By Ishinabe Kei
While the government’s revisions to three defense strategy documents including the “National Security Strategy” and the “National Defense Program Guidelines,” which will take place by the end of this year, focus on strengthening defense capabilities, revisions to the Development Cooperation Charter are aimed at making the nation’s foreign policy more effective. The focal point will be whether revisions can make Japan’s diplomatic capability more effective in addition to including new measures that better reflect the international situation.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the international community’s response brought home to us that Japan’s foreign policy will become ineffective if it remains unchanged,” said a person close to the government. Japan has pursued a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and talked with Asian neighbors about the importance of the rule of law and other universal values. But how these nations responded to the Ukraine crisis was not necessarily what Japan had anticipated. Besides Japan, the only other Asian nations that imposed economic sanctions on Russia were Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. When the United Nations put a resolution to condemn Russia to a vote, India and Vietnam abstained from voting, and several countries took a pro-Russia stance.
Japan fears a similar situation may arise in the event of a cross-strait contingency or an emergency involving Japan, given that China’s clout in Asia is far greater than Russia’s. “To ensure Japan can receive cooperation in the event of a contingency, we need to enhance our overseas aid programs at various levels and strategically deepen ties with other nations,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Revisions to the Development Cooperation Charter should become a part of this process.
One key element in making revisions will be to secure a budget for official development aid programs. The UN calls on countries to spend 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on ODA programs. Japan’s percentage is around 0.3%. As with national defense, it is hard to say in ODA spending that Japan is playing a role commensurate with its economic power.
Another MOFA official points out that “we want to build a system that can allow us to execute aid programs and cooperation whenever needed without restrictions.” MOFA looks to parlay the charter revision into an opportunity to drastically increase ODA spending.
The move is backed by the ruling camp. The Research Commission on International Cooperation of the Liberal Democratic Party will soon present a proposal that includes revising the charter. As the party is proposing replacing the National Defense Program Guidelines with a “national defense strategy,” Sato Masahisa, who heads the party’s Foreign Affairs Division, is calling for “upgrading the Development Cooperation Charter to a ‘strategy’ within the year to build a system that will make diplomacy and national defense indispensable elements for Japan’s national security.”