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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchJapan Is the New Leader of Asia’s Liberal Order

Japan Is the New Leader of Asia’s Liberal Order

Author: Chang Che

Affiliation: Independent Writer

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: February 24, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 1600

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-02-24/japan-new-leader-asias-liberal-order 

Keywords: Japan, Biden Administration, Leadership, the Indo-Pacific, and the Asian Liberal Order

 

Brief:

 

The article draws attention to the quiet rise of Japan in the Indo-Pacific region during the last decade, especially the past four years, in the midst of an era of Chinese bellicosity, North Korean provocations, a raging pandemic, and most importantly, an era in which the US leadership of the International liberal order has retreated. Washington’s credibility among its Asian allies has declined. The author urges the Biden administration to consolidate relations with longtime-ally Japan, which he sees as key to restoring the US’ credibility in Asia, and even calls for making Japan a pivot for a liberal Asian order in the Indo-Pacific if Washington wants to have a future foothold in the region. The article is divided into three parts. The first part provides an overview of the evolution of Japan’s geostrategic status in Asia and its geopolitical contexts until now. It is known that Japan is associated with the US by the security agreement after World War II that has made it merely an extension of the US’ grand strategy. During the second half of the twentieth century, Tokyo’s foreign policy was described as “sterile,” “naive,” and “a conspicuous absence of strategic thinking,” as Japanese scholars called it “karaoke diplomacy”— “Tokyo merely singing the tune set by Washington.” By the end of the seventies, Japan became the second-largest economy in the world, which made the US push it to play a greater role in regional security until it became more responsible for the security burden in Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of the US role in the Middle East. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Japan has undergone “the most significant political change in its history since 1945” with the rise of a group of nationalist politicians such as Shinzo Abe. In response to Washington’s call, Japan began to play a more proactive role on the international stage to the point that it conducted an amendment to its constitution in 2015 allowing the Japanese army to engage in collective self-defense under the UN Charter, which made US-Japanese relations “much stronger” and became possible for the two countries to “defend each other from now on,” as Abe said. The second part provides numerous examples of regional reforms and projects sponsored by Japan, especially during the last four years, which it has been nominating to be the new liberal leader in the Indo-Pacific. Trump’s withdrawal from many Asian agreements and bodies has put Japan ahead of its destiny in the face of a strongly illiberal rising China. Japan, for example, saved the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement after Trump’s withdrawal, by creating a similar space called “the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership” (CPTPP). It is a formula that contradicts China’s illiberal vision for the region, through which Japan has managed to maintain the cohesion of the liberal international order in Asia and rally allies against China. The author presents trade figures that reflect the good position of Japan, which enables it to play a leading role against Chinese hegemony. Moreover, Japan plays an important promotional role for liberal values in the region in trade, law, and security. By the end of the Trump presidency, Tokyo became the flag bearer of liberalism in Asia instead of Washington. The final part provides a set of recommendations for Biden’s administration so that the US can regain its standing and credibility in the Indo-Pacific and preserve the coherence of the liberal international order. For instance, the need to return to the Asian international bodies and agreements, strengthen relations with Japan and coordinate with it in multilateral regional initiatives, learn to listen to allies, show humility and follow Japan’s lead in gaining confidence, reducing friction with Tokyo, and joining the CPTPP, etc. Based on the foregoing, the author argues that the time has come for the US to allow Japan to lead the ship of liberal internationalism in the Indo-Pacific and to choose the song most appropriate for this region.

 

 By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate

 

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