Media  International Exchange  2016.10.20

Three Proposals for Japan's Foreign Policy from Long-term View

An article published in JBpress on September 21, 2016

The Abe Administration's Edge as a Longstanding Administration

Since the 1990s, the only two Japanese prime ministers whose incumbency exceeded 1,000 days have been Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe.

Compared to the many cases of eight-year (more than 2,900-day) tenures for United States presidents and ten-year (more than 3,600-day) tenures for Chinese Communist Party secretary-generals, Japanese prime ministers are frequently in office for less than a mere one-third that amount of time.

In the midst of these often brief tenures for Japanese prime ministers, the Abe administration is the first longstanding administration in many years. Increasing the period of appointment of presidents of the Liberal Democratic Party up to three terms for a total of nine years would bring the period of incumbency for Japanese prime ministers into line with the highest officers of both the United States and China.

This is a rare opportunity for Japan to review its national strategy from a long-term perspective, develop a basic approach to foreign policy, and put that approach into practice. A short-lived administration, not having the leeway to consider such an approach, would therefore also have no chance to put it into practice.

As head of the first longstanding administration in many years, Prime Minister Abe has been proactive in diplomacy and has already achieved numerous historically important results in Japan-U.S. relations, such as his first address to the joint meeting of the U.S. congress and an agreement on the new Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation.

Given this opportunity, I would like to consider three new challenges in Japan's mid- to long-term foreign policy, with an eye toward the future of the global community.

A Suggested Mid- to Long-term Foreign Policy for Japan

(1)The Japan-U.S. Alliance and Trilateral Coordination among Japan, China, and South Korea

The most important prerequisite in considering Japan's foreign policy is the continued long-term stability of the Japan-U.S. alliance. If this prerequisite were to be disrupted, the peaceful security policy Japan has constructed since World War II would disintegrate.

Recently the global state of affairs and the conditions within the United States are steadily changing, and will continue to change going forward. Under such conditions, if Japan maintains its usual status of subservience to the United States, the value of the Japan-U.S. alliance will certainly diminish from the perspective of the United States.

In fact, comparing the Cold War period until the year 1990 with the post-Cold War period from the 1990s onward, Japan's role in the Japan-U.S. alliance has steadily grown and is undergoing a major transformation.

Looking toward the future, as globalization marches forward, economic consolidation continues in the Asian region, and the political situations in China and North Korea shift, it seems the status of the Japan-U.S. alliance will change even more than it has before.

Along with further increasing Japan's level of contribution on the security front and helping to preserve peace within Asia in a more independent fashion, efforts to strengthen coordination between Japan and the United States, as well as with South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and other related countries, in order to comprehensively boost peacekeeping capabilities, will become increasingly important.

At the same time, it is thought that economic relations among Japan, China, and South Korea, as well as other Asian countries, will become steadily more intertwined.

The harmonious economic development of the Asia-Pacific economic zone with Japan, China, and South Korea as its core will contribute to global economic stabilization reaching as far as the countries of North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The importance of the role of the Asia-Pacific region will rise in the continued stable growth of the global economy.

If such development can reduce the risk of friction in security matters, it would seem that the relative importance of economic policy in the content of specific agreements within the Japan-U.S. alliance would rise.

For Japan, with its restrictions on security policy via the provisions of its pacifist constitution, such a change in the environment would boost Japan's relative level of contribution in the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Assuming this would further increase Japan's value in the Japan-U.S. alliance and solidify the alliance itself, it is important for Japan to make efforts to orient itself in such a direction.

In other words, Japan taking a more active leadership role in strengthening economic coordination among the Asia-Pacific economic zone with Japan, China, and South Korea as its core will form the foundation for strengthening and stabilizing the Japan-U.S. alliance.

In considering concrete policy measures toward this end, one possible idea is to help strengthen coordination within Asia, as well as with Europe and Russia, through Japan and South Korea's active cooperation with the One Belt One Road Initiative (The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative) being advanced by China.

Although it would be difficult for Japan to lead all of Eurasia or the global economy by itself given its population and economic scale, trilateral coordination among Japan, China, and South Korea seems quite realistic.

Moreover, while there seem likely to be many countries that feel the threat of being swallowed up by China if it singularly leads the One Belt One Road Initiative, participation would be substantially less threatening if the initiative were to become a joint project by Japan, China, and South Korea. This would also be highly advantageous for China itself.

(2)The Fight against Terrorism

The fight against terrorism is the most important security issue facing the world today. The western countries have repeatedly addressed this issue through suppression by military force, but that approach cannot be considered effective when looking at the trends since the 1990s.

Experts on terrorism identify the reason for the failure of military suppression to be the fact that it has not improved the two conditions that lead to the creation of terrorism hotbeds: poverty and a lack of national governance.

Looking back on recent conditions in the Asian countries, we see that at one time there were several regions in Cambodia, Myanmar, and other countries that were at high risk of becoming hotbeds for terrorist organizations, in the sense that they were impoverished and lacked national governance.

However, rather than attempting suppression by force of arms, the surrounding Asian countries waited for transformations within those regions with the passage of time. In the meantime, the surrounding countries enjoyed steady economic growth and reaped the dividends of peace in a visible manner.

