3 Japan’s diplomacy

Japan Matters public lectures in 2013/14

Friday 13 September from 2.30pm
‘Japan’s foreign policy under the Abe government’
Mr Noriyuki Shikata, Political Minister, Embassy of Japan in the UK
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow

The lecture was organised by Japan Desk Scotland, in cooperation with Glasgow Museums, and with grant from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Mr Noriyuki Shikata assumed Political Minister at the Embassy of Japan in U.K. in September 2012.  Between July 2010 and August 2012, he was Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Public Affairs, Director of Global Communications at Prime Minister’s Office of Japan.  He was international media spokesperson for Prime Ministers, always accompanying Prime Ministers’ trips overseas.  After the East Japan Earthquake of 11th of March, 2011, he was interviewed by more than 100 international media.  He is the recipient of 2011 Gold Standard Award for Political Communications, award hosted by Public Affairs Asia, recognizing excellence in the field of Asia-Pacific related public affairs and corporate communications.

He was born in Kyoto, where he graduated from Law Department of Kyoto University in 1986.  He was an AFS (American Field Service) high school exchange student to the U.S. (1980-81).   After entering MOFA in 1986, he has served various posts.  His recent posts between 2004 and 2010 were Director of Status of U.S. Forces Agreement Division, Director of International Press Division, Director in charge of economic relations with the U.S. and Canada, and Director of Economic Treaties Division, International Legal Affairs Bureau of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).  He graduated from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, completing its Masters in Public Policy Program (International Affairs/Security) in 1989.


The summary of Minister Noriyuki Shikata’s talk:

