As Japanese political parties gear up for the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election, a focal point of contention is how to shape the country’s foreign and security policy amid growing tensions in Asia and the array of increasingly serious problems faced by the global community.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has put forward “power diplomacy.” Looking to boosting Japan’s defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), the party has emphasized rivalries with foreign contenders. It has played up economic security issues with an eye to an expected high-tech race.
In contrast, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) leans to “soft power diplomacy.” The party adheres to Japan’s unique principles of pacifism and an exclusively defense-oriented policy. Although the CDP has common ground with the LDP in that both attach weight to economic security, the former is aiming for “inclusivity.”
While the approaches taken by the ruling and opposition parties are different, they do share at least one worry: China, which is undoubtedly Japan’s biggest diplomatic challenge.
U.S.-China relations remain strained. Both countries have held military exercises presupposing a struggle over Taiwan. During the maneuvers, the United States and its allies including Britain deployed three aircraft carriers, while China repeatedly sent military aircraft — including nuclear-capable bombers and dozens of fighters — close to the island.
After pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, the U.S. has been stepping up military operations and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region in an apparent bid to counter the rise of China.
Japan’s strategy toward China has been based on enhancing deterrence in collaboration with the U.S. to avert a conflict. Tokyo is now urged to be more diplomatically proactive than ever.
Many Japanese political parties share the view that the Japan-U.S. alliance should be the linchpin of Japanese foreign policy. Yet there is debate as to what military role Japan would be playing. The LDP advocates Japan acquiring the capabilities to attack remote enemy bases, while CDP questions the cost and effectiveness of this plan.
It is necessary to take a firm stand against China’s move to change the status quo through military bluff and intimidation. Nevertheless, Japan should think twice about using this to propel an expansion of its defense capabilities.
Under the Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan has served as the “shield” (defense) and the U.S. the “spear” (attack). If Japan was to lay hands on the spear, its neighbors would inevitably be alarmed.
What is being put to the test is Japan’s ability to envision its unique diplomatic power to stabilize the region while countering China. There is a lack of debate over how to take up this difficult challenge.
Obviously, improving relations with China would lead to regional stability in Asia. Japan needs to formulate a strategy to suss out the threads for a dialogue by raising common concerns and hold regular consultations to pave the way for summit diplomacy.
The U.S. and China have pursued measures to avoid a conflict over Taiwan and have resumed bilateral ministerial trade talks. The two countries have also agreed to hold a summit meeting later this year.
Has Japan ever engaged in such efforts to bring about dialogue with China?
As globalization has deepened mutual dependence among countries, seeking to isolate China is unrealistic. Just forming a coalition against China and sustaining a rivalry will not lead to a breakthrough. If Washington and Beijing grow closer without any input from Japan, Tokyo will be left out in the cold.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pushes for diplomacy based on trust and emphasizes that he can listen. If that’s the case, he should be seeking dialogue with China. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic ties, and Tokyo ought to exercise its wisdom to take advantage of this golden opportunity.
Japan is currently also lacking a vantage point from which to see its place in the world.
While every Japanese political party acknowledges the significance of addressing climate change and infectious diseases as common agendas for the global community, they have yet to clearly present concrete action plans.
Behind Washington’s constant attempts to find common ground with Beijing over climate action lies its awareness of global warming as a security threat that can lead to famine and conflict.
Global issues cannot be resolved without action from economic superpowers like the U.S., China and Japan. Our country has the responsibility to fulfill that role. Nuclear disarmament in particular is a subject where Japan could take a prominent role.
The first meeting of the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is in March 2022, and not just the CDP and other opposition parties but the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito has called for Japan to join as an observer. However, the LDP has rejected the idea. For Japan to be a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear powers at the meeting would be of great significance.
The global agenda has even stretched into the realms of cyberspace and outer space. Japan may be able to spearhead efforts for new rule-making in those spheres. Only after striving to serve the international community can Japan boost regional confidence.
Just sprinkling campaign platforms with words and phrases that appeal to party supporters is pointless unless they are accompanied with hard-nosed diplomatic strategies to make those manifestos a reality.