Such moderate security policies predicated on continued formation of the foundations of economic growth have resulted in a reduction in poverty all across Asia, have promoted stronger national governance based on more stable economic foundations, and have led to prevention of the creation of hotbeds for terrorism over the long term.

The countries leading this long-term economic growth in Asia were Japan and South Korea, with China further accelerating the process with its overwhelming economic power. ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), India, and others are now achieving healthy economic growth following the same track.

It cannot be denied that there are situations where the spread of terrorism in the Middle East must be suppressed through the use of force over the short term.

However, rather than relying on force exclusively, alongside such measures it is also important to promote the formation of the foundations for autonomous economic development in the Middle East and make efforts to shrink terrorist hotbeds themselves through the Asian long-term non-military approach.

Otherwise any temporary return to peace will end with people suffering in poverty and then unavoidably entering terrorist organizations to obtain the necessities of life.

Specific measures would start with electricity, gas, water, and other basic infrastructure for living, as well as the development of hospitals, schools, and other such social infrastructure, followed by support for autonomous construction of economic foundations through assistance in building rudimentary labor-intensive industrial infrastructure.

Such economic aid would continue over the long term, gradually alleviating poverty in the Middle East, solidifying its economic foundations, and strengthening national governance little by little.

The advancement of economic development in the Middle East should be a joint effort led by the highly experienced countries Japan, China, and South Korea, while obtaining support from the United States, European countries, and each country in the Asia-Pacific region.

Given Japan's good relationship with countries in the Middle East, it is especially realistic for Japan to lead the trilateral efforts of Japan, China, and South Korea in building cooperative relationships with Middle Eastern countries.

The long-term aid cooperation of Japan, China, and South Korea would send a powerful message to the world that global peace can be greatly advanced without the use of military force. We can expect this to form the underpinning fortifying long-term closer relationship among Japan, China, and South Korea.

(3)Promoting the Sharing of the Management Philosophy of Japanese Businesses

Perceived structural defects in capitalism underlie both the increasing support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States presidential election and the growing sympathy with the writings and statements of Thomas Piketty in Europe.

This trend is rooted in a style of corporate management that widens the income disparities among the population.

The movement constitutes a backlash against the establishment's inadequate measures to resolve such social issues, and is manifesting as anti-WashingtonDC and anti-Wall Street sentiment in the United States, and anti-Brussels and anti-ECB sentiment in Europe.

In contrast, Japan has seen no anti-Nagatacho/Kasumigaseki or anti-Marunouchi/Otemachi sentiment nor other growing opposition against the establishment. Yet it is difficult to imagine that this difference owes to Japanese politicians being starkly more competent at policy implementation than their counterparts in western countries.

The difference may originate instead in the fact that many Japanese firms undertake management based upon fundamentally different philosophy than those of western corporations.

Rather than short-term profit maximization for shareholders, the most important goals for major Japanese businesses include retaining the long-term trust of the general public, ensuring stable employment for employees, maintaining a comfortable work environment for employees, and contributing to the local community.

In addition, the annual salaries of chairpersons and presidents of the major blue-chip corporations that represent Japan reach at most 2 to 3 million USD, with members of top management at a great many firms listed in the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange earning around 1 million USD or even less per year. This is in sharp contrast with the United States, where payment taken by executives can run 10 or even 20 times higher.

Compensation for corporate executives in Japan is commensurately modest. The left-over company profits are returned to society by such means as securing long-term stable employment for employees and paying corporate taxes.

Until now, such management philosophy and corporate culture among Japanese businesses have been perceived in Japan as simply the way things are, yet globally such companies are rare and have not always been assessed as praiseworthy.

Nevertheless, under current conditions the management philosophy of Japanese businesses and their implementation have great potential to offer radical solutions to the growing wealth disparities and other social problems faced by western countries.

For example, as many corporations in the United States undertook large-scale layoffs amid the long-term economic stagnation following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Toyota Motor Corporation was lauded in the United States and other countries for the fact that it did not lay off a single employee.

Executives of Japanese businesses should go forth with strong awareness in disseminating Japanese management philosophy to the world and sharing them with corporations across the globe, in order to contribute to social stability in each country worldwide.

However, currently there are no executives, scholars, or policies in Japan that are undertaking such actions. Considering the seriousness of the social issues faced recently by each country, it seems that now could be the time for Japan to execute such actions to contribute to social stability in each country worldwide with the realization that it has a mission to do so in the present age.

This endeavor should make Japan's corporate culture more attractive and become a source of Japan's dynamic soft power in the global community.

With awareness of the issue, the Japanese government should prepare a platform for dissemination of information so that Japanese firms can spread the management philosophy and corporate culture of Japanese businesses to the world, striving to exemplify management of the worldwide business in the 21st century.

This process will further refine the strong points of the management philosophy and corporate culture of Japanese businesses and thereby can also be expected to contribute greatly to the advancement of Japan's economy.

The above three proposals are submitted for examination as mid- to long-term foreign policy ideas that are especially ripe for consideration under the Abe administration.

(This article was translated from the Japanese transcript of Mr. Seguchi's column published by JBpress on September 21, 2016.)