NO. 8 -- February 28, 1997


Feature Article


Since the early 1990s the Japanese government has sought to add greater dimension to its heretofore economics-focused diplomacy in Asia. Initially preferring to work behind-the-scenes in helping to broker various regional disputes, Tokyo has moved toward center stage through various initiatives. For example, it dispatched Self-Defense Forces personnel to Cambodia in 1992 to support United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping activities there. Japan also proposed the previous year to reshape the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' postministerial conference into a new structure for security consultations. Since 1994 the Japanese government has blossomed further as a regional security player through its participation in the Asean Regional Forum and the nongovernmental Council for Security Cooperation in the Asian Pacific. Tokyo also has sought to build confidence in the uncertain Asian arena through bilateral defense exchanges with its neighbors.

The cool reception in Southeast Asia to Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's recent proposal to hold a regular summit with regional leaders to discuss security and other issues underscored the challenges Japan still faces in raising its profile in Asia. Experts suggest that Asian leaders kept their distance due to World War II-bred fears of opening the door to a more assertive Japan. The ambiguously worded 1995 apology by the Diet's lower house for Japan's behavior in the pre-1945 period evidently did little to salve Asian wartime wounds. Of potentially longer term significance to Japan's security-related efforts in Asia, however, is the influence of the People's Republic of China. Mr. Hashimoto's Southeast Asian hosts apparently were worried that closer ties with Tokyo might antagonize their counterparts in Beijing, who already perceive a U.S.-Japan containment strategy.

Asia watchers uniformly agree that the toughest test for Japanese diplomacy in future years will be managing relations with China -- a neighbor that aspires to be an economic, political and military superpower. The potentially explosive situation on the Korean peninsula, the uncertain economic and political outlook in Russia and the brewing arms race in Southeast Asia present other possible opportunities or pitfalls for Japan's Asian diplomacy. Regional observers concur that the Japanese government's apparent unwillingness or inability to admit to its wartime atrocities will continue to hamper Tokyo's pursuit of its regional leadership ambitions. Equally important, while American and Japanese diplomacy in the region occasionally may diverge, Japan must continue to remind its neighbors of its firm commitment to the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, the chief guarantor of Asian stability.

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Weekly Review

Albright Urges Continued Close U.S.-Japan Security Cooperation by Barbara Wanner

Economics took a back seat to diplomatic and security issues during Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright's February 23-24 get-acquainted visit to Japan. Known more for her expertise in European politics, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations sought to assure senior Japanese officials as well as the regional audience overall that she is acutely aware of the potential volatility of Asia and the critical importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance in maintaining stability there.


Deng Leaves Behind Increasingly Shaky Sino-Japanese Ties by Christopher B. Johnstone

Several years after the dawning of the post-Deng Xiaoping era, Deng Xiaoping is dead. As such, few China specialists expect that Mr. Deng's death will spark significant policy changes in Beijing over the near term. In keeping with that perception, Tokyo, like Washington, has stressed that current policies toward its giant neighbor will continue unaltered. Nevertheless, while the status quo may hold for the foreseeable future, the long-term outlook for Sino-Japanese relations is far less clear. The passing of Mr. Deng, who oversaw a substantial deepening in relations with Japan, ultimately may symbolize the beginning of a new era in Beijing's ties with Tokyo.


Revisions To Bank Of Japan Law Proposed by Douglas Ostrom

An advisory panel to the Ministry of Finance recently proposed revising a 1942 law that restricts the independence of the Bank of Japan. However, its recommendations fell short of those that a wide range of experts outside the government advocate. Some analysts even saw in the suggestions a realignment of power between politicians and the bureaucracy that actually could serve to reduce the central bank's independence in some respects. As a consequence, the panel's ideas, which are expected to be introduced as legislation in the Diet this spring, are likely to face further debate, albeit not serious enough to prevent the proposed revisions from becoming law sometime this year.

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