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Japan should be cautious on its ‘bridge-making’ diplomacy

by Adrian David

JOHANNESBURG, 19 JUNE – A research consultant believed that Japan should be cautious on its ‘bridge-making’ diplomacy, including with the United States.

University of Cape Town’s Political Studies Department Doctor of Philosophy graduate Tawanda Sachikonye opined that Japanese policymakers ought to reconsider past policy approaches which prioritised strategic ‘bridge-making’ diplomacy.

Sachikonye wrote that the visit earlier this year to the US by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had sparked criticism in the land of the rising sun.

“There were concerns that Kishida was undermining Japan’s pacifism and needlessly inflaming tensions with China.

“In response to these fears and a perceived need for Japan to maintain its international standing, it may be useful to reconsider such a policy,” said Sachikonye, who is also a research consultant for the Southern African Liaison Office.

Sachikonye explained that by doing so, Japan could ensure stable relations with regional neighbours, advocate for improved relations between the US and China, and promote its own core values globally.

He stressed that Kishida’s US visit had been largely lauded as a massive success by US media and policymakers.

However, Sachikonye warned that the response in Japan had been less enthusiastic, apart from inside Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as underscored by concerns raised by Japanese opposition parties.

“These concerns are centred on fears that Kishida and the LDP might have negotiated and agreed to security arrangements that undermine, if not contradict, Japan’s long-standing pacifist stance. “Japan’s opposition and media are concerned that Kishida’s framing of regional security is too closely aligned to the US.

“They fear that this places Japan squarely between the US and China’s burgeoning political and economic tensions,” analysed Sachikonye.

He noted that Japan needed strategic ‘policy space’ from American international strategy, or it risked losing its legitimacy as a respected global interlocutor on vital issues, such as international development and human security.

“Regional realities, especially China’s rise towards superpower status, necessitate Japan being pragmatic and strategically embracing its identity as an East Asian middle power with a significant global footprint,” Sachikonye said.

Sachikonye observed that Kishida’s problematic description, in his speech to US Congress, of a Manichean-type conflict between ‘democratic’ and ‘authoritarian’ states echoed the NATO secretary-general’s statements, and risked stoking tensions with China.

“This is in a context were China–Japan relations are almost at an all-time low.

“Kishida’s characterisation of China as Japan’s ‘greatest strategic challenge’ also appears to indicate that Japan is siding with the US in seeking to counter China’s regional and international ambitions.

“This raises questions around Japan’s own independent policy stances on China,” said Sachikonye.

He felt that the opposition’s concerns around Kishida’s state visit also underlined the diverse views within Japanese politics on its security approach and relations with China.

“It is unlikely that the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan or the Japanese Communist Party, will agree with Kishida’s somewhat strident declaration of China as Japan’s primary security concern.

“This is not to say that China’s robust and at-times unilateral actions in the South China Sea or around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands do not pose a significant security challenge.

“It rather indicates that Kishida’s use of language reminiscent of US policymakers when describing China is potentially problematic for China–Japan relations.

“This might adversely impact the possibility of stable intra-East Asian relations,” Sachikonye warned.

In such a fraught context, Sachikonye said that Japan should reconsider acting as a ‘bridge’ within the regional and international contexts.

“This notion of Japan as a constructive ‘bridge builder’ is informed by an idealistic pragmatism.

“It is premised on the understanding that Japan – as an East Asian power – has to prioritise stable, peaceful and prosperous relations with its regional neighbours. “‘Bridging diplomacy’ would be aimed at repairing, enhancing and optimising Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbours in order to build constructive relations buttressed by strong trust,” Sachikonye said.

He added that interestingly, Komeito also adopted the bridge motif in that it characterised China–Japan relations as a ‘golden bridge’, with Komeito as a key facilitator of improved China–Japan relations.

“Bridging diplomacy seeks closer ties, ‘fraternity’ and cooperation in an Asia Pacific context.

“It will also enable Japan to be a ‘bridge’ between the East and West, as well as developed and developing countries. “This allows for greater international reach of Japan’s consistent calls to safeguard a stable, rules-based international order.

“This order is essential for Japan to realise and actively promote its own core values of democracy, freedom and free trade,” said Sachikonye.

He further wrote that through bridging diplomacy with multilateral groups – such as the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum – which valued a rules-based order, Japan could advocate for improved and constructive relations between the US and China.

“Both superpowers are necessary to preserve a rules-based international system.

“Yet Japan can only play an effective role in such a process if it has enough policy space to frame and elucidate security and international relations policy stances which are distinct from the US,” Sachikonye said.

Kishida’s recent comments on the nature of the US-Japan alliance, Sachikonye opined, risked being viewed as a formal indication that Japan had tied ‘itself to the US chariot’ in its geopolitical outlook and goals.

Yet, Sachikonye said, Kishida and the LDP did not fully represent the diverse views around the nature and scope of the US-Japan strategic alliance.

“This is particularly with respect to how it relates to Japan’s own distinct national interests as understood by its public.

“It is imperative for other voices in Japanese politics to become more vocal, particularly as it is in the country’s best interest to rigorously debate its regional and international role in an increasingly unstable environment,” Sachikonye concluded in his analysis. – airtimes.my

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