Japanese Foreign Policy in the XXI Century: The New Black Ships

By Julio Espinoza, Staff Writer

Throughout the duration of the Cold War, Japanese foreign policy contributed to the achievement of peace and prosperity for the Japanese. In the Post-Cold War era the new political elite in Japan agree that the Peace Constitution, the Yoshida Doctrine and the alliance with the U.S. are milestones and constraints to Tokyo’s leadership in global affairs. As the war generation fades away, new Japanese generations will demand Tokyo to assume not only an economic, but also a political leadership in regional and global affairs to effectively foster Tokyo’s interests in an uncertain world order.

Today, Tokyo cannot maintain a low-profile foreign and defense policy due to several external factors. During his campaign, President Trump called for a downsize of U.S. military expenses in mutual defense mechanisms and Tokyo did not know how to interpret candidate Trump’s intentions. Even after President Trump reassured Prime Minister Abe that the U.S. was committed to the defense of Japan, Tokyo should still not trust an unpredictable ally. Tokyo’s peace constitution faces challenges now while the U.S. is in a deep nationalistic transformation and China and Russia are emerging as economic, military and political powerhouses and have territorial claims. China has increased its military presence and assertiveness in the South China Sea. North Korea, albeit almost a failed state, poses a threat to the status quo through the acquisition of ballistic capabilities to marry its nuclear program. Such a volatile situation is a window of opportunity for Tokyo to rethink its national security and foreign policies and to get rid of the 1947 liberal-democratic constitutional provisions and assume more realistic attitudes.

SA Kyodo

The incumbent Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and his political Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, have been seeking a restoration of Japanese sovereignty and ability to conduct self-defense policy (not war yet) via more robust National Defense Forces (not today’s Self-Defense Forces) in foreign relations. Under the existing constitution, Japan relinquished to its sovereign right to go to war and sustain armed forces. Japan has sustained a historical 1% of its GDP for self-defense purposes and has fostered defense cooperation between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. armed forces in Asia-Pacific, relying on the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.

Last week’s meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe reportedly went well, or not as bad as previous negotiations with foreign dignitaries like the Australian Prime Minister and the Mexican President. However, we do not know the specific results of the Trump-Abe meeting as the Joint Statement only highlights goodwill to continue working on common areas of interest like security and prosperity in Asia-Pacific. Maybe, besides the long and awkward handshake, the most valuable result of the talks was President Trump’s remark: “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%.”

Courtesy of Forbes
Courtesy of Forbes

If in the middle of the 19th century, U.S. commodore Perry’s black ships were the symbolic incentives that propelled the Meiji Restoration, now 9/11, the Second Gulf War, the rise of China and Russia, the North Korean nuclear program, and the overall uncertainty in the regional and global balance of power will be the new black ships that will urge Tokyo to reform its domestic and foreign policies. Japan faces the challenge of revamping its foreign and defense policies and taking a truly global leadership stance without being perceived as a threat to the status quo. In future articles I will elaborate on a potential strategy for Tokyo to match its political influence with its economic power. Stay tuned!

Feature photo courtesy of: alamy.com

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