Can Japan compensate for Asian diplomacy with America’s pillow?
meyes source of quiet pride for her people that Japan was the only Asian country present at the creation of the g7 in the 1970s. The entry of Japan was proof that the West should be properly defined not by the geography of the North Atlantic but by a commitment to liberal democratic ideals and international norms.
This year the idea that there is such a thing as a “Western world” has come into sharp relief, thanks to its antithesis, represented by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s illiberalism at home and abroad, especially in its military threats to Taiwan. . In this new global West, which denies Russian aggression and resents the rise of China, Asian representatives include not only Japan but also Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
But according to the size of the population they represent the Asian minority. It is equally surprising that non-liberal Asian countries rarely criticize China or Russia and sometimes openly respect them. These countries include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. And it seems that many of their citizens feel the same way. For all the talk by America and its allies about a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, an arc of neo-liberalism casts a shadow over it.
There are many explanations for this. China’s authoritarian modernization has powerful implications for poor Asian countries. The appeal of the Asian strongman who claims to promote development and national pride (even while fleeing the state) will endure. America, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, is high and hectoring. He goes on about democracy and human rights while starting wars. It offers very few economic or trade opportunities. There is suspicion for that reason about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that looks neat at President Joe Biden. When it comes to outsmarting their enemies in Asia, one Western official admits that “America sucks.”
This is where Japan comes in, judging by Banyan’s recent talks with policy makers in Tokyo. Japan, they say, is able to reach parts of Asia that American diplomacy cannot. In building trust with the global south, they argue, it helps that Japan is not an evangelist for democracy. The country has been unspoiled by war since 1945. And Japanese ties run deep into the centers of Southeast Asia and beyond.
Japan also has money to offer, if not as much as China. Among the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan is the largest donor and main source of fd. Japan’s approach to much-needed infrastructure is also fundamentally different from China’s.
Chinese projects, which usually focus on countries full of resources that China needs, are self-serving. They employ large numbers of Chinese workers rather than local people. Their accounting is unclear and they tend to overlook the ability of countries to repay debts. In contrast, the Japanese approach emphasizes transparency. And, says an official, “We offer cooperation without expecting to receive anything [direct] back.” China’s borrowing has created more resentment even in countries that are among its closest partners, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Some of the Japanese arguments may also be self-serving. And yet criticism of the Japanese presence is almost unheard of in Asia.
Meanwhile, his advisers suggest that Kishida Fumio, the prime minister, is convinced of the geopolitical as well as environmental benefits of using Japanese expertise to help poor Asian countries move, in in parallel with Japan itself, to renewable energy. They expect Japan to contribute trillions of yen in private and public funds to that effort. In this way, they say, Asia’s energy transformation can be linked to Japan – and thus the West.
Like America, Japan is hawkish, as it grasps the threat posed by China. Over just a few years it has changed its defensive position. However, unlike America but like all its neighbors, Japan is very willing to pick a fight with China. It would be the end of Japan as they know it, say officials; In contrast, America could go home. That fact, they say, helps Japan build trust with Asian countries that fear being dragged into a conflict with a great power.
But Japan also knows, like itself, that other Asian countries have no desire to be controlled by China. Therefore, said a senior official, Japan’s help for the development of these countries is a sign of solidarity and an encouragement to their independence and independence. In Asia, the western part of the world could still spawn new members.■
Read more from Banyan, our Asia columnist:
Pakistan’s political crisis is also a dilemma for its top brass (November 10)
When disaster strikes a nation, political leaders are at risk (November 3)
Prominent Indian independent news site destroys its own credibility (October 27th)