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Commentary: Japan, U.S. to be tested on soft power

  • 2015-04-30 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: April 30, 2015 – p. 2)


 By Takeshi Yamawaki, chief of General Bureau for America


 There were two major themes in the Japan-U.S. summit: strengthening the alliance and economic cooperation. Both leaders were very conscious of China.


 They could not help discussing the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The fact that 57 nations, including the UK, Germany, and France, are joining the new bank gave the impression that Japan and the U.S. missed the bus.


 This is a case that also signifies that China is on the rise, not only in the military sense, but also in terms nonmilitary ideas, i.e. soft power.


 Patrick Cronin, senior director at the Center for a New American Security, is interested in the “narrative” involved. “China is projecting the image that it is a nation of the future, while Japan and the U.S. with their military power (hard power) belong to the past.”


 Cronin asserts that while it is important to strengthen the bilateral alliance, focusing too much on the military aspect is like “bringing a gun to a party,” which is not advisable, adding that this amounts to giving the advantage to China, which claims to be a soft power, since reality has changed.


 The image projected would have been very different if the two leaders were able to present an agreement in the Japan-U.S. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks at the summit. This is because taking the lead in making trade rules that also give consideration to the environment and labor standards in an economic sphere making up 40% of the world total is more than “countering China” but constitutes a strategy with global implications.


 If the TPP talks start to go adrift in the future, the leadership of Japan and the U.S. in the international community will be questioned.


 Another focus of attention in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s present trip to the U.S. is his interpretation of history. In his speech to Congress, Abe indicated “deep remorse” for the past war and stated that, “We must not avert our eyes from the fact that our actions brought suffering to people in Asian countries.” He also confirmed that he will adhere to previous prime ministers’ view of history.


 In the various welcome events, Obama mentioned such things as emoji used on cell phones, robots, and sake to show his fondness of Japan.


 Japan is highly appreciated for its soft power, such as its culture and its postwar record as a peaceful country. On the other hand, past statements of Abe, such as “the definition of aggression has yet to be established,” have undermined Japan’s international image. Eliminating such verbal discrepancies and discoursing on Japan’s postwar success by looking squarely at its prewar history will help enhance Japan’s soft power and diplomatic capability from now on.


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