After the Cold War, Japan has been unable to establish a national direction in the face of globalization and shifting international power dynamics. In order to address the spectrum of regional and global challenges the country now faces, Japan must establish national objectives and a trajectory that preserves and reasserts Japanese identity.

Professor Kazuhiko Togo, director of the Institute for World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University, spoke on Japan’s foreign policy orientation in the 21st century and elaborated on Japanese relations with its neighboring states at an event held by the Carnegie Moscow Center and moderated by Carnegie’s Sam Greene.

Assessing Japan

Japan underwent a period of democratization, peaceful development, and Americanization during the Cold War period. In this new era, however, Japan plays a weakened role in the international arena and lacks a clear national direction. Togo called for a “New Japanization,” which would reflect Japan’s unique culture and carve out a new approach to Japanese foreign policy.

  • Reinvigorating Japan: Japan’s new national objectives must be determined in the context of globalization and democratization, while also preserving Japan’s unique identity, Togo explained. As an example of this unique identity, he listed two pillars of Japanese culture: harmony between nature and human activities; and technological development. Any new national objectives would also need to reestablish common social values and aid Japan in the transfer of central power to regional government.
  • Creating a “New Edo Period:” The Edo Period in Japanese history was characterized by 260 years of peace, responsible security and defense, and an economic process of importing items from abroad and transforming them into something uniquely Japanese, Togo said. Asserting a “new Edo Period” would suit Japan’s aversion to asserting primary leadership in a new Asian hierarchy. Instead, such an approach would reflect Japan’s desire to bring into the country the best minds from around the world and encourage Japanese citizens to participate in the global community.

Togo added that in his view, Russia and Japan’s experience parallel each other, as both undergo a process of identity creation and preservation while reevaluating and asserting their national objectives.

Japan and its Neighbors

  • China: Japan perceives China as a rival, especially on economic and naval fronts, Togo said. In fairly recent history, China has progressed from posing regional concerns for Japan to posing global ones. In particular, China is becoming more assertive on naval and military issues and now has a presence in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Japan is especially worried about China’s naval policy of denying non-Chinese ships access to certain routes. Togo argued that it is critically important for Japan to maintain a dialogue with China, in order to avoid falling into possible security conflicts.
  • Russia: Disputes over the Northern Territories continue to hinder relations between Japan and Russia. The Irkutsk negotiations in 2001 between Prime Minister Mori and President Putin marked an optimistic point in overcoming the territorial issues, but after undergoing domestic political turmoil, Japan withdrew from negotiations. Togo expressed little hope for Japan-Russia negotiations and characterized current Japan-Russia relations as being at a low point. He cited as evidence Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s July speech in Khabarovsk on Russian policy objectives in the Pacific region, which failed to mention Japan at all.

Japan and the United States

Japan’s primary aspiration in its relations with the United States is U.S. support for Japan on naval issues, Togo asserted. At this summer’s ASEAN Regional Forum, Secretary of State Clinton expressed concern about China’s access denial policy and stated that the United States cannot allow China to obstruct the fundamental right of free navigation. However, Togo explained that United States appears to be seeking a new balance in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, keeping its influence on the western portion and allowing China to take a lead in the Eastern Pacific. According to Togo, the need to preserve U.S. interest in the East Pacific, makes it all the more important for the Japanese government to allow the United States to retain its military base in Okinawa.