Japan's Place in the World

Armed with a new vision of its peacekeeping role, Japan looks to play a part in international actions. But is it ready for such a dramatic change in foreign policy

By , a former journalist, is an officer of the Asia Foundation's Center for Asian Pacific Affairs in Washington. The views expressed are his own.

NOTING that Japanese behavior has come to have a "major impact" on the international community, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa earlier this year outlined his government's agenda to assume "a positive role and responsibilities" in establishing a "new order for peace." The Miyazawa government is encouraging the country to assume a greater international role commensurate with its "enhanced national strength." But the transition to an activist foreign policy is unlikely to be smooth for Japan.

Japan's foreign policy has long been predicated on a healthy relationship with the United States. Expectations are high for Prime Minister Miyazawa's mid-April meeting in Washington with President Clinton. The Japanese see coordinated US-Japanese leadership, under "a shared vision," as the best solution to global problems such as AIDS, the environment, and economic policy coordination. They were reassured by Mr. Clinton's recent statements that he attached "enormous importance" to the US-Japan relations,

and that he considers it "the most important bilateral relationship" for the US.

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Nonetheless, the US-Japan relationship is one of Japan's greatest foreign policy challenges. A strong perception of Japanese intransigence on trade, the result of a pattern of incremental steps to open its market, have deepened distrust in the US.

During the first month of the Clinton presidency, Japan came under fire on several fronts. A report issued by the American Chamber of Commerce detailed many barriers that foreign businesses still face in Japan. In the worst news of all, Japan's trade surplus with the US reached record levels. In 1992 it grew by 14 percent to nearly $44 billion. All of this increases pressure on Japan to further open its markets and to stimulate its sputtering economy prior to the Tokyo Group of Seven summit in July.

Yet, recent threats by the Japanese that they will take "appropriate steps" in response to future American sanctions illustrate Japan's frustrations at what it sees as insufficient respect. Late last year, a high-level Foreign Ministry Council concluded that Japan should quit the practice of reacting to demands made upon it and should put specific proposals forth that will require an American response. But there are also voices in Japan, most notably Sony head Akio Morita, who warns that resistance by To kyo to further opening of the economy will only bring about Japan's own economic decline. Mr. Morita contends that, "Japan itself has become a fortress."

In the meantime, uncertainty over American intentions in Asia has contributed to calls by some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for an expanded Japanese political and security role in the Asia-Pacific region. Long a major economic presence in Asia, Japan has emerged as a significant political player in the region. Malaysia has been encouraging Japan to assume a leadership role in developing an East Asian Economic Caucus that would be an Asian answer to the North American Free

Trade Agreement. So far, Japan has resisted.

During his January trip to Southeast Asia, Miyazawa urged the countries of the Asia-Pacific region to develop a long-term vision for peace and security in the region. Miyazawa's Jan. 16 keynote speech in Bangkok on Japan-ASEAN cooperation, which received generally positive reactions, was the strongest indication thus far of Japan's intention to take the lead in establishing a future regional security framework. Miyazawa promised that "Japan shall never again become a military power," and that "Japan will

... think and act together with ASEAN." Tokyo envisions a collective security arrangement that includes a military role for the US, but increases burden-sharing by Asians.

Still, as Japanese leaders struggle with the idea of Japan as a global power, the nation's most difficult, and most controversial, foreign policy dilemma is the issue of military contributions. At a time of heightened United Nations pressure for Japan to reconsider legal limits on overseas military missions, a committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) recently began investigating the possibility of revising Japan's postwar constitution to loosen restrictions on military deployments abroad.

Although there is general support for the limited Self Defense Force role in Cambodia, there is little desire among Japanese to assume more military responsibilities overseas and public opposition to loosening constitutional restraints remains strong. Miyazawa is particularly reluctant to increase Japan's military activity. He recently told UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that, "Japan will never again be a military superpower." Miyazawa maintains that although Japan must positively contribute to the UN, it "should not use force except for self-defense."

The prime minister's views, however, do not represent a consensus within the ruling party. Now that Japan is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, some LDP officials are openly calling for revision of the constitution to authorize broader Japanese participation in UN military actions. With Miyazawa up for reelection as party leader in September, and a general election due to be held before next February, the issue is likely to be at the center of Japanese political debate this year.

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