• I would like to make this talk as personal as possible, touching upon my own experience from my time before and since I entered the diplomatic service.  I will then discuss the current economic, foreign and security policies of the Abe administration. The views I express today are personal ones.
Study abroad in the U.S.: When I was a high school student in 1980, I went to the Midwest in the United States via the American Field Service high school exchange programme.  At that time, the TV programme ‘Shogun’, a story set in pre-modern Japan, was being shown in the U.S. My high school classmates often asked me, “Do you have cars in Japan?”, “Do you wear kimonos every day in Japan?” Before I came to the U.S., I had often watched Hollywood movies set in California or New York. However, the Midwest was totally different from those places.  Stereotypes go both ways!  I had my stereotypes, and American students had theirs.  During the year I made many friends from other countries, and I started to think that it would be fun to enter a profession in which I would always be engaged in international relations and communications.
Training and work in the U.S.: I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1986, and was sent to the United States for two years for language and diplomatic training and to learn about American culture and society.  After two years of graduate study in public policy, I was posted to Washington D.C. at our Embassy.  I stayed in the United States for four years in total between 1987 and 1991, during which time I tackled the issue of the perception gap between the U.S. and Japan.  At that time the American economy was struggling, while the Japanese economy was doing much better.  For example, a Japanese investor purchased the Rockefeller Centre, attracting much attention from American people.  A public opinion poll at that time, not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, found that many American people felt that Japan would be the next “threat” to the United States.  This, of course, turned out to be not true at all.
• Another issue was trade friction.  One symbolic sector was the automotive industry.  Toyota, Nissan and Honda exported massive numbers of automobiles from Japan to the United States in the ’80s, and states like Michigan were suffering.  There was a political backlash in Washington D.C. against Japanese exports.  There was a perception that Japanese business was “unfair” and that the Japanese market was “closed”.  As Press Officer at the Embassy, I contested this view.  Yes, there were language barriers and business practices were different, but Japan’s tariff rates were already lower than those of Europe and the United States.  Nevertheless, the issue of the perception gap was very difficult to overcome.  Many people in the United States believed that, as the automobile had been invented by the U.S., it was at the core of U.S. industry.  The symbol of the American dream had been damaged by Japanese exports to the U.S.  It was often an emotional issue.
• Such serious trade disputes, however, no longer exists between the U.S. and Japan.  Japanese automobile companies chose to decrease their exports from Japan to the United States and instead started to manufacture more automobiles locally, for example in Michigan and the surrounding states, creating many jobs.  Now there is political support for Japanese investment among the governors of those states.  Japanese corporate behaviour has changed, and Japanese firms are more sensitive to local sentiment and the political landscape.
• During my stint in Washington D.C. I witnessed another outbreak of friction between Japan and the United States, this time relating to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  The first Gulf War started in August 1990.  In Washington D.C., criticism emerged against Japan: “American forces are deployed in the Middle East to protect oil exports from the Gulf countries to Japan, but what is Japan doing?” The Japanese Government wanted to send Self Defence Force personnel, but during the post-war period Japan had never sent forces overseas.  Japan’s pacifist constitution imposed strict limits on doing so, and a bill was proposed to change this situation.  However, the bill failed to get through the Diet (parliament) because of very strong, deep-rooted pacifist sentiments which remained from the post-war era in Japan.
• The US occupation of Japan after WWII was initially idealistic, disarming the entire country and focusing on economic prosperity. However, with the onset of the Cold War and the Korean War, the United States shifted its policy towards Japan, requesting it to rearm so that it could defend itself.  On the Japanese side, the then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida argued that Japan would pursue a pacifist foreign and security policy putting priority on economic revival.  This was the so-called “Yoshida doctrine”.
• What happened to Japan in the early ’90s after the first Gulf War?  Since the Japanese government couldn’t send forces to the Middle East, Japan instead extended economic assistance to countries in the vicinity of Iraq, such as Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.  Japan’s financial assistance, combined with a financial contribution to the multilateral forces, amounted to US$13 billion.   However, the United States Congress argued that the Japanese government’s contribution was “too little, too late”. When Kuwait thanked the multilateral forces in advertisements in US newspapers, Japan was not included. This became big news in Japan.  Although Japan had spent as much as US$13 billion, its contribution was not even recognised.   This episode shocked post-war Japanese diplomatic corps. During the Cold War period, Japan didn’t have to aggressively come up with creative security diplomacy, but after this incident, it gradually began changing its policy, becoming more pro-active and engaging more in peace-keeping operations.
Aid-related works in Tokyo: After working in the United States for four years, I went back to Tokyo to work on aid policy.  At that time, in 1991, Japan had become the largest donor in the world.  Japan didn’t spend much on its military, always keeping it around 1% of GDP, and instead chose to devote more of its resources to its aid programme.
• Due to the end of the Cold War, new republics emerged in Central Asia such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.  These republics are mostly Islamic and located close to Afghanistan.  I was making the case that Japan should help them in their transition from Communist economies to more democratic, capitalist economies, based on Japan’s own experience.  When Japan had hosted the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, it had wanted to build the “shinkansen”, or bullet train, but could not fully finance this and so obtained loans from the World Bank.  Japan’s assistance to developing countries is based on our own experiences of development.
Works for the Middle East: A few years later, I moved to the Middle East Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, covering in particular Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.  In terms of engaging in those “difficult” countries, the Japanese approach, in my opinion, could, on occasion, be somewhat different from that of other countries such as the United States.  Even if you don’t like the regimes, it’s important to try to engage in constructive dialogues.  I myself tried to engage, for example, with various Afghan factions, including moderate elements of the Taliban.  In the late ’90s, we invited different factions from Afghanistan to Japan, and took them to various places including the Roppongi district of Tokyo, to explain our history with the U.S. and how despite the war, relations improved afterwards to the point that we are both now strong allies with mutual prosperity.  We were trying to encourage them to be more constructive in their relations with the West. Although this was a modest effort on our side, I think our efforts eventually paid off a decade later when Japan hosted a meeting in Tokyo to coordinate international assistance to Afghanistan.
Security issues: As for security issues, over the past decade new threats have emerged.  There is the new non-conventional threat of terrorism as well as threats to cyber-security, for example.  However, in terms of the security environment in East Asia, classical threats still persist, such as North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programme which include nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
On China: With regard to China, the Japanese government doesn’t officially regard China as a military threat.  In order to constitute a military threat, you need both intention and capability.  China is certainly capable given that over the past two decades their military spending has seen double-digit growth.  However, in contrast to North Korea, we don’t know enough about the way of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s way of thinking.  We have observed, however, that the Chinese government have been trying to change the status quo in the East China Sea, for instance as regards the Senkaku islands issue.  There is also a problem in terms of the lack of transparency in Chinese military spending.
• When I was working on Japan-U.S. security issues in 2004-2006, those were the pre-Obama days.  The United States was already planning to shift its forces based in Hawaii to Guam, and to transfer thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.  There was also a plan to bring more aircraft careers from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  I think this shift was related more to the rise of China than to North Korea.
PM Abe’s policies: I would now like to focus on the policies of the Abe Government.
First, on Prime Minister Abe’s economic policy… His so-called “Abenomics” consists of three pillars: monetary and fiscal policy and a growth strategy.  The loosening of monetary policy coupled with a fiscal stimulus has worked successfully, but the issue of a growth strategy is the most challenging ‘pillar’.  It involves structural reforms, which are likely to meet strong oppositions from vested interests.  PM Abe wants Japan to be more open, with more foreign investment and more engagement in high-level free-trade agreements such as the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA.  Despite the challenges ahead, he is determined to fire this third arrow.
• Second, PM Abe has made it clear that economic recovery is his priority because unless Japan is economically viable, there will not be the money to spend on defence, or anything else for that matter.  Japanese defence spending has been flat for the past decade due to budget cuts. So in relation to defence policy, what Mr Abe is trying to do is first to concentrate on economic policy, thereby realising prosperity, and thereby to give Japan’s foreign and security policy a more pragmatic orientation so as to accord with the reality of the security landscape in East Asia.
• The priority issues he is tackling include, for example, the threat from North Korea.  As the Japanese government does not participate in collective self-defence, Japan cannot shoot down North Korean missiles that could target Hawaii, for example.  Similarly, even when Japanese forces were situated side by alongside Dutch or British forces as part of peace-keeping operations in Iraq, we cannot protect those Dutch or British forces.  These are the kinds of issues that PM Abe is trying to address in his security policy.
• Even after PM Abe succeeds in these reforms to Japan’s post-war legacy, I do not personally expect that Japan’s Self Defence Forces will be sent any time soon to a situation like that which currently exists in Syria.  With its very pacifist political landscape, Japan would still find it difficult to embrace unilateral military actions without UN Security Council resolutions.  Before the recent G20 summit, PM Abe had a talk with Prime Minister David Cameron during which they discussed closer Japanese and British collaboration on strengthened humanitarian support, especially for refugees in Syria as well as for its neighbours such as Jordan.  These are the real issues Japan and the UK could envisage closer cooperation.