As the trade war before the United States and China goes on without a visible end, it places Japan in a subtle position where it tries to maintain a friendly relationship between both of the economic powerhouses. In a Monday talk, Takashi Shiraishi Ph.D. ’66, Chancellor of Kumamoto Prefecture University, dissected Japan’s foreign policy and its role in global politics.
Shiraishi, who previously served as an Executive Member of the Japanese Government’s Council for Science and Technology Policy, taught courses in both history and Asian studies at Cornell from 1987 to 1988.
The alliance between Japan and the U.S., according to Shiraishi, “remains the cornerstone for all foreign policy initiatives in Japan” and will take on increasing importance as the global power struggle between the U.S. and China comes to a head.
“Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013, and especially after the American government under President Trump announced the new National Security Strategy at the end of 2017, the U.S.-China rivalry is gathering steam,” Shiraishi said, noting that American tensions with China have grown as the U.S. has sought to increasingly align itself with Asian democracies, such as Japan.
President Trump has thus far maintained a constructive relationship with Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. According to POLITICO, the two leaders have had 10 personal meetings and spoken 30 other times, reflecting the two nation’s intertwined fate as China becomes a more dominant power in the region.
Aside from the influence of the trade war, Japan’s National Defence Program Guidelines, enacted in 2013, also “underscore the Japan-U.S. security alliance as a cornerstone for Japan’s defence and regional security,” Shiraishi said.
On the other hand, Japan, at times, has also supported Chinese economic interests, specifically the One Belt One Road Initiative, a global development strategy that has called for billions in investments for the developing world. Recently, Tokyo even announced that it will join China in funding the OBOR infrastructure project under certain conditions, Shiraishi said.
According to Shiraishi, Abe has been open to improving relations between Japan and China. In 2017, China held the New Silk Road Summit in Beijing, and Abe selected his Chief Secretary and Secretary-General of the incumbent LDP party for the Japanese delegation.
“Their visit sent a clear signal of Abe’s willingness to improve relations with China,” Shiraishi said.
In response to an audience question on whether improved relations with China signal that the Japan-U.S. relationship has become transactional in recent years, Shiraishi said Japan-U.S. relations are still built upon a deep trust.
In his lecture, Shiraishi also discussed Japan’s growing regional role in South East Asia as territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain an ongoing dilemma for Asian policymakers.
“Precisely because the Association of Southeast Asian Nations cannot agree on a common South China Sea policy, most, if not all, of the ASEAN countries welcome American rebalancing and American, Australian and Japanese intervention on the issue of the ASEAN regional forum,” he said.
Japan has recently invested in infrastructure projects across members of ASEAN as well, with a new subway rail deal announced with Indonesia last month that’s worth 458 billion yen, which equals approximately $4200 million.
Shiraishi noted that such projects represent Japan’s commitment to building relationships with neighbouring states, as such relationships play a central role Japanese national security.
“Abe has expanded the geopolitical arena for Japan’s engagement from Asia Pacific to Indo-Pacific,” Shiraishi said.
This event is hosted by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies with the Southeast Asia Program and the East Asia Program.