as the first positive, independent and multilateral diplomatic initiative to be taken in recent years. While there are many difficult problems still to be overcome between the two countries such as abduction, missiles, inspection on nuclear weapons and economic cooperation on the part of Japan, in the long run, Japan's initiative may be expected to bring fruits in terms of political and economic stability, especially security benefits, not only to the North-East Asia but to the world as a whole.

Translated from the July 2002 issue of Sekai by LIAO Fangfang.